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Target Doesn’t Care about LGBTQ+ People

At Target and Anheuser-Busch, policies of inclusion and diversity have clashed with profit ambitions.

Pablo Herón

June 2, 2023
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A rainbow display at the supermarket Target during Pride Month 2022.

On May 17 — the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia — far-right influencer Matt Walsh claimed on his podcast that the supermarket chain Target was selling, as part of its Pride Month collection, leggings designed for trans children. It was a lie, but the fake news prompted a boycott campaign against the mega-chain that ended with people breaking into stores and filming themselves destroying the collection and even attacking employees.

“The goal is to make ‘pride’ toxic for brands. If they decide to shove this garbage in our face, they should know that they’ll pay a price. It won’t be worth whatever they think they’ll gain,” Walsh tweeted. With its own motivations, the Far Right is attacking the formula that has, for decades, paid off for a sector of big business: use inclusive rhetoric to increase profits by creating a gay-friendly market segment. This is known as pinkwashing.

Won’t Someone Think of the Children?

The United States is becoming increasingly polarized as the Far Right is weaponizing reproductive and LGBTQ+ rights in order to radicalize sectors that emerged with Trumpism. The attacks on abortion and the introduction of hundreds of laws in states and municipalities against diversity of all kinds, particularly against trans people, are part of this campaign.

Under the guise of “thinking of the children,” these far-right forces — including right-wing influencers like Walsh — are centering the defense of traditional values, nationalism, the heterosexual family unit, and the gender roles that fit that model. Perhaps most emblematic of these attacks is Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law promoted by Republican governor Ron DeSantis, who recently entered the presidential race. The law basically prohibits any discussion of gender and sexuality in the classroom. Similar proposals have been taken up elsewhere in the U.S. and even by far-right politicians internationally.

According to this reasoning, LGBTQ+ people are a cause of all of society’s current ills; they’re scapegoats for the economic, political, and social crises brought about by neoliberalism. This stigmatizing rhetoric effectively sows divisions among the exploited and oppressed majority that paid the price for the 2008 crisis, the pandemic, and increasing inequality.

LGBTQ+ people were sold a kind of freedom within capitalism: there would be progress, merit-based equality, corporate and institutional ladders to climb, and the recognition of some democratic rights. However, the reality for the vast majority of LGBTQ+ people is that of precarity.

From Profits and Attacks to Unionization

In mid-March, beer giant Anheuser-Busch suffered a boycott after trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney made a promoted post featuring Bud Light. Sales of the brand are now down by nearly 25 percent from a year earlier, likely due to Bud Light’s conservative-leaning consumer base.

Target explained in a statement that it decided to withdraw the collection of Pride month products for the safety of its workers and that the company will maintain its commitment to the LGBTQ+ community. However, statements from employees point to a different reason: “The communication provided to us explicitly said the decision to move these items was to replace them with swimwear to better meet our sales goals […] Not once was safety mentioned.”

This sales focus squares with market figures: the company’s share price is down by nearly 20 percent since last month, leading to a more than $10 billion drop in its valuation. This is likely due to a combination of weakening consumer spending, economic headwinds, and, to a lesser extent, the boycott campaign.

From the outset, corporate Pride campaigns are approached from a cost-benefit calculation. As The New York Times points out, companies like Starbucks and Nike, which have a younger and more progressive customer base, can more easily sell Pride-related products and LGBTQ+ campaigns.

Target Workers United (TWU), a rank-and-file unionization initiative for the supermarket, denounced Target’s actions, tweeting: “Corporations don’t protect workers, they exploit them. Let this be a teachable moment that capitalists will abandon any pretense of social justice when it might hurt profits. Only workers can defend our LGBTQ coworkers.”

The company is well-known for having a strict anti-union policy and using every union-busting tactic at their disposal, including threats, intimidation, and one-on-one meetings. This is the essence of corporate progressivism: promises of equality and diversity alongside bans on worker organizing.

So far, no Target store has unionized, although workers at stores in Virginia and Colorado attempted to do so last year. Among TWU’s demands are an end to instability and unpredictability: workers do not know how many hours they will work  each month and thus how much they will be paid. Like other precariously employed workers in the United States, Target employees often face hunger and even homelessness while the company makes billions.  

Working-Class Fragmentation

If these “progressive” companies and the Far Right have one thing in common, it’s their total opposition to unions — they don’t want workers to discuss how to fight to improve their working and living conditions. The reactionary discourse against “gender ideology,” besides attacking the rights that the working class and oppressed have won, seeks to find scapegoats and strengthen the divisions among these groups.

Neoliberalism produced a fragmentation of workers as never seen before — workers who are often outsourced, contracted, or in precarious “gig” work. At the same time, companies and some traditional parties use identity politics divorced from this material reality — as if LGBTQ+ people who struggle to make ends meet with piecemeal work face the same problems and have the same needs as millionaires.

This working-class fragmentation, fostered for decades, not only favored the neoliberal project, but also laid the foundations for the emergence of these Far Right forces that pose as an alternative, promoting a more staunch individualism, the stigmatization of discriminated collectives, and increased exploitation. That is why, in the face of the crisis of neoliberalism and all the divisions it seeks to impose, it’s necessary to oppose a revolutionary union of that exploited and oppressed majority, organized from below, which fights to overthrow capitalism and build a new society.

Originally published in Spanish on May 31 in La Izquierda Diario.

Translation by Otto Fors

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