Artists call out Target after company scales back Pride collection

Non-binary illustrator En Tze Loh’s involvement was limited to a single item sold online. Other artists say they also have been affected

Living in a country where you can buy gay dog toys or a shirt that says “queer” all over it from a major nationwide retailer might seem like a win for equal rights to some. But corporate investment in queer products and aesthetics comes at a price—just ask the artists who designed Target’s 2024 Pride collection, some of whom say that the corporation has watered down and even scrapped many products in the wake of its 2023 controversy.

“Instead of standing behind the artists in response to the backlash last year, Target has decided to go the opposite direction, and basically erased all of us,” En Tze Loh, a Toronto-based queer and non-binary illustrator and designer who designed several products for the 2024 collection, tells Xtra. “There wouldn’t be any credit, and so many of our products that didn’t drop … it feels like a complete erasure of the community and all of our work.”

Target initially contacted Loh, who sells pins, patches and shirts on Etsy via their brand GRRRL Spells, in Spring 2023. “Obviously, I was extremely excited when Target first reached out to me, because it would mean that my product would be in all these stores, and it would be more accessible for the queer and trans community to obtain products that represent them,” Loh says. The deal would mean greater visibility for GRRRL Spells—Target’s 2023 collection prominently featured several brands, even including some creators in advertising materials—as well as the increased revenue from having their products sold in Target stores. For independent creators like Loh, this kind of visibility can be life-changing. 

But that was before Target’s Pride 2023 collection dropped. Last year, the megacorporation pulled a number of products from their Pride line—particularly ones relating to trans identities, according to employees—in response to a conservative backlash and boycott. False accusations that the store was marketing its “tuck-friendly” swimsuits to children from right-wing figures, including Gays Against Groomers and The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh, led to a number of confrontations, including people attacking Pride displays in stores and confronting employees. Another artist whose products had witchy themes was also targeted for being “Satanic.”

The decision to remove the products prompted a backlash to the backlash, with prominent LGBTQ2S+ organizations and progressive figures—and some employees—accusing Target of bowing to conservative pressure. Stores in Utah, Ohio and Pennsylvania received bomb threats.

 

As Loh watched these events unfold, they worried about the future of their collaboration. And sure enough, earlier this year they were notified that only four of the 15 designs they had submitted would be a part of the 2024 collection. Additionally, they were told that their credit and branding—which they initially understood from email communications with Target would be included—would not be included on the products or website due to “safety concerns,” and that their designs would only be sold in the top 75 most Pride-friendly stores in the country (as determined by Target). They say that they’ve since been informed that only one of their designs will be sold, and it will be online only. (Target did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication).

Earlier this month, the company publicly confirmed that it was scaling back its Pride collection this year: products will only be sold in about half of the 2,000 brick-and-mortar stores across the U.S., though the full catalogue will be available online. The company said in a public statement online that the decision was due to “historical sales performance.”

Loh also learned that one of the alternate designs they had submitted—a T-shirt design featuring the phrase “I am valid”—would be used in place of designs they’d submitted with explicitly trans-affirming messages like “Protect trans lives” and “Trans futures.”

Loh’s design, as it currently appears on Target’s website. (Screenshot)

“It feels like cowardice that so much trans representation was scrapped when most of my collection was cancelled,” they tell Xtra. “Especially during a time where it feels like there’s a new anti-trans bill nearly every week, it is upsetting that Target is succumbing to the same transphobia when we need more people to stand up for us and to feel represented.”

Loh isn’t alone in their experiences with Target. A number of fellow artists who were also set to be featured in the 2024 collection have spoken out about either being dropped from the collection or having their contributions scaled back significantly. These include Shanée Benjamin, The Peach Fuzz and Gunner & Lux. “I guess they wanted their messaging for Pride to be generic—‘love is love,’ ‘be you,’ all that super quite frankly diminishing and useless slogan work that does not help or does not push our community forward,” said Shanée Benjamin, whose designs were dropped from the collection, in a video on Instagram. “That’s what they want—because they don’t give a flying fuck about gay people.”

Vendors from the 2023 collection—including popular underwear brand TomboyX, JZD and Humankind, the latter of which sold the tucking underwear that was attacked by conservatives—have spoken out as well about being ghosted or having their products delisted by the retailer. 

“It’s such an injustice to all of the artists who put their time and work into creating all these products. It’s just such a disappointment,” Loh says. They encourage people who wish to support the artists’ work this Pride Month to shop directly from artists’ stores and from small business owners.

“They are completely disrespecting the transgender community by giving in to what the right-wing conservatives want.”

Oliver Haug

Contributing editor Oliver Haug (they/them) is a freelance writer based in the Bay Area, California. Their work focuses on LGBTQ2S+ issues and sexual politics, and has appeared in Bitch, them, Ms and elsewhere.

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