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Corporations Will Never Lead in Social Change


One of the depressing things of this month is watching corporations completely cave in the face of even the slightest protest against them supporting Pride. I guess they got to a point where they figured that supporting Pride had so little political meaning that they could do it without any blowback, but once a few fascists got pissed, they caved like the 2004 Yankees in the ALCS. Target is one example.

Brandishing her own scissors in front of guest services in a Target store in South Florida, the customer chopped up her store credit card while lambasting the retail chain for carrying Pride Month merchandise. “I am never shopping here again,” she warned.

This episode — recounted by an employee to supervisors — was just one of several tense encounters that workers have reported over LGBTQ+ items at the South Florida location, said the manager, who spoke on the condition of anonymity over fear of losing his job. Target is the latest brand to be engulfed in culture wars, as polarizing social issues spill into store aisles and shoppers become more emboldened to engage in confrontational, even threatening, behavior.

Though Pride Month and other inclusivity initiatives have been around for years, they’ve increasingly become litmus tests for consumers, forcing companies to fully commit on social issues or yield to critics.

Retailers such as Kohl’s, Walmart and PetSmart have also felt backlash from the far right for stocking items that extol equal rights and acceptance for gay, lesbian and transgender individuals.

In Target’s case, though, it has pulled its Pride merchandise and promotional materials back from store windows in recent days after a string of threats and harassment against employees. The move thensparked multiple bomb threats, targeting stores in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Utah, from people claiming to be angry about the removal of merchandise.

“It’s not like any of this is all that unpredictable,” said Lindsay Schubiner, who studies violent movements for the Western States Center, an anti-extremism watchdog. “We don’t always know exactly where these sort of anti-democracy actors are going to point to next, but the increase in threats and harassment from anti-democracy movements in the U.S. has become so frequent that this is something that absolutely just needs to be planned for.”

Target is an incredibly shitty company anyway, but the point here is real enough and applies to less terrible companies too. The real lesson here though is what it should always be–corporations will never, ever, ever be important allies for social change unless it makes clear financial sense for them to do so. And when it does, it means one of two things. First, they are so niche that their profits depend on supporting that specific group. Second, the movement has become completely depoliticized. It’s obvious that’s what Target and Anheuser-Busch and other companies thought happened was the second of these. Same with the world of baseball, in which the Los Angeles Dodgers could not have blundered more awkwardly over what is “respectable” Pride and what is unacceptable to Marco Rubio. And the Toronto Blue Jays finally got rid of terrible reliever Anthony Bass only after the pitcher refused to admit that he was engaging in hate speech and also we all know that if Bass was even remotely above average, he’d still be on the team. But then there’s no more right-wing space in American life than the major league bullpen.

The bigger point is that if you are looking to corporations on allies on anything, you are going to be deeply disappointed and some of that is on you since you looked to them in the first place.

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