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Target to reduce number of stores carrying Pride-themed merchandise after last year’s backlash

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FILE - This Aug. 11, 2015 file photo shows a Target store in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

NEW YORK (AP) — Target confirmed Friday that it won’t carry Pride Month merchandise at all stores in June after the discount retailer experienced a backlash and lower sales over its collection honoring LGBTQ+ communities.

Target, which operates roughly 2,000 stores, said decisions about where to stock Pride-themed products, including adult apparel, home goods, foods and beverages would be based on “guest insights and consumer research.”

A Target spokesperson declined to disclose the number of stores where the merchandise will not be available, but the company said its online shop would offer a full assortment. The moves were first reported by Bloomberg.

“Target is committed to supporting the LGBTQIA+ community during Pride Month and year-round,” Target said in an emailed statement. “Most importantly, we want to create a welcoming and supportive environment for our LGBTQIA+ team members, which reflects our culture of care for the over 400,000 people who work at Target.”

Kelley Robinson, president of the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, said Target’s decision was disappointing and risks alienating LGBTQ+ individuals and allies at the risk of not only profits, but also their values.

“Pride merchandise means something,” Robinson said in an emailed statement. ”LGBTQ+ people are in every zip code in this country, and we aren’t going anywhere.”

Last year, Target removed some items from its stores and made other changes to its LGBTQ+ merchandise nationwide ahead of Pride Month after intense reaction from some customers who confronted workers and tipped over displays. Target also moved displays to the back of its stores in certain Southern locations last year.

But Target faced a second backlash from customers upset by the discount retailer’s reaction to aggressive, anti-LGBTQ+ activism, which has also been sweeping through Republican state legislatures. Civil rights groups scolded the company for caving to customers who expressed outrage over a selection of gender-fluid bathing suits it carried last year. The anti-LGBTQ+ customers also posted threatening videos on social media from inside the stores.

Target’s latest moves are just another example of how companies are struggling to cater to different groups of customers at a time of extreme cultural divisions, particularly around transgender rights. Last year, beer brand Bud Light angered some customers with its attempt to broaden its customer base by partnering with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney.

Minneapolis-based Target and other retailers, such as Walmart and H&M, expanded their Pride Month offerings a decade ago or longer. But transgender rights, including to gender-affirming health care and sports participation, have become politicized social issues, prompting lawmakers in some states to try to reverse activists’ previous gains.

Target’s move to scale back its presence of Pride merchandise for this year isn’t unexpected.

Last August, CEO Brian Cornell told reporters that Target learned from the backlash and said the company would be more thoughtful about merchandise decisions for heritage months that celebrate the achievements of marginalized groups.

Target said it would have a slightly more focused assortment and will reconsider the mix of its own and national brands with its external partners.

“As we navigate an ever-changing operating and social environment, we’re applying what we’ve learned to ensure we’re staying close to our guests and their expectations of Target,” Cornell said.

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