Target CEO Defends Removal Of LGBTQ Pride Merch Earlier This Year

Target CEO Brian Cornell defended the company’s decision to remove some of its LGBTQ Pride merchandise from store shelves earlier this year, saying that the call was made because of “serious safety threats.”

After more than a decade of selling Pride merchandise, Target removed some of its items in May in order to protect the “safety and well-being” of store employees who were receiving threats and backlash over the items, according to a company statement.

In an interview with CNBC on Thursday, Cornell backed the initial reasons behind the decision, emphasizing the seriousness of the “very aggressive behavior” that the retail chain’s stores were receiving.

Employees at multiple Target stores across the country were forced to evacuate after receiving bomb threats in June over the Pride merchandise. Cornell said people also destroyed merchandise, caused disruptions at cashier areas, yelled at employees and threatened to light items on fire at the stores.

The backlash arrived amid a sweeping conservative-led anti-LGBTQ campaign targeting corporations and employees.

“I’ve seen natural disasters,” Cornell told reporter Becky Quick on CNBC’s Squawk Box. “We’ve seen the impact of COVID leading into the pandemic. Some of the violence that took place after George Floyd’s murder. But I will tell you, Becky, what I saw back in May is the first time since I’ve been in this job where I had store team members saying, ‘It’s not safe to come to work.’”

The company needed to prioritize the team’s safety, Cornell said, adding that he anticipated that the decision to remove the merchandise would not be well received.

Several human rights organizations and politicians criticized Target, arguing that the removal of its Pride merchandise bowed to the pressure of extremists’ anti-LGBTQ agendas.

Cornell told CNBC that although the company saw a dip in second-quarter sales, he doesn’t believe that Target’s Pride merchandise backlash is still financially impacting the company. Target will report its third-quarter earnings on Nov. 15.

Other corporations also faced similar sales drops over inclusive messaging or support for the LGBTQ community, including Anheuser-Busch InBev, the parent company of Bud Light, following a campaign that featured transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney.