Target CEO defends removal of LGBTQ+ Pride items over ‘serious safety threats’

MIAMI, FLORIDA - JUNE 01: (L-R) Marlene (did not want to provide last name) and Jill Dahne protest outside of a Target store on June 01, 2023 in Miami, Florida. The protesters were reacting to Pride Month merchandise featuring the rainbow flag in support of the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities that had been sold at Target stores. Target removed certain items from its stores and made other changes to its LGBTQ+ merchandise after a backlash from some customers. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The CEO of Target has defended the company’s removal of some Pride merch from its stores in May, claiming its staff had been subjected to “very aggressive behaviour” after anti-LGBTQ+ backlash. 

Some of Target’s Pride items – which included clothing, accessories and homeware – were pulled after some stores were attacked by right-wing extremists, who were seen vandalising Pride displays and harassing employees. 

In a company statement in May, the retailer explained that some of the Pride items had been removed from shelves due to “volatile circumstances”. 

Now, Target’s CEO Brian Cornell has defended the items’ removal, despite demands from the LGBTQ+ community to restock the Pride displays, claiming its employees had faced “serious safety threats”, including threats to “light products on fire”. 

US retail giant Target has said it will reconsider how it supports Pride, following threats of violence over its LGBTQ-themed collection. (Getty)

“I’ve seen natural disasters”, Cornell said in an interview with CNBC on Thursday (2 November). “We’ve seen the impact of Covid leading into the pandemic. Some of the violence that took place after George Floyd’s murder.

“But I will tell you… what I saw back in May is the first time since I’ve been in this job where I had store team members saying ‘it’s not safe to come to work’.”

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Cornell explained that while he knew taking items off the shelves was not going to be “well received”, the decision was made with staff safety in mind.

“We had to prioritise the safety of our teams. And I knew personally this was not gonna be well received. But we had to prioritise the safety of the team,” he added.

Image of one of Target's items for LGBTQ+ Pride month
Target CEO claims LGBTQ+ Pride merch was removed in May due to “serious safety threats” (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

In August, it was reported that Target’s profits had slumped, falling by 5.4 per cent over the previous three months, with the company partly blaming a post-Covid spending shift, but also explaining it would be re-evaluating how it celebrates Pride in the future.

“We’ll continue to celebrate Pride and other heritage moments, which are just one part of our commitment to support diverse teams and guests,” Cornell said at the time.

“However, as we navigate an ever-changing operating and social environment, we’re applying what we’ve learned to ensure we’re staying close to our guests and their expectations of Target.”

LGBTQ+ artists who collaborated with Target criticised Target at the time for “caving” in to right-wing demands, and urged the retailer to restock the merchandise.

“I think it was anticipated that there would be pushback, I don’t think anybody anticipated that it would be quite this extreme,” said queer artist Erik C, who was commissioned to create some of the Pride items.

He added that while he was “incredibly excited” to work with Target, his designs were quickly “review bombed by conservatives giving it one-star reviews”.

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