Q&A   //   June 12, 2023

‘They don’t actually care about queer people’: Confessions of a Target worker on the company’s decision to remove some Pride items

Target employees have found themselves caught in the middle after the company’s decision to remove some Pride merchandise from stores.

The big-box retailer announced on May 24 that it it was removing some items from its Pride Month collection due to “threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and well-being while at work.” The announcement came after some videos went viral on social media of people and conservative commentators complaining about certain items within the collection.

But, Target released few details on which items it is actually removing and why. A spokesperson told Reuters that it was “reviewing certain transgender swimsuits and children’s merchandise,” but didn’t say conclusively what items it had removed. Much of that information has been ascertained by looking at the company’s website; the company removing items made by LGBTQ brand Abprallen, as well as trans designer Erik Carnell, according to Reuters.

In the latest edition of our Confessions series, in which we offer anonymity in exchange for candor, Modern Retail spoke with one part-time Target worker about the mood has been like at their particular store before and after the Pride Month display was altered. This Target worker lives in Virginia, has worked at the company for about three years, and identifies as queer. According to the worker, managers didn’t alert employees that they were taking down part of the Pride display — this particular worker just walked into the store one morning to see managers disassembling it. For this worker, it reinforced the idea that Target’s commitment to supporting queer issues was mostly just lip service.

Target did not respond to Modern Retail’s request for comment as of press time; in its May 24 statement, the company said “our focus now is on moving forward with our continuing commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community and standing with them as we celebrate Pride Month and throughout the year.”

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Before the announcement from Target corporate that they were removing some Pride merchandise — did anything happen at your store? Or did you first hear about this through the news?
I know before they actually removed it, we did have customers — you know calling and complaining, coming in the store and complaining. It was not a lot, maybe a couple.

I don’t personally answer calls there because that is just not my department — it is usually guest services that does.

Do you ever recall getting similar calls or complaints during past Pride Months?
No, not at all.

How did you feel when you heard about this, that you heard a couple customers were complaining about the Pride display?
I just felt annoyed because it is like, why are you putting us workers — that have nothing to do with it — why are you giving us a hard time? It is not our fault, whether you like it or not. It put more of a strain on us and more work on us to have to deal with that. And obviously, it makes you feel unsafe — especially as a queer person, you never know what a customer will do.

And how do you feel about how Target corporate responded?
I think it is sad. I mean, it is not shocking, because working for Target I know they are not really a great company, after working for them for so many years. But it’s just disappointing to see them kind of just give into [it]. I mean, it makes sense, because all they really care about is profit, so it’s not shocking. But it is like, wow. That sucks.

Are the customer complaints and Target’s response something you have been speaking about with coworkers? I am curious how much chatter it is getting within your store?
The guest services team has just been telling me about the people who have come in and called and all that, and it is like ugh, really, [because of] how much harder it makes things on them.

And then when they took [some of the Pride display] down, my coworkers were just like — so [managers] pretty much took half of it down — and a lot of people were like, ‘what’s going on?’ Because a lot of people hadn’t even heard about [the controversy] until the day they took it all down.

Did you get any insight? Did your manager say what part of the display they took down and why, or what merchandise they removed and why?
Well they didn’t directly tell me. I saw them actually take it down, because they did it before the store opened. And we had a display right when you walked in and a little table, and they took that whole table out. Anything that was kids clothes… they straight up got rid of it… And the section had a lot of stuff before. Now, it is just like a few shirts and maybe a little bit of accessories. It is barely a section, it is a little corner now.

Has this changed anything in terms of how you feel about working for Target?
It just feels like [Target is] trying to appease the same people that make us feel unsafe. And they say they are doing it for our safety but it just makes me feel like….I already know they [Target] don’t actually care about queer people. But this confirms it. Just kind of confirming what I already knew.

Was there anything else before this that made you feel like they don’t care about queer people?

Just the way that some managers have treated queer people. They are really performative… Target doesn’t really do anything that would make anyone think they are supportive. They just say, ‘we support queer people,’ and that’s it. They just say it.

Do you think you will be working at Target for the foreseeable future? Has this changed your interest at all in Target?
I’ve always wanted to leave Target, so I mean this just makes me want to more. If I could find another job, I definitely would.

Is there anything else you feel like would be important for people to know in terms of how this has impacted you and other workers?
I think people don’t understand that no corporation is really going to care about queer issues, it’s really just about the money. Even two years ago, Target barely had any Pride stuff. A lot of what companies do is just to make money, so whatever crowd is going to appease them, that is who they are going to work for. So don’t put your faith into a company.

I’m curious — it seems like there are more high-profile boycotts or threats to boycott retailers — have you noticed any changes the past couple years in terms of what it’s like to talk to customers? Have they come in more combative?
I’m in a really conservative city so it is not really something I’m not used to. But I just think people are getting more bold — saying how they feel a lot louder.