Customers were threatening to burn down stores and attack his staff in the days before Target boss Brian Cornell pulled its controversial Pride clothing line, he admitted today as he defended the decision to pull the brand over the summer.
The veteran CEO faced a violent backlash to outfits including ‘tuck-friendly’ bathing suits and pro-trans T-shirts for kids earlier this year as well as a plunging share price that wiped $10billion from the firm’s value in just over a week.
But he told CBNC that he ordered staff to remove the displays just days before the start of June’s Pride Month because the backlash was getting dangerous.
‘I’ve seen natural disasters, the impact of COVID, the violence that took place after George Floyd‘s murder,’ he said.
‘But I will tell you what I saw back in May is the first time since I’ve been in this job where I had store team members saying, “It’s not safe to come to work.”‘
Target CEO Brian Cornell told CNBC the Pride controversy was the first time his staff had told him ‘it’s not safe to come to work’
The retailer has supported Pride Month for ten years and a curated range was prominently displayed in its stores in the days leading up to June this year
Some swimsuits appearing in the Pride Month displays included labels advertising their ‘tuck-friendly construction’ and ‘extra crotch’ coverage
‘We had to prioritize the safety of our teams.
‘And I knew personally this was not going to be well received. But we had to prioritize the safety of the team.’
The company found itself on the front line of the country’s culture wars in the spring as fury grew over corporations using their financial muscle to push social agendas.
The retailer was accused of grooming children with transgender swimsuits, books called ‘bye bye binary’ and a handful of items made by a British designer whose slogans include ‘Satan respects pronouns’.
A store in Layton, Utah, was evacuated after multiple bomb threats and more threats were received by outlets across North Eastern Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Days later its stores in Oklahoma City were evacuated after managers received an email warning that three bombs had been placed in some of its products.
As the backlash gathered force companies which had embraced LGBT causes backed away including Bud Light owner Anheuser-Busch which cut ties with transexual influencer Dylan Mulvaney after sales dropped by a quarter.
Earnings in the US remain nearly 30 per cent down on a year ago the company confessed as it announced its third quarter results on Tuesday.
Five Targets across Northeast Ohio and Pennsylvania were threatened in June, according to Cleveland 19, who received a threatening email listing stores in Stow, North Canton, Boardman, Niles, Ohio and Monaca, Pennsylvania
One of the most controversial items was this adult swim bottom, in the women’s section, that had ‘tuck friendly’ tags in stores. It is still being sold online
Target said it decided to pull the items from shelves because they have ‘been at the center of the most confrontational behavior’ – and have led to store staffers being harassed
The Pride collection also included items for babies and children. Many of the pieces are emblazoned with slogans and feature the rainbow colors of the Pride flag
Other items include kids’ swim skirts that are made for ‘all gender expressions’ and other swim tops
Cornell said displays were curated and relocated in a bid to defuse the row
Target has supported Pride – celebrated throughout the month of June – every year since 2013, with this year’s collection only the latest to prove polarizing.
In 2014, Target publicly endorsed marriage equality, and the following year 2015 announced it was ending their policy of dividing certain products, like toys, by gender.
Target also introduced a gender-neutral line for children, and in April 2016 – amid a nationwide discussion about bathroom access – announced that transgender people were free to use whichever bathroom they chose.
Three months later it responded to protests by spending $20 million to add a private bathroom to each of its stores.
‘I think those are just good business decisions, and it’s the right thing for society, and it’s the great thing for our brand,’ Cornell said in May.
‘The things we’ve done from a DE&I (diversity, equity, and inclusion) standpoint, it’s adding value.
‘It’s helping us drive sales, it’s building greater engagement with both our teams and our guests, and those are just the right things for our business today.’
Shares which peaked at $1.76 in January had fallen to $1.11 earlier today, wiping $30billion from the company’s value over the last nine months.
‘We made some changes to the location of the product, we curated the assortment, we addressed some of the products that were getting the most attention,’ Cornell said today.
‘We’ve been celebrating heritage moments like Pride for over a decade now, we’ve never seen that kind of response.
‘We said let’s focus on de-escalating the issue, taking care of our team, celebrating the moment and taking the learning as we go forward.’
Target CEO letter to employees defending decision to pull Pride Collection items in May
I want to end the day where Briefly started: on a note of care. This has been a very hard day for Target, and it follows many difficult days of deliberation and decision-making.
To our team in Stores: thank you for steadfastly representing our values. No one is better at working through uncomfortable situations in service to an inclusive guest experience.
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.
To our team in the service centers, thank you for your patience and professionalism through high volumes of angry, abusive and threatening calls. I recognize how difficult and even frightening those interactions can be, and thank you for the composure with which you’ve fielded those comments.
To the teams who have been working so hard on our plans for Pride – and now are showing incredible agility as we adjust – thank you. Your efforts will ensure we can still show up and celebrate Pride in meaningful ways.
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. We stand with you now and will continue to do so – not just during Pride Month, but each and every day.
Those were the two guiding principles when it came time for us to act: do all we can to keep our team safe, and do all we can to honor our commitment and connection to the LGBTQIA+ community.
From a host of difficult alternatives, we have sincerely sought the best path forward, finding ways to recognize Pride Month, while making adjustments to prioritize safety. As always, we’re stronger together, and I want you to know that I’m committed to doing all I can, and all we can as a company, to support a culture across the country of care, empathy, equity and simple civility, in hopes that we’ll not have to face these kinds of agonizing decisions in the future.
Thank you for the care you’ve shown each other, our frontline teams and the LGBTQIA+ community.
Source: | This article originally belongs to Dailymail.co.uk