Retailers, Don’t Let The Homophobes Win This Pride Month

Pride merchandise is displayed at a Target store in Queens, New York.

Pride merchandise is displayed at a Target store in Queens, New York.

Regardless of whether the folks in the C-suite actually internalize any of it, companies big and small have found value in recognizing marginalized groups during the months that commemorate us.

Call it capitalistic social awareness: During Black History Month (February), Women’s History Month (March) and Pride Month, which starts Thursday, we see businesses change up their marketing, spruce up their website landing pages and maybe even send out a promotional video or three.

Unfortunately, companies planning to acknowledge Pride Month are doing so in an unsavory political climate: Anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment from right-wing politicians and Twitter account owners with an eagle carrying the American flag as their primary photo has poisoned otherwise routine annual corporate acknowledgment.

In April, beer giant Anheuser-Busch released a promotional video with Dylan Mulvaney, a transgender content creator celebrating one year of her “Days of Girlhood” series by cracking open a Bud Light. In the video, Mulvaney also shows off a tallboy can of Bud Light with her likeness etched into it.

Considering the beer industry has historically used sex to sell its product, Mulvaney’s video is extremely innocuous: She’s dressed as she would be for a black tie event and promoting a product that isn’t legally available to children. Yet detractors of the video are acting as if Mulvaney is bethonged while wielding a gun that shoots glitter and tiny plastic penises into crowds of school-aged kiddos.

Blowback from the video became national news, leading to two high-level executives taking a leave of absence from Anheuser-Busch, including Marketing Vice President Alissa Heinerscheid, the person most closely responsible for the Mulvaney partnership.

Last week, Target caught hell for rolling out its Pride collection of clothing ― as it’s done for more than a decade. One week after Target CEO Brian Cornell touted diversity and inclusion within the company, the retailer responded to incidences of customers damaging Pride displays on camera by getting rid of the items altogether or pushing them farther back into the store ― where they are less likely to cause physical harm to small children.

Target also pulled merchandise from the Pride collection, including that of trans designer Erik Carnell, whom the mouth breathers labeled a “satanist,” motivating the giant company to spoil what was the big break for his small business.  

Essentially, Anheuser-Busch and Target let the bigots win.

In a news release, Anheuser-Busch CEO Brendan Whitworth wrote that the company “never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people.” The statement makes him look Roman Roy-caliber weak and essentially threw Heinerscheid, whose mandate when she joined the company was to attract younger drinkers by way of inclusion, under the bus.

Target’s excuse? “We’re concerned about threats impacting our members’ sense of safety and well-being while at work.”

I call bullshit at this “concern”: I’ve personally witnessed a crew of likely underpaid Target associates chasing down a man attempting to shove as many bottles of liquor as he could carry in a sack before running out of the store. No one in Target is talking about getting rid of booze ― to run retail is to deal with the occasional disgruntled and dangerous customer. That’s what those kids wearing the “security” shirts at the entrances are for.

Anheuser-Busch’s and Target’s capitulation is ambrosia for far-right-wingers, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene ― arguably the worst human being in Congress ― and sentient soiled boat shoe Matt Walsh, who has built his “career” on the backs of criticizing the LGBTQ+ community.

Kid Rock continued fueling our collective regret at letting him exist in the 1990s and early 2000s by shooting Bud Light cans in protest. Which, you know, he had to purchase from Anheuser-Busch first.

Much of this animus boils down to the country’s culture war over everything transgender. The evangelicals have all but lost the battle over gay marriage and the increased normalization of the gay community, so they’ve set their sights on arguably the most threatened community in America: all the trans people looking to eat small children like Pennywise from “It.”

Much of the country’s recent spate of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is ostensibly engineered to protect the children from the next global population-decimating pandemic of transgender folks. But many of these politicians and their constituents are simply scared that they’ll one day wake up to a non-heteronormative society ― just as they were scared a couple of generations ago of seeing Black folks freely walking the streets minding their own damn business.

(As for the multiple politicians who complain about the LGBTQ+ “disease” only to get caught with very inventive handles on the Grindr app, they’re just loudly running away from what’s inside.) 

Of course, there are zero empirics to suggest that being trans is “transferable” to children, like the Avian flu, but it’s not like the folks shoveling large sums of their income to Joel Osteen are concerned with facts getting in the way. 

There’s certainly some degree of inauthenticity that comes from companies hopping on the bandwagon of liberal causes: Anheuser-Busch is a known Republican donor. But I can’t see the negative in major household brands even putting on a front to help normalize the existence of marginalized people and not allowing themselves to be bullied by Linda the Middle America church deacon and her cronies.

I’d argue that most big companies can weather the ire of a few pitchfork-shaking politicians and their redneck supporters. Target saw $109 billion in revenue last year and is one of the only existing retailers that still opens new stores within a mile of each other. 

Anheuser-Busch is the world’s largest brewing company, and Bud Light has been the nation’s top-selling beer since before I worked for “Big Beer” 16 years ago. The global brand saw about $58 billion in revenue in 2022 ― any slight drop in market value because people are whining about trans support will turn around at the drop of the next professional sports finals.  

While I wouldn’t encourage a small LGBTQ-positive boutique store to open up in, say, a rural Alabama town, I think every large American business has a social duty to diversify advertising to reflect the people consuming it ― even if it’s just for the scrap of a month that they receive.

Trans folks drink Bud Light and shop at Target. They eat at restaurants, go to the movies, book flight tickets and visit amusement parks. They’re human beings who do shit like the rest of us, and maybe perhaps they would enjoy seeing themselves reflected in how they spend their money. 

If you’re reading this and you wield the power to make that happen with your brand, give it some consideration. Just don’t let the idiots win.