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Why is Target pulling some Pride merch? The retailer's response to hostile backlash, explained

WASHINGTON (AP) — After intense backlash from some shoppers, Target is removing certain items and making other changes to its LGBTQ+ merchandise nationwide ahead of Pride month.

In confirming the changes to this year's Pride collection, which has been on sale since early May, the Minneapolis retailer cited safety concerns for employees that have been targeted by hostile customers.

“Since introducing this year’s collection, we’ve experienced threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and wellbeing while at work,” Target said Tuesday in a written statement. “Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans.”

The confrontations in Target stores are taking place as state legislatures introduce a record number of bills targeting LGBTQ+ individuals across the country. Some advocacy groups have criticized Target's response — calling on the retailer to not back down to hate-filled backlash and reaffirm its support with the LGBTQ+ community.

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Here are some things to know about the controversy surrounding the Target Pride collection and the company's response.

DID TARGET PULL ITS PRIDE COLLECTION?

Target did not pull its entire Pride collection, but it has removed certain items ahead of Pride month.

The chain also made other changes to the selling of its LGBTQ+ merchandise nationwide, with Target confirming that it moved its Pride merchandise from the front of the stores to the back in some Southern locations after confrontations from shoppers in the region.

WHY IS TARGET PULLING PRIDE PRODUCTS? AND WHICH ONES?

Target said it's pulling certain items from the Pride collection due to intense and threatening backlash from some customers — which has impacted employees' sense of safety, the company said. Target said that customers knocked down Pride displays at some stores, angrily approached workers and posted threatening videos on social media from inside the stores.

The retailer added that it would be "removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior.” Target declined to further specify which products would be impacted.

“Tuck friendly” women’s swimsuits, which allow trans women who have not had gender-affirming operations to conceal their private parts, were among Target's Pride items that garnered the most attention. There are bogus claims on social media platforms that the swimsuits were being sold in the children's department. Designs by Abprallen, a London-based company that designs and sells occult- and satanic-themed LGBTQ+ clothing and accessories, have also created backlash.

WHAT STARTED THE CONTROVERSY AROUND TARGET'S PRIDE COLLECTION?

The controversy gained traction online last week as conservative media attacked Target’s Pride month collection — which has also been the subject of several misleading videos in recent weeks that falsely claimed the retailer is selling “tuck-friendly” bathing suits designed for kids. The backlash also spilled over into physical stores.

Target and other retailers have been expanding their LGBTQ+ displays to celebrate Pride month in June for roughly a decade. Today's confrontations in Target stores arrive amid a surge of legislation targeting LGBTQ+ people across the nation.

There are close to 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills that have gone before state legislatures since the start of this year, an unprecedented number, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Those efforts focus on health, particularly gender-affirming health care for transgender youth, and education. State legislatures are also pushing to prevent discussions in school regarding sexuality and gender identity.

WHAT HAS BEEN TARGET'S RESPONSE?

In addition to deciding to remove some of its items amid other adjustments to the selling of its Pride collection, Target said that the company's focus is now “on moving forward with our continuing commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community and standing with them as we celebrate Pride Month and throughout the year.”

Some activists and advocacy groups, however, have criticized Target's response — calling on the retailer to reaffirm its support with the LGBTQ+ community.

“Target should put the products back on the shelves and ensure their Pride displays are visible on the floors, not pushed into the proverbial closet. That’s what the bullies want. Target must be better,” stated Kelley Robinson, president of The Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ+ civil rights group in the U.S.

“Extremist groups and individuals work to divide us and ultimately don’t just want rainbow products to disappear, they want us to disappear,” Robinson added. “For the past decade, the LGBTQ+ community has celebrated Pride with Target — it’s time that Target stands with us and doubles-down on their commitment to us.”