Target’s CEO denounces customers who threaten employees over LGBTQ-themed products: ‘It has been gut-wrenching to see’

Target CEO Brian Cornell.
Sarah Blesener/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Target’s top executive hammered the aggressive behavior that some customers directed toward employees because of the retailer’s collection of LGBTQ-themed merchandise. 

The company removed some items from its collection for Pride Month in June, which honors lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, saying a rash of threats made workers feel unsafe. That move followed “many difficult days of deliberation and decision-making,” Chief Executive Officer Brian Cornell said in an internal memo. 

“What you’ve seen in recent days went well beyond discomfort, and it has been gut-wrenching to see what you’ve confronted in our aisles,” Cornell told store employees in the memo, which was sent on Wednesday and viewed by Bloomberg. He also thanked service-center staffers for their “patience and professionalism through high volumes of angry, abusive and threatening calls.” 

Fueled by the US culture wars, the imbroglio has consumed Target this week, with some critics faulting the company for its Pride Month collection while others slammed it for caving in to intimidation in stores and on social media. Cornell said he tried to chart a course between recognizing Pride Month and making changes aimed at prioritizing safety.

“To the LGBTQIA+ community, one of the hardest parts in all of this was trying to contemplate how the adjustments we’re making to alleviate these threats to our team’s physical and psychological safety would impact you and your wellbeing and psychological safety,” he said in the memo, which was reported earlier by the Wall Street Journal. 

Target didn’t say which merchandise it’s removing, but one item that has generated controversy is a bathing suit designed for transgender people. While some posts on social media said the bathing suit was for kids, Target has said it’s only available in adult sizes.

Target fell 2.8% at 2:43 p.m. in New York, on track for its sixth straight decline, the worst streak in five months. 

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