American retail behemoth Target found itself in a Pride-sized pickle in 2023, trying to sprinkle some LGBTQ+ magic into its product lineup. The trouble began with baby onesies proudly declaring “being proud” and swimsuits with a questionable “tuck” feature, leading to a $9 billion loss and temporary store closures due to bomb threats and wrestling matches between customers and staff. Target vowed to find a middle ground for Pride Month 2024, promising modifications that balance catering to the LGBTQ+ community while still appealing to conservative shoppers.
Target encountered further criticism in August 2023 for carrying the book “Bye Bye, Binary” by New York Times bestselling children’s author Eric Geron. The book explores a newborn baby’s rejection of the gender binary, opting for toys, colors, and clothes that bring them joy, sparking controversy following the Pride month dilemma. Predictably, the book was not well-received by Target shoppers.
In all, Target suffered a $9 billion loss from the boycotts.
If March and August of 2023 were intended to be valuable learning lessons, they missed their “target” completely. This Christmas, holiday shoppers can jingle all the way through aisles of LGTBQ+-themed seasonal décor, including a soldier wearing a rainbow hat and waving a Pride flag.
Some of the décor is welcomed, like Santas of different ethnicities riding through the holidays in wheelchairs. Target’s nod to differently-abled people follows the success of their Halloween décor, which included Dracula in a wheelchair.
But other Target offerings have again sparked controversy, including rainbow-themed Nutcrackers, a “love is love” rainbow glitter ornament, multiple gay pride tree toppers, and a seven-foot tall inflatable rainbow Christmas tree. Not even Santa is safe, with table-top decorations that include Santa wearing a pride shirt and waving a pride flag. He is notably missing his sack of toys, presumably because he needs his hands to hold his flag.
Target is not alone in offering LGTBQ+ holiday decorations. Rival retailer Walmart has a few of its own, including a “Love is Love” gay pride Santa, numerous ornaments, and a wide selection of pride-themed Christmas trees. One ornament features a reindeer and the words, “Oh dear, I’m queer,” ready to hang from any branch of the pride tree. Even mermaids are not safe at Walmart, which features a Gay Pride merman waving a pride flag.
Although physics dictates that a mermaid cannot successfully wave a flag underwater, common sense would dictate that both retailers should expect, once again, significant backlash from consumers.
Walmart somehow escaped the consumer scrutiny and calls for boycotts faced by Target in March, even though it offered a wide selection of Pride Month products. Walmart also features a more permanent selection of LGBTQ+ offerings, including T-shirts with messages like “Some people are gay. Get over it,” “Gay AF,” and “Woke up gay again,” and Infant onesies feature phrases such as “Proud love,” “I love my 2 moms,” and “Love will win.”
Part of Walmart’s “Pride & Joy” collection offers a vast assortment of LGBTQ+-friendly trinkets and accessories, including flags, pins, tote bags, and even clothes for woke dogs.
A TikTok video went viral, sarcastically showing a woman shopping for Pride-themed baby clothes at Walmart. She highlighted items like a onesie with “Proud love” marked as “gender inclusive” for infants and rompers saying, “Love wins.” The video also showcased an adult T-shirt labeled “Proud parent,” similarly marked as “gender inclusive.”
In the duel of the retail titans, Walmart, with its more lenient dress code and year-round plethora of LGBTQ+ offerings, seems to have dodged the consumer scrutiny that sank Target. Walmart, the discount giant with more stores than you can shake a Pride flag at, caters to a diverse customer base more focused on industrial-sized tubs of butter and discounted electronics than potentially offensive LGBTQ+ merchandise.
Meanwhile, Target, with its curated shopping experience, appeals to a slightly “higher class” shopper and painfully learned that navigating the treacherous waters of woke retail isn’t all glitter and rainbows.
As the holiday approaches, it will be interesting to see if consumer backlash against Target’s woke holiday décor reaches March 2023 Gay Pride levels. At the end of the season, will Target be on the “naughty” list or the “nice” list? Only time and consumer sentiment will tell.