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Target, We Need To Talk
Target, Boycotts and Bullies: The Problem With Performative LGBTQ+ Allyship
Look, we get it.
As a big retailer, you have never encountered a situation like this, where a small but vicious group of haters have come after you directly. They’ve even filmed themselves trashing Pride merchandise inside your stores. Truly horrifying.
Meanwhile, right wing influencers have egged these bullies on. And it has escalated quickly—with cowardly bomb threats called into your stores—all because you wanted to show your support for the LGBTQ+ community.
You were hurting no one, standing up for what you believe, but now you’re under attack.
We get it because, well, welcome to our lives.
LGBTQ+ people are facing attacks and threats as never before. Our identities are being erased from classrooms, our gatherings and festivals are being targeted by armed militias, and our children are being singled out and denied life saving, gender affirming medical care.
But in response to the threats to your stores, you did something that we in the community cannot do. You see, we can’t simply pull our identities and our lives off the shelves. We can’t just take the rainbow flags down, hoping these monsters leave us alone.
In fact, we know they won’t.
We understand from decades of experience that, if they thought they were winning, if they thought we would retreat, then the attacks would only become more vicious. They would smell fear, and that would fuel them to redouble their hate and their violence.
But that’s sadly the very signal you have sent to the attackers by capitulating to their hate and bigotry.
And look, we know a threatened boycott, led by right-wing terrorists, sounds like a terrible and terrifying thing. It’s especially gut-wrenching that they have targeted a vulnerable community, in a time when politicians are using us to score cheap political points.
We need to look to history to see where such things lead.
Let’s look at a time when similar tactics were underway. Two months after Hitler came to power in Germany, he called for a national, one-day boycott of Jewish stores and businesses. It was the beginning of an effort to erase Jews from civil society.
On April 1, 1933, stormtroopers stood in front of Jewish establishments. They held signs warning against buying from the Jews. The campaign was meant to intimidate, divide and subdue.
The similarity of the rhetoric is striking.
Imagine for a moment that Target had put up Hanukkah displays, which were then knocked over and stomped upon by antisemitic protesters. Would your response have been to take the displays down, across many stores, or to move them to the back where they were less visible?
Because that’s what you did with the Pride displays.
To illustrate how hurtful a move this was, I took Target’s official statement about the Pride attacks and replaced LGBTQ+ with Jewish and Pride with Hanukkah:
For more than a decade, Target has offered an assortment of products aimed at celebrating Hanukkah. Since introducing this year's collection, we've experienced threats impacting our team members' sense of safety and well-being while at work.
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.
Our focus now is on moving forward with our continuing commitment to the Jewish community and standing with them as we celebrate Hanukkah and throughout the year.
Such a statement—and such a move by your company in response to attacks upon Hanukkah displays—would have been unthinkable.
And another thing.
Moving Pride displays from the front of the store to the back, as you did in some cases, has troubling echoes of a “separate but equal” America.
If you value our community, then in the very month when you want to honor us, do not shame us like this. Do not make the sting even harder for trans and queer children who are struggling to find acceptance and love.
Pride is about standing up and standing authentically. Pride does not move to the far corner, out of sight.
And finally, we need to have a talk about allyship.
Because what you have shown here falls far short.
When I was a child of just five years, my entire Japanese American community came under attack, simply because we happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor. We feared for our lives, and our businesses suffered because of prejudice and hate.
What hurt us the most, however, was that no other groups, no people in positions to help, stood up for us. We were isolated, alone, and afraid.
That helped pave the way for a grave injustice that destroyed the lives of 125,000 people, including my own family, as we were shipped off at gunpoint to internment camps.
Such a thing can happen in America. It already did.
I understand firsthand how important allyship is. It serves as a critical counterweight to hate and to these attempts to divide us.
But friendships and alliances aren’t truly tested when things are rosy in the good times. They are tested when things turn bad, sometimes very bad.
There’s a war in Europe right now that makes this point perfectly. What would have been the message to Vladimir Putin if his invasion was met with fear and equivocation by the West? What would he have concluded had Russian tanks rolled in, but Ukraine’s allies and friends had simply melted away, unwilling to confront him and stand up for an innocent nation under attack?
Bullies are the same the world round, and they must be dealt with the same.
You cannot give them what they want, because they will only come back, demanding more.
But here is the good news—it is not too late.
Every friendship hits obstacles, when there are betrayals and hurt, but the important thing is to turn around and do the right thing for your friends, and as soon as possible. If the bonds are strong to begin with, forgiveness and a re-embrace can soon follow once the right steps are taken.
We do not believe Target to be only a fair-weather friend, ready to abandon our community the minute things get tough for us.
It is understandable that, when faced with such hate and vitriol for the first time, your first instinct was to recoil and withdraw. We have been there, and we get it. And we know this is especially true when a company wants to protect its employees from harm and abuse.
It is our hope that, upon reflection, the true mettle and values of your company will shine through. Speak with your employees about what it means to be a true ally, of standing up for principles and against intimidation.
Have the talk, just as if it were Hanukkah displays that had been targeted. And think of the many LGBTQ+ employees of Target and their supportive colleagues who desperately want the company to do the right thing.
Then put those displays and merchandise back up front and center.
And do it with Pride.
— George Takei
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