Over the past 5+ years, we have seen Pride merchandise and the corporate celebration of Pride take off. However, there has been a lot of discourse on whether the commodification of Pride is a good thing. Can capitalism help the oppressed? Outside of profit, what good is it to have a rainbow slapped on something like a bottle of mouthwash?
Target has been one of the leaders of corporate celebrations of Pride and the LGBTQIA+ community.
In 2010, Target lost the trust of LGBTQIA+ consumers when it leaked that Target had donated to the Minnesota Forward fund. This group was spending money on anti-gay Republican Congressman Tom Emmer. Boycotts, followed by an apology that fell flat, had the LGBTQIA+ community and Target at odds with one another. In 2011, Lady Gaga dropped out of a planned partnership to release a special album with the retailer. In 2012, Target put themselves out there with the release of a Pride t-shirt and voiced their support of the LGBTQIA+ community with a campaign supporting marriage equality. From there, it seems as though Target has really “perfected” what it means to commodify Pride, and each year their Pride line gets bigger and bigger. Every year, there is a resulting discourse about the new Pride line and what Target has done right or wrong.
Target’s Pride line is a valuable case study of the hits and misses an organization can make when it comes to Pride month and supporting LGBTQIA+ employees. We’ll go through it and also provide some tips at the individual level.
Hit: Supporting Trans Folks During Bathroom Bans
In 2014 when bathroom bans were making their way into legislation, Target spoke out against them and allowed guests to choose the bathroom that felt the most comfortable for them.
Lesson Learned: Stand in solidarity with trans and non-binary folks with your policies. Your policies show who is valued and who belongs in your organization. Overall, this is an inclusive way to show support for and solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community.
Hit/Miss: Offering Trans-Friendly Clothing and Undergarments
In 2022, Target added binders (also known as compression tops, often worn by trans men, nonbinary people, and others who want to reduce the size of their chests) to their product line. This inclusion marks one of the first mass-market big-box stores to make these products available nationwide. It’s a MAJOR step and puts Target way ahead of others when it comes to including trans, non-binary, and gender-fluid people. However, TomboyX, the company Target partnered with, has been accused of not being inclusive when working with models.
Lesson Learned: Do a deeper dive into the companies you're working with to see what their past might hold. While it’s a significant first step that a safe option like binders are widely available through Target, it’s also a slight misstep when the partnering company has a problematic past.
Hit/Miss: Using LGBTQIA+ Artists
2022 is the first year Target is using exclusively queer artists. While this is a great move, Target has been promoting this line for years, and it’s hard to give kudos when it should have been something they’ve always done.
Lesson Learned: Especially during Pride, but any month, be sure to use vendors from underrepresented populations. When celebrating an identity month, work with and compensate people who share that identity.
Miss: Using the Silence + Death Logo on a T-Shirt
In 2022, the Pride line included a T-shirt with a pink triangle with the words “Silence = Death” underneath. The iconography and wording is a famous slogan of the AIDS awareness organization ACT UP, which protested selling these T-shirts for corporate profit. Target does not have permission, nor were they sharing any profits with the ACT UP organization. They have since pulled the shirt, but overall it showcases a tremendous lack of awareness to use a logo that ties in a vital point in LGBTQIA+ History without providing context.
Lesson Learned: Ensure any logos, graphics, etc., tied to causes benefit that cause and that you have explicit permissions to use them.
Target is leading the charge despite the misses when it comes to Pride lines. No matter what we may interpret as the motive behind this, it does hold some weight that a big box store is showcasing rainbows, flags, and even binders nationwide, in a way that so many other organizations aren't. Being the first is never easy, and Target has a long way to improve. However, as a Queer person, I look forward to seeing the latest Target line each June.
If we were to push the conversation a step further, it would be incredible to see stores and large, national organizations like Target elevate LGBTQIA+ artists/people at all times of year- not just in June. In light of recent events (Anti-Trans Bills and Reproductive Justice), it's more apparent that LGBTQ+ people need their allies to show up and show out. The power of organizations celebrating LGBTQIA+ joy, not just the pain and suffering faced by so many, would be a light in the current landscape for LGBTQIA+ people.
The biggest call to action and most important lesson learned to share with your organization is to celebrate LGBTQA+ joy all year round, not just in June, and not just when it's convenient.