It’s Pride Month again, that special time of year when giant corporations that regularly donate to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians and organizations cater to the LGBTQ+ market by shitting out some rainbow merch that conservatives will have a tantrum over before putting it on clearance on July 1st.
Thanks to a terrifying rise in anti-queer, especially anti-trans, sentiments and an emboldened breed of social media trolls, several major companies have walked back their support of the LGBTQ+ community.
Fundamentalists boycotting and causing a ruckus is nothing new, but why does this year’s batch of anti-Pride psychos feel different?
What Happened: The Short Version
A few weeks ago, before Memorial Day, I was in a Target and saw this year’s Pride display.
Like the Christmas season, I agree with all of the typical objections around faux-gressive capitalism and major corporations, which often financially contribute to bigoted power players, colonizing marginalized spaces in order to make a profit.
Also like Christmas, I still enjoy it. What can I say? I like shiny things.
The first thing I noticed was the Pride Month merch display and a children’s shirt that said “Trans People Will Always Exist” in pastel balloon lettering. From an aesthetic standpoint, I’m not a fan of slogans on shirts, but it was nice seeing that Target made a shirt like that.
If you do like the sound of that shirt, tough luck.
It was one of several Pride-themed items removed from stores and online after public tantrums and intense harassment of employees from anti-trans conservatives lead to a drop in Target’s market value.
This decision was on the heels of the Dylan Mulvaney/Bud Light controversy, where Anheuser-Busch sent a pack of promotional cans to a trans influencer and conservatives lost their minds.
Some, like no-one’s-favorite-uncle Kid Rock, did the usual conservative-boycott trope of spending money on the product they hate and destroying it for clout. Others went further, like whipping cans of beer at people in a grocery store or sending death threats to Budweiser employees.
Target’s Pride 2023 run through the conservative Karen cycle was slightly different.
The “buy-n-burn” part of the moral panic ritual was practically non-existent and while there were plenty of “news” segments from Fox and OAN, Twitter screeds, and driver-side car confessionals on Tik Tok, more and more of the confrontational incidents were happening IRL.
Employees, people just trying to get through the goddamn day, would have to deal with, at best, a clout-chasing troll shoving a phone in everyone’s face and asking stupid questions or, at worst, physical violence.
Eventually, the higher-ups at Target told stores that in addition to moving the Pride sections from the front of the store to a smaller section in the back, toning down the signage and mannequins, a significant portion of the trans-focused merch was being taken off the shelves.
Not all stores moved the displays, but one major casualty of the product culling was merch made in collaboration with British designer Erik Carnell. This included a shirt that read “cure transphobia, not trans people”. Carnell became a target of conservative ire due to his use of some Satanic imagery in their designs.
None of the clothes Carnell made for Target had even a whiff of devilish or occult imagery.
Carnell was understandably unhappy but said they understood the reasoning behind it.
Reported by NBC News, Carnell said “It’s difficult because, on one hand, I’m obviously completely against it. I think that they should stand by their principles. If you’re going to have a Pride range centered around and created by LGBTQ people, then… you need to stick that out.”
“However, if I were working as a retail employee at a Target store, in an open carry state, I wouldn’t feel safe. So, I do understand their thought process on pulling some of the items. Justified or not, the safety of their employees has to be paramount.”
So much of this sucks on so many levels for so many reasons.
That being said, there are some nuggets of insight to dig out of this pile of shit that might help us understand why things are getting worse.
Putting Targets on Queer Folk’s Back
One reason this year’s Pride feels more fraught with danger is that things are genuinely more dangerous.
This is partially thanks to a combination of high-profile bigots in the media and the government stoking fear and hatred of queer people and the very American issue of widespread gun violence.
The rationale given by ghouls like Matt Walsh and Marjorie Taylor Greene is that children are at risk of being sexually abused by “groomers” and parents need to defend them against these pedophiles.
“Groomers” include, but are not limited to, trans people, queer people, and anyone who supports or acknowledges their existence.
