In recent years, we’ve witnessed the rather paradoxical phenomenon of capitalist behemoths like Target incorporating Pride-themed products into their regular sales season. What was once a revolutionary call to arms for the queer community, Pride has now been transformed into a marketing stratagem, a harbinger of what many have aptly have dubbed ‘Rainbow Capitalism.’ This reality has been coming to a head for years now.
The developing debacle over Target’s 2023 Pride collection and their recently announced decision to cave to threats of terrorist violence from the extremist right-wing Cult of Christ and the reinvigorated “Religious Right” by pulling products from shelves, unveils the threadbare nature of this relatively newfound corporate allyship. It points to what those of us on the left have a long warned is a relationship rooted in greed and the drive for profit. As LGBTQ+ rights gained traction in the 1990s and early 2000s, Target decided to make that money. Now that the Religious Right has reawakened and is targeting the queer community, it’s no surprise that capitalist behemoths are quick to retract their faux inclusivity.
Target has been thrust into the eye of a cultural storm. Over the past week, conservative commentators have called for boycotts of the company. They accuse Target of promoting Satanism and “transgender ideology” through their partnerships and products. While the accusations are blatantly intolerant, erroneous fabrications based on this mythical notion of a “Transgender ideology,” what troubles me (not surprises, but troubles) the most is not the bigoted ignorance of these right-wing extremists — that’s par for the course — but rather Target’s reaction to the backlash.
In response to threats and confrontational behavior, Target has chosen to fold like worn out deck of cards, pulling some of their Pride Month products from stores. This act not only symbolizes an alarming surrender to regressive, twisted, and harmful theologies, but it also lays bare the hollowness of Target’s claimed commitment to diversity and inclusivity generally, and to the queer and trans communities specifically.
This is not simply about a rainbow-colored swimsuit or a drag queen shirt. It’s about the message that Target’s acquiescence sends to the trans community, and more broadly, the entire LGBTQIA+ community, and even more broadly to the our society in general. It tells society that as queer and trans folks our visibility, our bodies, our rights, and our identities are dispensable commodities to be traded away at the first sign of manbaby whining from the Religious Right, let alone actual social turbulence. It tells us that the values of inclusion they purported to uphold were never really values at all. They were just strategic moves in a commercial chess game.
But we knew that already, didn’t we?
Target’s quick surrender only solidifies the assumption that their proclaimed commitment to “helping all the families” was never anything more than a platitude designed to appeal to a broader demographic and thereby bolster their bottom line. By capitulating to the demands of the Cult of Christ and others who vehemently oppose our existence, they’ve shown that their real allegiance is not to us, but to their sales figures and their public image.
Target does not deserve our loyalty, our support, or our money.
To label Target’s actions as a betrayal may sound harsh. After all they’re a for-profit company, not a social justice organization. However, when you enter the arena of social advocacy, when you use the iconography and language of a marginalized community for commercial gain, you must be prepared to stand by that community when it comes under attack. Otherwise, your ‘support’ is just exploitative tokenism, not allyship. And that’s shameful.
This situation provides a clear reminder that queer liberation cannot be won through the acquisition of commodities, no matter how sparkly or rainbow-colored they may be. Our struggle is not for the right to be marketed to, but for the right to exist freely and authentically in a society that too often seeks to erase us. While it is true that corporate visibility can bring certain benefits, these are superficial and fleeting in the face of the systemic oppression that still pervades and is still so foundational to U.S. society.
The real allies of the queer community are those who stand with us in the face of adversity, who don’t retreat when the going gets tough and the bigots get loud. It’s time for Target, and other corporations like them, to demonstrate whether they are true allies or just profiteers draped in a rainbow flag. If they choose the latter, then perhaps its time they were remind them that our struggle started with a riot, and that our pride and our rights are not for sale.