Jon Pollard
Jun 7, 2023

Advice to LGBTQ+ friendly brands: be prepared

Pride can sometimes come before a fall.

Advice to LGBTQ+ friendly brands: be prepared

If you go looking for news about the US retail chain Target at the moment, exactly as you would if you’d done for Bud Light a month or so ago, you’ll see that it’s all extremely queer.

The summary: as in previous years, Target has built and advertised a Pride product collection. As usual, certain people are unhappy about this.

However, this year, and likely emboldened by the tidal wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation that’s swamping the US, they’re not content just to shout about it. Target has reported receiving “threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and wellbeing while at work”.

As a result, it’s been “making adjustments to [its] plans”, which involved removing some items and apparently shifting Pride displays to less prominent areas in certain parts of the country, also focusing on moving forward with its “continuing commitment to the community”.

I don’t think the word “commitment” means what they think it does. And nor do many LGBTQ+ organisations and individuals in the US who are calling out this capitulation to threats as unacceptable.

This feels like running at the first sign of trouble. Which speaks to the privilege that big brands enjoy when they rainbow-wash their logo for a month and put out rainbow-themed merch to make a quick buck out of the LGBTQ+ community then switch it all off at midnight on the last day of ‘Pride month’.

Those of us living in this world know that the challenges we face are there 365 days a year and it’s increasingly hard to hide from that growing media and legislative assault.

But what Target is hopefully learning, as Bud Light did last month, is that knee-jerk reactions and giving ground aren’t going to help. And they certainly don’t look like a “commitment to the community”.

It’s absolutely right that employees should be protected from potential abuse and violence – I’ve seen comments from LGBTQ+ Target employees in particular who feel very vulnerable. But the way things are going, the people targeting Target will progress to going after them for even having those members of the community on their staff and visible at all.

And this is why I say to brands who genuinely want to support our community to be prepared. Because there’s a plan here that they’re the subject of.

Right-wing broadcaster/commentator Matt Walsh has publicly stated the goal to “make Pride toxic for brands”, so that it “won’t be worth whatever they think they’ll gain”. He describes this effort as a “campaign” that’s “making progress” with Bud Light and Target as early victims.

Potentially any brand that rainbow-washes its logo, that launches a Pride range, that publicly states its support for LGBTQ+ rights, could be the next focus of this campaign. And as we’re seeing with homophobic and transphobic rhetoric in some UK media and politics, where the US goes, we seem to be following.

So be prepared for it happening to you. Know what your strategy in response to threats of violence, complaints, boycott campaigns and ultimately actual aggression around your LGBTQ+ advocacy is going to be.

If you have a genuine “commitment to the community”, make sure that it doesn’t involve walking back your activity or failing to protect all people, including LGBTQ+. 

Because if it does, based on what’s happening, you’ll be both letting down the people you say you support and emboldening the aggressors to keep going.

Jon Pollard is head of strategy, Rapp UK


Campaign UK

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