Like every other moral panic, these people are screaming “Won’t somebody please think of the children?”.
You’re concerned about the safety of children? Fine, let’s talk about that.
According to the CDC and New England Journal of Medicine, firearms are now the leading cause of preventable death among children. Only 150 days into 2023, there were already 263 mass shootings, almost two a day.
If a politician was concerned over child safety, gun safety legislation would be a top priority for them, right?
Nope. There have been zero pieces of gun safety legislation pushed forward this year.
There are, however, over 400 anti-trans and LGBTQ+ laws at some stage on state and federal levels introduced in 2023 alone.
There is no point in debating in good faith over these bills. Saying this is all born out of genuine concern is laughable and the conservative politicians/influencers know it. Nothing they claim, from cries over trans kids in youth sports to Drag story time, has any basis in reality.
So, what is the point here?
Why choose this hill to die on and use your power to harm people?
One possible reason is that fueling all of this culture war bullshit is that it helps distract the populace from other major issues. It is a tried-and-true tactic, throwing red meat to your base as a smoke screen.
Ever since the Covid pandemic and uprisings in 2020, the average citizen has become more aware of systemic issues in America and our government’s unwillingness to do anything that doesn’t help non-billionaires.
The public pearl-clutching has grown in intensity to match the outcry from more and more people calling for action on guns, climate change, healthcare, wealth inequality, and civil rights.
The more obvious the problems, the bigger the distraction.
If we are being honest, the real motivation behind powerful people starting cultural fires and dousing them with gasoline is obvious: it’s an easy way to make a lot of money.
Politicians take major financial contributions from giant companies and organizations, including Target, to help grease the wheels in their favor. The longer they stay in office, the more cash they can rake in.
Common sense would say that if all you’re doing after getting voted in is favors for the 1% and nothing to help the average constituent, then you’d have a hard time keeping your seat.
Republicans have no substantive policies to point to and show how they’re making people’s lives better. So, instead of doing their job, they whip up a moral panic that appeals to their most die-hard (typically white supremacist) fans to give the illusion of action.
A simple case study here is public schools, which all of this anti-queer hullabaloo is also tied to.
Public schools in most of America are underfunded with teachers getting paid an insulting amount with more and more responsibility heaped on them every year. If we all agree that children are our most precious resource and studies show a good education is paramount to their success, then the solution should be obvious.
Put more funding into public education.
But if you’re a politician getting major kickbacks from private schools, then you want public schools to fail and disappear. One way to do that is to erode parents’ trust in public schools by claiming children are being sexually abused.
When you don’t have the facts on your side, just start making shit up. You’ll get what you want if you’re loud enough for long enough.
Politicians are only part of the equation. Right-wing media such as Blaze, Praeger U, or The Daily Wire have also found that manufactured outrage is a license to print money.
This isn’t new, there have always been media personalities that use hate and fear to whip up their audience.
What makes the modern era so fascinating is the almost absent barrier to entry where anyone with a phone and a social media account can become a star.
Hate is Good Business
If social media has taught us anything, it is that rage can be spun into gold with little to no effort.
Algorithms already push and prioritize content that sparks anger, and plenty has been written and discussed over how this can create a radicalizing pipeline that can lead people by the hand into white supremacist and bigoted communities.
There has been less discussion over how this has created a new kind of business model that incentivizes creators to cater to the worst people online.
Fans of genre entertainment like comics, popcorn movies, and video games have seen this dance many times before when small Youtube channels or social media accounts blow up by ranting about “woke” media.
Just put a word like “libs” or “woke” in your video title or description and you’ll have every neckbeard frothing at the mouth because a children’s movie didn’t make a female character f*ckable enough or something.
Once they have the audience’s attention, they have to ramp things up to keep generating those clicks and likes to feed the algorithm and get more subscribers. More subscribers mean more ad revenue, more livestream donations, more patrons on Patreon, more merch sales, and on and on and on.
Maybe if they’re lucky there will be some coverage over whatever the new controversy is and your name will get out there, creating more views.
