Target Removed LGBTQ+ Merch For Employee Safety. Now the Designer Is Getting Death Threats

2022 New York City Pride March - Credit: Astrida Valigorsky/Getty Images

2022 New York City Pride March – Credit: Astrida Valigorsky/Getty Images

designer Erik Carnell, the gay trans man behind the London-based company accessory and apparel line Abprallen, was honored to see his products sold at Target as part of the company’s pride collection. “I’m especially happy at the thought that young closed people will see it, and I hope that in some way they’ll feel a bit more comfortable in themselves, as we all deserve to feel,” he wrote on Instagram last week. Now, those same items have been removed from availability online and stripped from store shelves as part of Target’s response to the intense conservative backlash to the LGBTQ+ products that the company says have threatened employee safety. Meanwhile, death threats are filling up Carnell’s inbox.

“This whole situation has been far worse than I could have imagined in terms of pushback against my person,” Carnell tells Rolling Stone over email. “I have received innumerable death threats and threats of violence, these only being outnumbered by the sheer volume of hate messages I’ve received. I am upset over the lies that have been spread about me and the falsehood that I designed so-called ‘satanic’ items for children in Target. I designed items only for the adult sections, none of which had any occult or otherwise ‘satanic’ imagery.”

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While certain items sold by Abprallen include that imagery, the Carnell sweatshirts and tote bags designed for Target only feature colorful illustrations with outer space themes and phrases like “Cure Transphobia, Not Trans People.” Not a devil horn or pentagram in sight. These products were available online and in-store just last week. Currently, no results for the company appear when searched directly through Target, and users accessing the items via Google are redirected to a “product not available” landing page.

“Since introducing this year’s collection, we’ve experienced threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and well-being while at work,” Target shared in a statement on Tuesday, May 23. ”Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans, including removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior.”

Target’s Pride collection items, usually located in the clothing departments near the front entrance, will be a little bit harder to find the heading to Pride Month, if the merchandise is still available at all. According to the Associated Press, target locations in certain Southern states will be moving these impacted products towards the back of the store. The company also declined to specify which items would be removed from its shelves. So far, the only items to have been completely removed from availability are from Abprallen.

Carnell explained that while he understood the importance of employee safety, he believed Target could have approached its response differently. “I wish that Target had taken a different approach, such as employing more security and using those resources to remove distributive patrons instead of removing or shrinking the Pride displays,” he says. “I do, however, understand that employee’s physical safety comes first, as it should, particularly in open carry States.”

But the backlash lives online, too, similarly born from misinformation.[InrecentdayssomeswimwearpiecesthatappearinTarget’spridecollection—including“tuck-friendly”swimsuitsfortransgenderpeoplewhohavenotreceivedgender-affirmingoperations—havebeenfalselypromotedonsocialmediaasbeingavailableforchildrenInrealitytheitemsareonlybeingcarriedinadultsizesandstoredintheadultsectionofTarget’sstoresandwebsiteThesuitswhicharemarkedwithcirculartagsthatread“Tuck-FriendlyConstruction”and“ExtraCrotchCoverage”rangeinsizefromanadultXStoanadult4XforinclusivesizingTagsoncertainswimwearitemsforchildrenread:“ThoughtfullyFitonMultipleBodyTypesandGenderExpressions”[InrecentdayssomeswimwearpiecesthatappearinTarget’spridecollection—including“tuck-friendly”swimsuitsfortransgenderpeoplewhohavenotundergonegender-affirmingoperations—havebeenfalselypromotedonsocialmediaasbeingavailableforchildrenInrealitytheitemsareonlybeingcarriedinadultsizesandstoredintheadultsectionofTarget’sstoresandwebsiteThesuitswhicharemarkedwithcirculartagsthatread“Tuck-FriendlyConstruction”and“ExtraCrotchCoverage”rangeinsizefromanadultXStoanadult4XforinclusivesizingTagsoncertainswimwearitemsforchildrenread:“ThoughtfullyFitonMultipleBodyTypesandGenderExpressions”

These tuck-friendly items have received an uptick in negative, one-star reviews online. The comments, particularly on a color-blocked one-piece, range from generally standard (“Not cute. Don’t buy.”) to more straightforwardly transphobic (“It would be cute if my gender and all the experiences and struggles that have come with it was a costume.”).

In response to Target’s decision to remove items from their pride collection, California Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted: “CEO of Target Brian Cornell selling out the LGBTQ+ community to extremists is a real profile in courage. This isn’t just a couple stores in the South. There is a systematic attack on the gay community happening across the country.”

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