As queer Americans face a historic onslaught of anti-LGBTQ legislation, a normalizing of homophobic and transphobic rhetoric from right-wing politicians and a surge of violent attacks, Target’s standout message for Pride Month is simple: “Live Laugh Lesbian.”
The short mantra adorns a pink crop top that is part of the global retailer’s latest Pride collection. Other noteworthy items include a coffee mug that says “gender fluid”; rainbow outfits for pets; a Drag Queen Bird Decorative Figurine; a jumpsuit that simply says “GAY” in massive letters; a tote bag with an image of a woman looking off into the distance and text that reads “Busy thinking about girls”; and a graphic T-shirt with an illustration of a skeleton bending its wrist and saying, “Is he … you know?”
While many major brands will launch similar Pride-themed products in coming weeks, few are likely to rival Target in generating online chatter leading up to and through the month of June, which is LGBTQ Pride Month.
“It’s a sort of universal theme, no matter high-water or low-water, we all have to react to Target and Pride,” said Bob Witeck, president of Witeck Communications, a firm specializing in LGBTQ marketing.
Over the past three years, more than 960 TikTok videos — including 100 in the past seven days — have used the hashtag “targetpride,” collecting more than 30 million views for users in the United States, according to analytics from TikTok. Throughout the past three years, search interest for “Target Pride” has surged past comparable searches for the names of direct competitors Amazon and Walmart before and during June, according to Google Trends.
The large online reaction to this year’s collection evoked both delight and eye rolls among LGBTQ Americans.
“I am torn between thinking the Target Pride collection ‘Live Laugh Lesbian’ shirt is either the best or the worst shirt ever,” drag performer Chiffon Dior wrote on Twitter Thursday. “I don’t think there is a middle ground.”
The popular lesbian Instagram account @godimsuchadyke posted a meme featuring the shirt and wrote below the photo, "This isn't sponsored but it could be @target."
Queer activist Matt Bernstein posted a video on TikTok — which has accrued more than 6.4 million views since it was posted last week — reviewing several of the collection’s products.
“Now I know a lot of people aren’t going like this, but I love it,” Bernstein said, referring to the “Live Laugh Lesbian” crop top. “The fact that it says ‘Live Laugh Lesbian’ in the iconic live laugh love font — its irony comes full circle. It’s high camp. I want it on everything.”
A representative for Target did not respond to requests for comment.
The attention surrounding Target’s Pride collection comes as the broader response to corporate Pride Month efforts has soured in recent years. Critics often accuse corporations’ commitment to the LGBTQ community in June as being phony or shallow, citing seemingly contradictory political donations to conservative lawmakers who are trying to restrict LGBTQ rights.
For example, Seattle Pride, a nonprofit group that has organized Seattle’s annual Pride march since 1974, cut ties with Amazon last year, citing the Seattle-based company’s donations to “anti-LGBTQ politicians” and its fundraising efforts on behalf of anti-LGBTQ groups.
While most of the country’s major Pride parades are sponsored by some of the world’s largest companies, some activists have recently shunned corporate America’s involvement — and dollars — altogether. A group of LGBTQ organizers in New York City, the Reclaim Pride Coalition, launched an alternative Pride march in 2019 to counter the city’s official parade, which has a long list of corporate sponsors. The newer event, known as the Queer Liberation March, rejects participation from corporations and police.
And with more companies launching Pride Month ad campaigns and selling Pride merchandise, there have been some missteps. Last year, for example, food delivery service Postmates and Burger King received backlash for debuting what some thought were overly sexualized Pride campaigns.
Target itself has also been accused by some of leaning in to “rainbow capitalism,” a term used to describe the commodification of the LGBTQ community, particularly for its Pride collection in 2021. The brand hired LGBTQ designers for its Pride collection last year, saying that it wanted to “authentically celebrate the community,” according to a company news release. Target continued its partnership with queer designers for its collection this year.
Witeck suggests that Target’s Pride collection has become an annual hit — at least in terms of social media chatter — because the brand leans in to what he called a “love-hate” dynamic between corporations and the LGBTQ community with a sense of humor.
“They’re things people wouldn’t say, let alone wear,” Witeck said, referring to the collection’s graphic T-shirts. “It gets to the point where it’s so ridiculous that it begs to be worn just to make a joke of it.”
Don Caldwell, the editor in chief of Know Your Meme, a website that documents internet phenomena, agreed.
“People are kind of suspicious whenever corporations are trying to embrace social justice or activism in a new way,” Caldwell said. “And I think that doing things like a ‘Live, Laugh, Lesbian’ shirt, or something like that, is trying to show support for something but also trying to show a sense of humor about it as well, which I think goes a long way.”
Caldwell added, “It could be called ‘cringe’ or what have you, but I think a lot of people find it endearing and kind of cute.”
Target’s large selection of playful Pride merchandise comes amid a turbulent time for LGBTQ rights in the nation. More than 480 anti-LGBTQ bills have been filed in state legislatures across the country, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, with lawmakers enacting laws to curtail education on LGBTQ issues in schools, drag performances and access to gender-affirming care, among other provisions.
Matt Wagner, vice president of client relations at Target 10, an LGBTQ marketing firm — which is not affiliated with the retailer Target — argued that the mostly positive online response to Target’s Pride collection could be a result of its embrace of the LGBTQ community amid political turmoil.
“If I’m in Kansas, or I’m in Louisiana, or I’m in Florida or Alabama, and there’s no LGBTQ center in my city or a gay bar, there’s very little way for you to connect in a physical way to the community. For that person to walk into a Target and see a Pride collection, I would suggest, is very moving,” Wagner said. “The fact that this big American company, that can kind of do whatever it wants, is choosing to embrace the community in that way might sort of have a halo effect on the excitement that people have.”
Not all of the attention surrounding Target’s Pride merchandise has been positive. Conservative activists have taken particular issue with the collection’s apparel for children, and a “tuck-friendly” bathing suit for adults. Apparel items for kids contain supportive slogans, including “just be you” and “trans people will always exist!”
Matt Walsh, the host of right-wing news outlet Daily Wire’s “The Matt Walsh Show,” urged listeners of his podcast to boycott the brand, accusing Target of “trying to recruit kids into the LGBT camp.”
“There are millions and millions and millions of Americans in this country who are disgusted by this, who do not want to, they don’t want to have the rainbow stuff vomited all over them the moment that they walk into a store,” Walsh said. “They especially don’t want that to happen when they’re bringing their kids with them into the store as so many parents do.”
Gays Against Groomers, a far-right group describing itself as an “organization of gays against the sexualization, indoctrination and medicalization of children,” said on Twitter that the company “deserves the Bud Light treatment.” Conservative activists began boycotting Anheuser-Busch’s Bud Light beer brand en masse after it launched a social media partnership with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney last month.
“We urge you to take your business elsewhere. They are indoctrinating and grooming them with LGBTQ ideology,” the group said of Target in a tweet that was viewed more than 1.3 million times. “It is highly inappropriate and disturbing.”
Good or bad, Witeck called the online reactions to Target’s Pride collection “remarkable.”
“Even if I’ll never be caught dead buying all of this stuff, I would say that it’s a success because the brand is well known for it,” Witeck said.