If they are super lucky, they’ll get “canceled”, which has just become another part of the business plan, and that will galvanize people to give you more money.
This way of making money isn’t solely the province of nerds ranting about people of color in Space Wizard Fight: Episode IX.
Mommy bloggers, lifestyle gurus, political commentators, and just garden variety trolls have found this dark fast track to fame and wealth as well.
In late 2020 Chaya Raichik was a realtor on Twitter using the handle @shaya69830552 who commented on conservative posts. Three years and a handle change later, Raichik is a conservative star known for her account Libs of Tik Tok.
What separates the new class of morality warriors is that people like Raichik, Tim Pool, or Matt Walsh blast their conspiracy theories from a studio, whereas the newer folks have their jackboots firmly planted on the ground.
Bigger creators and personalities do encourage this behavior, which has led to shootings and bomb threats getting sent to children’s hospitals. For some, all of this “trans people are going to trans your kids” is a reality to them and they feel the need to take violent action.
For others, it’s a golden opportunity to make a name for themselves and get in on this grift.
Instead of barking into a mic, more and more people are causing scenes in public. They’ll instigate some sort of confrontation and scream about how they’re the victim when they lose the fight they started.
Some of these clout-chasers are pathetically funny, like Ethan Schmidt-Crockett. Getting his start as a Covid denier, Ethan went viral in 2022 for ranting and raving about a Pride flag hung in what he thought was a Petco before being corrected that he was in a PetSmart on his way out.
Another of his videos from 2022 features an absolute queen of a Target employee calmly mocking Ethan to his face by saying she is a Satanist.
My personal favorite is a series of videos he filmed in a mall at different stores. You can track his progress by how tired the security guy just off-screen sounds when he says something like “Ethan, how many times do I have to tell you to leave?”
The Phoenix-based goblin has been arrested several times for harassment and trespassing, but the donations he receives help with the court costs.
So many of these losers have donation pages. Seriously, it’s like Only Fans for Fascists (Only Whites?).
Things get less funny when you see the comments that come with some of the donations, thanking a grown man who has said he wants to literally hunt LGBTQ+ people for “fighting the good fight.”
The laughs are taken down another notch when you realize after Bud Light sends out an apology and Target moves or removes Pride-themed items, the bad guys are winning.
Again, you’ll get what you want if you’re loud enough for long enough.
Not only that, but people will cheer you on and give you money for being an asshole.
What Do We Do?
Is there any way to stop this cycle of violence and protect people against these sociopathic clout chasers?
Relying on cultural attitudes to shift in a good way is always a dicey proposition. Some studies show that taking a bigoted person and having them actually meet and spend time with minorities can change their mind.
Literally ain’t nobody got time for that.
If trolls won’t change, then the responsibility should fall on the companies. NOT the employees, but the actual companies. Especially the ones, like Target, who have donated heavily to Republican campaigns and conservative groups.
If, as they said in their public statement, Target was really worried about employee safety, Target could have told these KKK-arens to kick rocks and just hired more security. Instead, they decided to bend to the pressure when their stocks took a dip.
Same thing with Bud Light.
Instead of getting spooked by short-term losses, they could have followed Nike’s example when people boycotted after they hired Colin Kaepernick. There was an initial drop in market value, but their sales went through the roof.
As for the rest of us not sitting in a board room, all I can say is stand up to hate when you can however you can, but always remember to keep yourself safe first.
Right-wing boycotts and conservative hate of Pride are nothing new, but it sure feels like it in June of 2023. With more hate directed at the LGBTQ+ community every day and the “Karen-to-Influencer” pipeline growing at an alarming rate, things start to feel bleak.
Don’t let sad, little, wannabe-Tucker Carlsons ruin Pride for you.
Also, we don’t need to rely only on big box stores and beer conglomerates for some rainbow swag. There are thousands of small queer designers and plenty of queer-run or supportive breweries.
Have fun, stay safe, and don’t feed the trolls.