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Target and the Emptiness of Rainbow Capitalism

Pride started as an assertion that queer lives are worthy of being lived truthfully and openly. Pride is loud, a riotous demonstration against a state determined to keep us scared, quiet, stuck in the margins. Pride is an exclamation that not only is there nothing wrong with being gay, lesbian, trans, pansexual, nonbinary, HIV-positive, asexual, polyamorous, a drag queen — it’s actually beautiful. To be radically yourself — whatever that may mean — is expansive, exploratory, vulnerable, and honest. It is an escape from denial into sacred, real love: I am not lying. I am not scared. I am not confused. I am myself, and I am proud to be.


What is Pride if not a middle finger to the notion that people and their expression, love, and relationships with themselves and others is not for anyone else to control? What is Pride if not the antidote to shame, the most pervasive weapon used against the LGBTQ community?


I can tell you what Pride is not: a moneymaking strategy, despite corporations like Target treating it as such. As is the inevitability of capitalism, everything that is real and good is eventually commodified and sold back to us plastic, cheap, and hollow. Target and other rainbow-washing culprits have learned the truth: Pride is political, and to stand for it means rooting your feet to the ground or else crumbling.


Target, unsurprisingly, has crumbled, responding to reported threats made against its company and employees by backing down and moving Pride merchandise to the back of the store in some states.


This situation, unfortunately, is a perfect example of how effective shame can be, when paired (as it almost always is) with violence, and why Pride is necessary. What Target didn’t predict when deciding to turn a rainbow profit was that violent suppression was inevitable and they were taking on a political (and therefore controversial by nature) position that would need to be defended. The LGBTQ community will always be a scapegoat for people grasping desperately for power; this war against the LGBTQ community, while terrifying, frustrating, and disheartening, is not surprising. When Target, Bud Light, and other companies back down to intimidation, they abandon us. They leave us to the wolves, which is so much more dangerous than if they opted to never sell rainbow T-shirts at all.


“If [Target is] going to wade in on this, and they’re going to put support out there for the LGBTQ population, I think once they enter that fray they have a responsibility to stand by that community,” Michael Edison Hayden, a senior investigative reporter and spokesperson for Southern Poverty Law Center, told NPR. “As soon as you back down like this, you send a message that intimidation works, and that makes it much scarier than if you had never started to begin with.”


Target gave anti-LGBTQ extremists a win. Their decision will encourage more violence.


Everyone has a right to protest, and that includes boycott. If homophobes and transphobes want to never shop at Target again, it is their right to do so. But homophobia and transphobia aren’t acts of protest; they are, inherently, acts of violence. They will always turn to violence, in one way or another. This was not about just a loss of profit; the company and its employees were being threatened. Safety is the priority above all else, but god damn am I angry that anti-LGBTQ bigots now feel like Target sees some value in the bullshit they believe.


What will continually be proven, over and over again, is that corporations who encourage you to love yourself in order to make money off of you will never, ever, ever truly care about you. While Target may back down, we never will. We will continue to fight for each other and ourselves, and we won’t let people who think tucking swimsuits are more threatening than literal violence make us feel small. We are not scared. We are ourselves, and we are proud to be.