An LGBTQ+ creator received death threats after working with Target
When a Target retailer approached Erik Carnell last year about possibly getting his brand, Abprallen, into Target stores, he was thrilled.
It was “the biggest opportunity of my career,” Carnell told CNN. “I was ecstatic to be able to share my stuff with a whole new market.” London-based company Abprallen, described on its Instagram page as “art and accessories for the proud, loud and colorful”, would grow from a small startup to a brand available from a major US retailer.
Over the next few months, Carnell pitched Target and came up with designs that would fit the big-box store, he said. Ultimately, Target began selling three adult Abprallen items: a sweatshirt, a tote bag, and a messenger bag, each emblazoned with a different phrase.
But then things fell apart. About a week and a half ago, Carnell said, he began receiving hundreds of hateful messages, including killer treats, some of them falsely saying the collection was marketed to children, while some people were attacking Target over its Pride offers.
On Wednesday, Target had removed the Abprallen items from its U.S. stores and online marketplace, Reuters reported.
“Since introducing this year’s collection, we have experienced threats affecting our team members’ sense of safety and well-being at work,” Target said in a statement regarding this year’s Pride collection.
“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 behaviors,” Target said.
Carnell’s immediate reaction was relief.
“The amount of backlash I’ve received has been overwhelming,” he said. “I just hope this is the beginning of the end of the messages and the onslaught I’m getting.”
But for a small brand, losing access to Target’s massive reach is a big blow.
“When this all settles down, I will be incredibly disappointed that such a great opportunity has been taken away from me.”
But Carnell understands Target’s decision regarding its line.
“I don’t know what could be done, other than removing it, to help protect retail employees,” he said. “Their safety must absolutely be the top priority.”
Still, Carnell is disappointed that Target wasn’t more forthcoming with him about the decision. Although he heard from a distributor he worked with, he did not hear from head office, he said.
Target did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.
Abprallen was born out of Carnell’s affinity for drawing and a desire to connect with his queer community.
“I created a few pins about six years ago, and they’ve grown since then,” he said. For Carnell, work is personal.
“I take what I do incredibly seriously,” he said. “I owe it to my younger self, which was so lost and in so much pain… I owe it to him to create things he could be proud of, things that tell him that who he is isn’t wrong. What he is is wonderful,” he said.
When Carnell, who is trans, thinks about his youth, he recalls a time “when I was a kid and I desperately wanted to be a boy, and I didn’t know there was a way to do it” . Carnell knows his experience was not isolated. “There are so many people like him,” he said, referring to his younger self.
With Abprallen, Carnell wanted to create Pride items that were more than “just a random rainbow slapped on a T-shirt”.
Abprallen sells shirts, elaborate pins and other accessories that juxtapose pastel blues, pinks and purples with skulls, skeletons and UFOs. The images are associated with a variety of phrases, such as “Transphobia sucks” and “Gay icon”. Some are in direct conversation with specific incidents, like “Witches and wizards love trans people”, a response to Harry Potter author JK Rowling’s heavily criticized comments about trans people.
But one design sparked an online outcry.
The backlash against Carnell and Abprallen has largely centered on a conception that says “Satan respects pronouns”. Online, an anti-LGBTQ campaign urged a boycott of Target, showing images of the phrase on an Abprallen t-shirt. On TikTok, a video has circulated showing an employee being asked if she supports “satanic Pride propaganda”. Carnell has been called a Satanist in the right-wing press.
But this particular design was never available at Target.
In early conversations, the retailer told Carnell that the “Satan respects pronouns” design wouldn’t fit, he said. The designs that ended up on sale are more neutral in tone, with the phrases “Cure transphobia, not trans people”, “We belong everywhere” and “Too weird for here”.
Still, Carnell wasn’t surprised when the partnership caused a backlash (although he didn’t expect it to be this bad).
“I am not naive. I absolutely knew there would be negativity coming my way,” he said. “I understand that people are incredibly passionate about their hatred towards LGBT people. And the current political climate is one that tells these people that they are right to feel that,” he said.
On Twitter, right-wing commentator Matt Walsh describes a targeted campaign that goes beyond Abprallen or Carnell. “The goal is to make ‘pride’ toxic to brands,” he said. “If they decide to throw this rubbish in our faces, they must know that they will pay the price. It won’t be worth what they think they’re winning.
The harsh language, along with the threats reported by Target, comes at a time when trans rights are under attack in the United States. More than 400 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures this year through April 3, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, including those that restrict access to gender-affirming care for trans youth. . According to a study by the UCLA School of Law, transgender people are more than four times more likely to be victims of violent crime than cisgender people.
For direct-to-consumer brands, a partnership with a major retailer is often “the holy grail,” said Ian Schatzberg, co-founder of branding agency General Idea, which works with brands large and small. “It’s very expensive to run a DTC business,” he said. “The role the retailer plays in the lives of these brands is really critical to their success.”
Typically, “if they lose distribution, they could lose business,” Schatzberg said, adding that big retailers are “vital” to smaller brands online.
For LGBTQ+ brands, store shelf space is “a source of financial existence, but also of pride and visibility,” Schatzberg said. General Idea is an LGBTQ-owned company, he noted. “If you’re removed, it not only creates an effect on that business owner, it creates an effect on the community.”
Prior to Target, Carnell, who runs Abprallen himself, sold Abprallen products online, as well as in select marketplaces and to select wholesale customers, he said.
A silver lining of attention has been a peak of support, financial and emotional. The Abprallen site received so many orders that it temporarily closed the virtual store in order to catch up.
“I have been inundated with support,” he said, including “so many beautiful messages of compassion and love,” he said. “And when I’m in a better headspace, I know how much of a positive impact that’s going to have on me.”