Attorney General Ellison offers Target help in combatting anti-LGBTQ+ harassment and violence

Co-leads letter of 15 AGs expressing concern with Target’s decision to pull some Pride merchandise from stores: concerned it sends message that ‘those who engage in hateful and disruptive conduct … have the power to determine when LGBTQIA+ consumers will feel comfortable in Target stores — or anywhere in society’

Asks Target to ‘stand firm in the face of intimidation and discrimination’: LGBTQ+ community ‘needs and deserves our support and protection now more than ever’ in the face of recent attacks

AG Ellison and coalition ‘ready, willing, and able’ to work with Target ‘in the spirit of progress, inclusivity, and equality’

June 20, 2023 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison today co-led a coalition of 15 attorneys general in a letter to Target Corporation CEO Brian Cornell in which they offer their help in responding to recent events in Target stores involving intimidation and destruction of certain Pride-related merchandise, in reaction to which Target chose to pull some Pride merchandise from their stores. In the letter, which Attorney General Ellison co-led with Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell, the attorneys general acknowledge Target did so in an effort to keep its staff members and customers safe from anti-LGBTQ+ harassment, vandalism, and other criminal acts. In addition to offering the assistance of their offices, they encourage Target to reach out to other responsible authorities, including law enforcement, to help address any anti-LGBTQ+ threats and harassment in Target stores or any anti-LGBTQ+ criminal acts that may have occurred in their stores. 

At the same time, Attorney General Ellison and the coalition express their concern with Target’s choice to pull some Pride merchandise in response to those threats and violent acts. As they write in the letter, sent during Pride month and in the week of the 51st annual Twin Cities Pride Festival, and against the backdrop of increasingly virulent attacks on the rights and humanity of LGBTQ+ people nationwide: 

Pride merchandise like Target’s helps LGBTQIA+ people see that they enjoy considerable support and that loud and intimidating fringe voices and bullies do not represent the views of society at large. We understand Target recently pulled some Pride merchandise from its shelves out of concern for worker and customer safety. While we understand the basis for this action, we are also concerned it sends a message that those who engage in hateful and disruptive conduct can cause even large corporations to succumb to their bullying, and that they have the power to determine when LGBTQIA+ consumers will feel comfortable in Target stores — or anywhere in society. Though we do not doubt Target’s longstanding commitment to LGBTQIA+ equality, and though we laud your intention to keep your staff members and customers safe, we fear your choice to pull Pride merchandise demonstrates that intentional violence and intimidation can set back the march for social progress and LGBTQIA+ equality, which … is already under intense attack nationwide. 

Attorney General Ellison and the coalition note that LGBTQ+ Americans have faced an increasing number of politically motivated attacks over the past two years. Several states have now adopted laws barring public schools from discussing LGBTQ+ identity, limiting gender-affirming care, prohibiting transgender individuals from using bathrooms or playing on sports teams aligned with their gender identity, and restricting drag performances. At the same time, the LGBTQ+ community has also increasingly been targeted by harassment and hate, including escalating threats of violence and a spike in baseless and harmful accusations that LGBTQ+ individuals seek to abuse or convert children.   

Minnesota and other states have laws on the books that can support Target’s efforts to protect its staff and customers in the face of any hate-based intimidation, harassment, threats, or attacks. The Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) currently prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The reach of the MHRA extends to the “full and equal enjoyment” of the goods and services available in places of public accommodation. The MHRA also prohibits any person from intentionally obstructing or preventing any person from complying with the Act. Further, it is a crime in Minnesota to destroy property “because of the property owner’s or another’s actual or perceived … sexual orientation” and to commit harassment crimes “because of the victim’s or another's actual or perceived … sexual orientation.” 

Attorney General Ellison and the coalition conclude the letter to Target by writing:  

If Target again finds itself facing anti-LGBTQIA+ harassment — whether of customers or employees — store management or the corporate office are encouraged to reach out to our offices.  We are ready, willing, and able to work with you in the spirit of progress, inclusivity, and equality. 

This Pride Month, the LGBTQIA+ community needs and deserves our support and protection more than ever. We urge Target to double down on inclusivity, reject hate in all its forms, and stand firm in the face of intimidation and discrimination.  We hope that we can work together with Target to create a welcoming space where members of this community, including Target staff and customers, can express themselves in the joyful spirit of Pride. 

Joining Attorney General Ellison and Massachusetts Attorney General Campbell in signing the letter to Target are the attorneys general of Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.