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The problem with rainbow capitalism

  • For retail brands, it's all about celebrating Happy Pride Month until it's time to face backlash

Brands need to realise that Pride Month is more than waving the rainbow flag
Brands need to realise that Pride Month is more than waving the rainbow flag (Unsplash)

US multi-retail brand Target that has sold LGBTQ-related goods tied to Pride month for years courted controversy last week. The big-box chain removed transgender designer Erik Carnell's products stating that the designer's products caused confrontations between customers and employees. The company's response was, mainly, triggered by backlash from conservative news outlets and Republican politicians who falsely claimed that Carnell's products in Target were marketed to children.

The fact that Target succumbed to these false claims and pressure from the conservative brigade brings to the fore the superfluous, tokenistic nature of rainbow capitalism. While they spout slogans and celebrate LGBTQ icons on their social media pages come Pride Month, brands, it seems, are not brave enough to walk the talk.  

Also read: Mayyur Girotra to kickstart New York Pride 2023 with ready to wear line

"U.S. retailer Target's decision to remove some LGBTQ-themed merchandise after customer backlash in its stores highlights the problem with companies'"rainbow capitalism," said Carnell, who is based in London, in an interview. Carnell launched his brand Abprallen in 2017. 

Target's collection for Pride Month, which is celebrated every year in June, includes more than 2,000 products that until last week included Carnell's Abprallen brand. Department chain Kohl's Corp too has been facing conservative criticism for selling bibs and bodysuits for babies that feature the Pride flag and slogans supporting the LGBTQ community. That's not all. Brewer Anheuser-Busch's partnership with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney triggered transphobic comments on social media and a boycott by some drinkers.

“Companies like Target that launch products and campaigns for Pride Month seek to profit from LGBTQ people but fail to stand by them when challenges arise,” Carnell said. "It's a very dangerous precedent to set, that if people just get riled up enough about the products that you're selling, you can completely distance yourself from the LGBT community, when and if it's convenient," said Carnell who is a transgender gay man. "If you're going to take a stance and say that you care about the LGBT community, you need to stand by that regardless," he added. 

Target, in a statement to Reuters last week, said that due to "volatile circumstances" in its stores, it was removing items at the center of the "most significant confrontational behavior."

Funnily enough, the Abprallen products that were targeted, such as a design featuring the slogan “Satan Respects Pronouns”, and a horned ram representing Baphomet, were not sold at Target.

Also read: Remembering Tina Turner and her fabulous hairstyles

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