Target pulls back on Pride-themed merchandise after last year's backlash

FILE - A customer shops through Pride Month accessories at a Target store on June 06, 2023 in Austin, Texas.

Target confirmed on Friday that it will not carry Pride Month merchandise in all of its stores this spring. The decision follows previous backlash and a reported dip in sales related to its collection celebrating LGBTQ+ communities.

The company, which operates approximately 2,000 stores, stated that the availability of Pride-themed products such as adult apparel, home goods, foods, and beverages will be guided by "guest insights and consumer research." 

A Target spokesperson declined to disclose the number of stores where the merchandise will not be available, but the company said its online shop would offer a full assortment. The moves were first reported by Bloomberg.

"Target is committed to supporting the LGBTQIA+ community during Pride Month and year-round," Target said in an emailed statement. "Most importantly, we want to create a welcoming and supportive environment for our LGBTQIA+ team members, which reflects our culture of care for the over 400,000 people who work at Target."

RELATED: Bud Light sales still suffering in US a year after controversy

Kelley Robinson, president of the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, said Target's decision was disappointing and risks alienating LGBTQ+ individuals and allies at the risk of not only profits, but also their values.

"Pride merchandise means something," Robinson said in an emailed statement. "LGBTQ+ people are in every zip code in this country, and we aren’t going anywhere."

Reactions to Target’s merchandise changes last year

Last year, Target faced intense reactions that led to removing some items from its stores and other modifications to its LGBTQ+ merchandise lineup ahead of Pride Month. 

This reaction included confrontations with employees and incidents where displays were tipped over by customers. Target relocated displays to less prominent areas in some Southern stores in response.

The adjustments made by Target triggered a second backlash from customers who were disappointed by the retailer’s response to aggressive anti-LGBTQ+ activism. 

This activism has gained momentum in various Republican state legislatures. Civil rights organizations criticized Target for yielding to the demands of customers outraged by its inclusion of gender-fluid bathing suits. Additionally, videos threatening Target’s stance on LGBTQ+ issues circulated on social media, escalating the situation.

Target's anticipated changes to Pride merchandise

Target's decision to reduce the presence of Pride merchandise in its stores this year follows a pattern set by previous experiences. 

Last August, CEO Brian Cornell addressed the media, acknowledging that the company had learned from past backlash. He indicated that Target would consider merchandise decisions for heritage months, which celebrate the achievements of marginalized groups, more carefully.

Target has announced plans for a more focused assortment of products during heritage months. The company aims to refine the balance between its own brands and those of external partners, taking into account the feedback and results from previous years. 

The Associated Press contributed to this story.