Ellison hints he could use AG powers to ensure Target keeps Pride merch on shelves

Ellison told the Minneapolis-based retail titan to “stand firm in the face” of violence, intimidation and discrimination against its LGBTQAI+ customers, despite not citing any examples.

Keith Ellison
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (Lorie Shaull/Flickr)

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has co-authored a letter to the CEO of Target that suggests he would use the powers of his office to ensure that Target is not intimidated into “pulling some Pride merchandise from stores.”

In a June 20 letter Ellison and Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell wrote to Brian Cornell, chairman and CEO the Minneapolis-based retail titan, they expressed concern over Target’s “choice to pull Pride merchandise,” which Ellison and Campbell said “demonstrates that intentional violence and intimidation can set back the march for social progress and LGBTQIA+ equality which as we have noted is already under intense attack nationwide.”

Additional attorneys general who signed onto the letter include those from: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Ellison used the communication to Target’s top executive officer to summarize what he describes as an “increasing number of politically motivated attacks over the past two years against the LGBTQ+ community.”

Ellison and Campbell told Cornell that 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.”

Ellison letter doesn’t cite any instances of violence or intimidation at Target

The letter — which Ellison included in a press release from his office this week — does not articulate any specific incidents, in Minnesota or elsewhere, where Target actually removed Pride-related merchandise from its stores. It does not cite any specific instances where the company has documented acts of violence or intimidation inside its stores or where its employees discriminated against customers with conduct related to Pride merchandise or displays. In a story published by the Associated Press last month with the headline “Target becomes latest company to suffer backlash for LGBTQ+ support, pulls some Pride month clothing,” the story itself doesn’t actually confirm where Target removed Pride-related merchandise from any of its stores. The story only mentions that the retailer confirmed it had “moved its Pride merchandise from the front of the stores to the back in some Southern stores.”

Target has issued a few brief public statements on the topic, including one last month where it claims its stores have “experienced threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and well-being while at work.”

“Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans, including removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior,” the company said in a May 24 press release. “Our focus now is on moving forward with our continuing commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community and standing with them as we celebrate Pride Month and throughout the year.”

There was one highly-publicized instance of bomb threats communicated to a handful of Target stores in Louisiana, where an individual emailed the company accusing Target of “bowing to the wishes of the far-right extremists who want to exterminate us.” Police in those locations investigated the threats and determined there were no explosives found in any of the stores in question, according to a June 11 report from St. Charles, Louisiana-based KPLC News.

Another instance of threats of violence against Target stores was reported May 26 by a Cleveland television station that received an email stating, “Target is full of cowards who turned their back on the LGBT community and decided to cater to the homophobic right wing redneck bigots who protested and vandalized their store.”

Target has not said whether any of its Pride merchandise displays have been vandalized in recent weeks.

There is one instance where several media outlets chronicled the June 22, 2022 arrest of a Tennessee man for allegedly spray painting over a Pride-themed display at a Target in Knoxville.

Still, in the letter this week that Ellison and Campbell wrote to Target, they told CEO Brian Cornell that Minnesota and others states have laws that can “support Target’s efforts to protect its staff and customers in the face of any hate-based discrimination, threats or attacks” by utilizing “laws on the books,” such as Minnesota’s Human Rights Act.

The letter also encouraged Cornell and the company to “reach out to other responsible authorities, including law enforcement, to help address any LGBTQ+ threats and harassment in Target stores or any or any anti-LGBTQ+ criminal acts that may have occurred in their stores.”

Ellison isn’t the only high-profile Minnesota politician entering into the national discussion around public backlash over Target’s involvement in a number of social justice topics.

Walz, other DFLers have also vented over Target Pride merchandise issue

Earlier this month, Gov. Tim Walz accused neighboring South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem of taking an “insane” stance when she criticized Target’s financial support of a South Dakota-based activist group that has called for the removal of Mount Rushmore.

Walz told a cable television host during an interview on MSNBC that “I’m in a neighborhood where a governor next door to me made the case that a rainbow on a t-shirt at Target is destroying our democracy,” Walz said. “That’s nonsense. That’s just insane, and I think most people here in Minnesota agree.”

Walz was referring to an interview Noem had participated in just a few days prior on Fox News, where she never mentioned the Pride merchandise debacle at Target, and was only asked about recent revelations that Target’s non-profit arm had donated to the politically controversial NDN Collective.

handful of DFL legislators have also complained in recent weeks about Target’s reaction to criticism from conservative organizations over some of its Pride merchandise and whether it has been inappropriately marketed to children.


Hank Long

Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.