Target's top executive hammered the aggressive behavior that some customers directed toward employees because of the retailer's collection of LGBTQ-themed merchandise.
The company removed some items from its collection for June's Pride Month, which honors lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, saying a rash of threats made workers feel unsafe. That move followed "many difficult days of deliberation and decision-making," Chief Executive Officer Brian Cornell said in an internal memo.
"What you've seen in recent days went well beyond discomfort, and it has been gut-wrenching to see what you've confronted in our aisles," Cornell told store employees in the memo, which was sent on Wednesday and viewed by Bloomberg. He also thanked service-center staffers for their "patience and professionalism through high volumes of angry, abusive and threatening calls."
Fueled by the U.S. culture wars, the imbroglio has consumed Target this week, with some critics faulting the company for its Pride Month collection while others slammed it for caving in to intimidation in stores and on social media. Cornell said he tried to chart a course between recognizing Pride Month and making changes aimed at prioritizing safety.
"To the LGBTQIA+ community, one of the hardest parts in all of this was trying to contemplate how the adjustments we're making to alleviate these threats to our team's physical and psychological safety would impact you and your wellbeing and psychological safety," he said in the memo, which was reported earlier by the Wall Street Journal.
Target didn't say which merchandise it's removing. But a few products generated the bulk of online ire.
Some were swimwear made for those who identify as transgender with a "tuck-friendly" crotch and "light binding" chest construction, which sveral social media users — including some prominent politicians — incorrectly said were for children. But those items were still available online Thursday and were part of the Pride displays at the front of the Nicollet Mall and Minneapolis Quarry stores Wednesday.
Other apparel and accessory items were from U.K.-based brand Abprallen, which critics accused of expressing "Satanist" views in its designs. On the brand's website, the designer — who identifies as a gay, trans man — explained he juxtaposes the use of pastels with "imagery of skulls and spooky things," an interest of his since childhood as "there's something magical about the unknown, the frightening and the mystical."
Those products are no longer on Target's website. Only one of the designer's items — a pink fanny pack with a space theme saying, "We belong everywhere" — was still on shelves at the Minneapolis Quarry and Richfield stores.
Target fell 2.8% at 2:43 p.m. in New York, on track for its sixth-consecutive decline, the worst streak in five months.