Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
Customer and employee safety must come first. That's why Minnesota-based retailer Target Corp. made the right call this week by moving or removing some of its Pride Month merchandise.
The fashion-forward discounter merits praise for its long commitment to the LGBTQ community and the Pride celebrations marking the month of June across the nation. A Minnesota crowd favorite, the 51st annual Twin Cities Pride Festival is slated for June 23-25 at Loring Park and Parade Park.
Target customers wanting to join the celebration have long had an abundance of goods to buy. This year is no different. Pride-themed items include T-shirts, pet products, rainbow cookie cutters and colorful flip-flops. Store displays typically are given a high-profile location, which not only makes the items easy for customers to find but sends a strong signal about the retailer's inclusive institutional values.
Target customers who don't want to buy Pride merchandise don't have to. They're also free to shop elsewhere. Unfortunately, some who object to these displays didn't avail themselves of these commonsense alternatives and instead took out their frustrations on staff or in other alarming ways.
"Since introducing this year's collection, we've experienced threats impacting our team members' sense of safety and well-being while at work," Target said in a statement issued Wednesday. "Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans, including removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior."
Target did not say in its statement which products are being pulled. But both the merchandise and its "adjustments" this week generated controversy nationally.
The retailer's 2023 Pride collection had already drawn fire online from some conservative activists, with criticism centering on an adult swimsuit marketed to transgender individuals. The Star Tribune reported Tuesday that there are videos online showing "a man taking down and stomping on a rainbow #takepride cardboard display. Others show people confronting store employees about the products." The company also has received related threats on its customer hotline.
A backlash from a different end of the political spectrum erupted on social media when Target announced its Pride merchandise adjustments this week. Some contended that Target is "caving" to threats or abandoning the LGBTQ community.
While it is deeply disturbing that the Pride merchandise generated threats, Target is nevertheless taking the conscientious course of action. Shootings in public places are tragically common in the United States. Firearms are also far too easy to obtain for someone with ill intentions.
The situation's ongoing risk to shoppers and Target staff is both blindingly obvious and unacceptable. Erring on the side of caution, as Target is doing, could prevent a tragedy.
That reality should inform perspectives on Target's decision. It's the people who trashed the product displays or making threats who deserve condemnation. The retailer is taking responsible steps to fulfill its most important obligation to those on store premises: their personal safety.
To be clear, those who disapprove of the products are certainly within their rights to criticize the retailer. What's not OK — and it's depressing that this has to be spelled out — is damaging property, harassing employees or threatening anyone due to personal objections to the products.
Store staff in particular should not have to bear the brunt of frustrations. They likely had little input on which merchandise to offer.
Target clearly sees Pride merchandise as a business opportunity. It should be free to offer these products without fear of harm to employees or customers. That it had to take protective measures is a disheartening reflection — on multiple levels — on the age in which we live.