Target CEO says backlash against ‘Pride’ displays made employees feel unsafe

Target’s CEO was keen on revisionist history as he recounted “very aggressive threats” from Pride backlash as the “first time” employees felt threatened to go to work.

(Video: CNBC)

The wave of consumer disdain after Bud Light’s promotional blunder with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney had notably swept across retailers who sought to get a jump on their rainbow sales quotas ahead of the June 1 kickoff of “Pride Month.”

Among those most impacted by the vehement recoil from customers disgusted by the sale of swimwear and other products pushing gender ideology on kids was Target, whose CEO recently claimed to CNBC that never before in his tenure had employees said “it’s not safe to come to work.”

Speaking with “Squawk Box” co-anchor Becky Quick Thursday, CEO Brian Cornell made no effort to dismiss other societal events from recent years as he instead used them to scale up the proportion of fear said to have taken hold of his company in May.

“This is my 10th holiday season at Target. You and I have been talking almost every quarter during those 10 years. And, you know, I’ve seen natural disasters. We’ve seen the impact of COVID leading into the pandemic, some of the violence that took place after George Floyd’s murder. But I would tell you, Becky, 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,” he claimed.

Stumbling when asked to provide examples, Cornell spoke to someone supposedly threatening to light merchandise on fire and other “very aggressive threats” from disgruntled customers “yelling” at employees only moments after he acknowledged that organized retail theft was forcing the shuttering of multiple locations out of concern for “the safety of our team and guests.”

Quick aimed to have the CEO address some of the specific concerns of those most affronted, including promoting transgenderism to kids, in particular from brand Abprallen, from designer Erik Carnell who had been described as a “satanic designer” and whose merchandise included taglines like “Satan respects pronouns.”

“But it was a difficult time. And some of those things you pointed out, we knew were not true. But in the environment we said, look, let’s focus on de-escalating the issue, taking care of our team, celebrating the moment, and take the learning as we go forward,” responded Cornell. “And we talked during our recent earnings call. We’ll manage these moments very differently. These heritage moments, whether it’s pride or Hispanic heritage or black history, we’ll time them differently.”

Will Hild, executive director of Consumers’ Research, addressed the CEO’s defense to Fox News Digital and contended, “It’s particularly ironic that he would talk about safety, in terms of his employees, and distract from the fact that he has made his stores unsafe for people to bring their own small children in who don’t want to necessarily have to answer questions around, ‘What is a transgender person?’ or ‘Mommy, why is there a book that asks if I’m a boy or a girl? I already know these things.'”

“He is the one who made Target stores unsafe for children, for the children of his customers, for children of his employees. And yet he wants to deflect,” argued Hild, “and put the blame back on his own customer base. He’s basically blaming you, the customer, for his mistakes.”

In fact, Cornell further appeared to be blaming only conservative consumers as Quick reminded that multiple Target locations had received bomb threats AFTER the retailer had pulled some of the more offensive products and relocated the display from the entry toward the back of the store.

Dismissive, the CEO said, “I’m not sure who was making those threats at the end,” before he furthered his stance that in 2024 Target would wait until June 1 to roll out its collection and the majority of its offerings would be made in-house.

His denial of the facts only prompted renewed pushback on social media.


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