Metro Weekly

Seven GOP Attorneys General Threaten Target

Letter appears to have no legal basis, but attempts to discourage the retail giant from selling Pride-themed merchandise in the future.

The seven states seeking to intimidate Target into refusing to mount future Pride campaigns – Image: Todd Franson

Seven Republican attorneys general penned a letter to Target advising the big box giant that putting up a Pride display, especially with Pride-themed gear for children, could violate state laws enacted to prevent children from being exposed to inappropriate content at an early age.

The letter — a rambling, unfocused missive that allows the attorneys to vent their spleen at Target for embracing and celebrating LGBTQ consumers — accuses Target of violating laws meant to “protect children from harmful content meant to sexualize them and prohibit gender transitions of children.”

“As Attorneys General committed to enforcing our States’ child-protection and parental-rights laws and our States’ economic interests as Target shareholders, we are concerned by recent events involving the company’s ‘Pride’ campaign,” the attorneys general wrote in the letter.

“Our concerns entail the company’s promotion and sale of potentially harmful products to minors, related potential interference with parental authority in matters of sex and gender identity, and possible violation of fiduciary duties by the company’s directors and officers,” the letter continues.

The letter further alleges that putting up Pride displays in stores may violate child protection laws penalizing the “sale or distribution” of “obscene matter.”

The letter accuses LGBTQ activists of using Target to advance their own agenda of “exposing Target’s valuable customer base, which include families with young children across the country, to ‘LGBTQIA+’ concepts and values.”

The letter lists a litany of offending merchandise that social conservatives were outraged by, such as Pride- or rainbow-themed T-shirts and clothing for children, a “tuck-friendly” swimsuit sold in adult sizes, and an adult-sized T-shirt with the drag queen Katya on it.

Even though the latter two items were not marketed toward children nor sold in children’s sizes, the letter deliberately misstates facts and alleges that such products will encourage kids to become transgender.

The attorneys then veer wildly from their argument to object to Target’s decision to sell products from the brand Abprallen, created by British designer and self-described Satanist Erik Carnell, who sold Satanic-themed products through his own independent website and other channels.

The attorneys falsely claim that Target carried products with “anti-Christian designs such as pentagrams, horned skulls, and other Satanic products,” even citing a Reuters article as “evidence,” although the article actually says that the merchandise sold at Target from Abprallen was not Satanic in nature, and included items like a $25 sweater with the words “Cure transphobia not trans people, and an $18 “Too queer for here” tote bag — both of which were marketed to adults.

As LGBTQ Nation notes, even though Carnell’s Satanic-themed merchandise was never sold at Target, AI-generated images of T-shirts with inverted pentagrams and goat heads, and a digitally-altered store display featuring a red, goat-headed mannequin were shared on social media by right-wing agitators and copied and shared on conservative Facebook groups. 

Despite being fake, the doctored images further ginned up outrage against Target, and gave conservatives talking points to justify mounting a boycott against the big box retailer.

The Republican attorneys general appear to repeat those talking points — despite not being factually correct — in order to accuse Target of “fill[ing] stores with objectionable goods” at the “behest of radical activists.”

Noting that Target’s stock declined as a result of a conservative-led boycott, the attorneys lecture the corporation on its officers’ fiduciary duty to do what is in the company’s best interests, alleging that the company “directed company resources for collateral political or social goals unrelated to the company’s and its shareholders’ best interests.”

The attorneys add, “It is likely more profitable to sell the type of Pride that enshrines the love of the United States. Target’s Pride Campaign alienates whereas Pride in our country unites.”

The Republican attorneys general also criticize Target for providing, through its Pride campaign, financial support to GLSEN, an LGBTQ education advocacy group that advocates for anti-bullying initiatives and LGBTQ-inclusive policies in schools.

Republicans claim the group undermines parents’ rights by advising teachers not to prematurely “out” questioning or LGBTQ-identifying students or raising concerns about students’ pronouns.

The Republican officeholders, echoing right-wing talking points that misrepresent GLSEN’s mission, accuse GLSEN of “supporting ‘secret gender transitions for kids’ and directing public schools to withhold ‘any information that may reveal a student’s gender identity to others, including [to] parents or guardians.'”

Lastly, the attorneys accuse the LGBTQ community of making threats of violence, including bomb threats, against Target stores, ostensibly to punish the company for not standing more firmly behind its Pride campaign and removing some of the Pride-themed merchandise from shelves.

But even this misrepresents the timeline and the facts involved — as Target was deluged with threats from conservative consumers and those angered by the celebration of Pride Month, well before the company made the decision to yank the allegedly “objectionable” merchandise.

Additionally, by falsely portraying LGBTQ activists as the aggressors, the attorneys subtly issue their own form of a threat against the company, alleging or implying that Target could face further backlash if it again seeks to sell Pride-themed merchandise at any point in the future.

“Target’s board and management should not use such threats as a pretext for using Target’s valuable business to promote collateral political and social agendas — as these LGBTQIA+ activists apparently hope it will,” the attorneys write. 

The letter’s signatories include Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin, Idaho Attorney General Raul Labrador, Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, and South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson.

Another signatory is Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, who has been criticized for grandstanding to prove his conservative bona fides, including attempting to enlist police to arrest doctors for violating a statewide ban on prescribing gender-affirming treatments to minors — even though the ban does not impose any criminal penalties.

Still another signatory is Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who is currently challenging incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear in this year’s gubernatorial election, and has seized upon opposition to LGBTQ rights and so-called “‘woke’ indoctrination” as potential wedge issues that can galvanize conservative voters to come out in droves to support his candidacy.

As journalist Judd Legum, who writes the independent newsletter Popular Information, noted in a Twitter thread, the attorneys general appear to have no legal principle in mind when they criticize Target for making “unprofitable decisions.” Nor do they explicitly state that they intend to sue the corporation for selling Pride- or rainbow-themed merchandise.

The store also never sold medications or hormones that would have violated state laws barring minors from accessing gender-affirming care — further raising questions about the letter’s purpose or intent.

“The [attorneys’] letter alleges that the items for sale at Target could constitute the ‘sale or distribution… of obscene matter.’ The actual LGBTQ-themed merchandise sold by Target in kids sizes, however, is patently not obscene,” Legum wrote.

“The letter cites state laws ‘to protect children,’ including laws requiring material ‘harmful to minors’ to be removed from school libraries, prohibiting ‘gender transition procedures on minors,’ and banning use of a minor’s preferred pronoun,” Legum continued.

“Of course, none of these laws have anything to do with Target. Unable to marshal a real legal argument, much of the letter involves parroting misinformation about the items offered for sale in Target during Pride Month.”

Legum also debunked the numerous false assertions about Target’s merchandise offerings made in the letter, and warned that conservative politicians may be overreaching to achieve their own radical social agenda — that of erasing expressions of LGBTQ visibility or banning them from the public square. 

“Even if all these false claims were true, it is unclear what laws Target would be violating. Swimsuits, drag queen t-shirts, and anti-Christian merchandise are not obscene or illegal,” Legum wrote.

“Although the letter is replete with flawed legal analysis and factual inaccuracies, it should not be dismissed. It is a clear effort by the chief legal officers of 7 states to criminalize acknowledging the existence of LGBTQ people, claiming that doing so is a threat to kids.”

Support Metro Weekly’s Journalism

These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!