Target CEO: Pride Displays Made Workers Feel Unsafe at Work

Target CEO Brian Cornell said that the backlash Target faced in May for its LGBTQ Pride displays is the first time team members have claimed to be “unsafe” at work.

Cornell was on CNBC, where he spoke about the decline in sales of Pride Month merchandise. He said that the employees were more concerned about their safety during the controversy than during natural disasters or violent Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

This is my 10th Christmas at Target. We’ve talked almost every quarter for the past ten years. We’ve experienced natural disasters. We’ve seen some of the violence after George Floyd was murdered, as well as the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had. Cornell told reporters that he saw store staff members saying they were afraid to go to work for the first time in his career.

Will Hild, the executive director of Consumers’ Research, objected strongly to Cornell’s remarks.

It’s ironic, that he would speak about the safety of his employees and divert attention from the fact that his stores are unsafe for parents to bring in their small children who don’t necessarily want to have to answer questions like, What is transgender? or “Mommy why is there a child’s book that asks me if I am a boy or girl?” Hild said, “I already know these things.”

Hild said, “He’s the one that made Target stores unsuitable for children, whether they are his own, his customers, or his employees.” “And yet, he is trying to shift the blame and place it back on his customers.” Hild continued. He is basically blaming the customer for his mistakes.”

Target’s annual Pride Month displays were unveiled in May. The company faced increased scrutiny when customers discovered “tuck-friendly”, women’s bathing suits for transgender individuals, as well as infant and child products. Target stores began moving Pride displays to less visible areas after images became viral.

Cornell has defended his decision despite receiving a new round of criticism from several LGBTQ groups for allegedly giving in to “extremists.”

But it was a tough time. In the current environment, we decided to focus on de-escalating the situation, caring for our team, celebrating this moment, and taking the lessons learned with us. We also discussed it during our most recent earnings call. We will manage these moments differently. Cornell said that we will time these heritage moments differently, whether they are about Black history Hispanic heritage, or Pride.

He also refuted claims that the shop sold “transgender bathing suits” for children, or that it partnered with “devil worshippers” to create its Pride designs.

Cornell said to Becky Quick of CNBC, “You and I both know that those were not true.”

Target worked with Abprallen, a U.K. brand for Pride Month in the past. The brand displayed merchandise that included messages like “Satan respects gender pronouns” and designer Erik Carnell has expressed Satanic beliefs.

“Satanists do not actually believe in Satan. He is used merely as a symbol of passion, pride, and freedom. You can make him mean whatever you want. For me, Satan represents hope, compassion, and equality. Satan, of course, respects pronouns. He loves everyone who is LGBT+. For this design, I chose a variation on Baphomet, a god who is themselves a mix of genders and beings. They reject binary stereotyping and expectations. “Perfect,” wrote Carnell on Instagram.

Target pulled Cornell’s merchandise off the shelves, a move Cornell deemed a “dangerous precedence.”