They never supported us: Target and Bud Light show hypocrisy of ‘corporate Pride’

May 26, 2023 11:43 am

A Pride sign at Target Field on July 15, 2022. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

Even before Pride season has begun, evidence of corporations succumbing to far-right, anti-LGBTQ+ led boycotts is emerging. Bud Light, for instance, recently faced pressure after featuring transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney in a social media promotion. The simple act incited a boycott campaign by anti-LGBTQ+ conservative activists, including Matt Walsh, who hosts a right-wing podcast for the Daily Wire. In response, Bud Light placed the executives responsible for the campaign on leave.

Following this, Target faced a similar situation when it displayed its annual Pride merchandise. Calls for boycotts from the same far-right influencers ensued. Videos emerged of individuals trampling on Pride displays in stores and harassing staff members. Target’s reaction was to pull several Pride items and relegate Pride displays to less visible parts of its stores.

When these companies faced anti-LGBTQ+ hostility they backed down with little resistance. This is why transgender people have been wary about the corporatization of Pride: If corporate advocacy consists merely of rainbows that disappear at the first gust of fascist wind, it amounts to net harm. That support was never truly there.

This is all happening against the backdrop of a broader cultural climate marked by over 530 bills directed at the transgender community, withholding of medication for transgender youth and adults, bans on books featuring LGBTQ+ characters, cancellations of Pride parades, travel warnings discouraging LGBTQ+ individuals from entering certain states, and arrests of transgender individuals in restrooms. The retreat of corporations from supporting the LGBTQ+ community and caving to anti-LGBTQ+ pressures does more than fail to assist the community they professed to support when adversaries looked away. It actively damages the community by feeding a narrative that suggests LGBTQ+ individuals are not worth protecting.

The campaign against LGBTQ+ inclusion in stores is not grassroots, but rather a calculated move by the same far-right influencers responsible for the early anti-trans bills this year. Walsh, who advised on and posted about the first anti-trans bill this year, delineated the strategy in April. His approach: “Pick a victim, gang up on it, and make an example of it. We can’t boycott every woke company or even most of them. But we can pick one, it hardly matters which, and target it with a ruthless boycott campaign. Claim one scalp then move onto the next.”

What followed was mass harassment and violent threats to LGBTQ+ advocates and store employees. Of particular note is Ethan Schmidt, an Arizona man whose videos of walking through Target knocking down Pride signs last year began to reemerge.

Schmidt has since promised to revive his actions, warning, “We’re gonna be exposing Target … We are going to be going on hunting expeditions soon. Hunting LGBTQ+ supporters across Arizona and Phoenix.”

Numerous other videos have emerged. One person’s viral tiktok expressed anger over rainbow themed and tuck-friendly clothing while going through Target racks. OAN anchor Alison Steinberg expressed dismay at cards that include two moms and two dads. Walsh called for people to “make pride toxic for brands. If they decide to shove this garbage in our face, they should know they’ll pay a price.”

Sure enough, Target acquiesced, announcing that it would be dropping some “controversial items” and moving displays to the back of some stores.

The speed in which some companies cave to anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment shows the danger in entrusting Pride events to the care of corporations, who have no meaningful skin in the game and who are willing to pull support at moment’s notice.

Pride has its roots in a response to anti-LGBTQ+ oppression in 1969, particularly the raid on the Stonewall Inn in New York. Both then and now, anti-drag laws proliferate and LGBTQ+ people find themselves targeted by the state and by bigotry on the streets. The first Pride was a riot, and its early celebrations were not about touting corporate advocacy or organizational support for queer people, but rather about fostering our own communities and networks to ensure that overt oppression would never prevail.

By shifting from the original spirit of Pride to Bud Light-sponsored block parties and parades filled with corporate floats where we are merely spectators rather than active participants, we risk losing sight of the essence and purpose of Pride — to forge strong bonds in the face of oppressive forces.

Moving forward, we need a new vision of Pride that is more in line with the reason Pride was first conceived. This vision of Pride should not be dependent on corporate sponsorships, but rather should uplift the community and support the creation of social networks. Local organizations should be centered rather than multinational corporations. This vision of pride is one where we collectively march together in solidarity and celebration and express to the world that our joy will not be eradicated. I envision a pride where local businesses are supported, where drag thrives, where our block parties truly support the locals who call those blocks home.

We must make it unequivocally clear to corporations that raising rainbow flags only to retreat when confronted by oppressive forces contradicts the essence of Pride. Symbols demand action to substantiate them. Corporations wishing to demonstrate support for their LGBTQ+ employees should implement comprehensive paid family leave, include full coverage for trans-specific medical care in their insurance policies, and cease all donations to politicians endorsing anti-trans stances.

Should a company truly aim to support its LGBTQ+ employees, it must stand with queer and trans people, even in the face of harassment and abuse by right-wing aggressors. Instead of hastily retreating in the face of even a fraction of the hatred endured daily by the LGBTQ+ community from these same individuals, these corporations need to show resilient support.

Erin Reed tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation at her Erin in the Morning newsletter, where this commentary first published, and can be found on TikTok,  Instagram and Twitter.

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Erin Reed
Erin Reed

Erin Reed is a transgender woman who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world.