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Trans artist Erik Carnell responds to Target pulling his Pride collection

Man wearing glasses poses in pink jumper representing his Target Pride collection.
Man wearing glasses poses in pink jumper representing his Target Pride collection.

The past week has been incredibly difficult for Erik Carnell, a London-based gay trans artist whose Pride collection was abruptly pulled from Target stores after complaints from far-right customers. GCN was honoured to speak with Erik about his shop, his experience with Target, and if it’s possible for corporations to authentically support LGBTQ+ communities.

Last year, when American retail giant Target reached out to Erik Carnell to discuss a potential 2023 Pride collaboration with his Abprallen brand, he was incredibly excited. The artist and designer said: “It was the biggest opportunity of my career to date, and I couldn’t wait for it to launch. All of my friends were rooting for me and I was so happy to think my work would be reaching such a large audience.”

The whole process included designing and creating 30 new items, creating a pitch deck, and participating in lengthy meetings to determine which pieces to include. Ultimately, Target landed on three of Erik’s pieces to sell in their stores, including a tote bag that says, “too queer for here” and a jumper that says, “cure transphobia, not trans people”.

 

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A post shared by Abprallen (@abprallenuk)

The Pride Collection launched at the beginning of May, and Erik was thrilled to have his work on display in 1,954 Target stores across the US. He initially received a ton of positive feedback and support, but shortly after the collection was announced, far-right customers toppled Pride displays, threatened to boycott the US retail giant, and attacked Erik with false accusations.

After a few short weeks, Erik’s collection was pulled from the Target website and stores. The company claims it was: “acting to protect employee safety”, but the incidents that staff reported were inconsequential compared to the abuse that LGBTQ+ people face every day.

Trans people are four times more likely to experience violence and abuse compared to cis people. Since removing the collection, Erik has experienced a barrage of abuse, including hundreds of hate messages and death threats, which have negatively impacted his emotional and mental health.

Erik shared: “I am not an activist or a spokesperson and I do not claim to be. I just want to draw pictures and make other queer people feel loved.”

 

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A Target spokesperson said: “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,” but no one from Target talked to Erik about the decision to pull his Pride collection.

Erik told GCN that he found out that his collection had been removed from one of the distributors: “She sent me a link to an article for USA Today which doesn’t specify my brand by name, but as far as I am aware my brand is the only one which has been removed online and in stores.”

As of writing, Target has yet to contact Erik directly.

While the hate has been difficult to endure, the love and support from LGBTQ+ supporters has been incredible. In his official statement, Erik said: “Throughout all of the hate messages, slander, defamation, lies, death threats, threats of violence I have received an overwhelming barrage of support from people across the globe, for which I am truly grateful.

“There is nothing but love in my heart for the LGBT+ community and it’s actual allies and you have proven me tenfold that love and support always rises above hate and ignorance.”

 

 

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A post shared by Abprallen (@abprallenuk)

Erik has no intentions to stop creating art, and he is currently working through a “mountain of orders” from supporters. GCN asked Erik about his favourite piece he designed, to which he responded: “It’s hard to isolate a favourite piece. Each have come about based on their own specific merit and are all important to me.

“At the risk of adding fuel to the fire, however, I have an incredible love for the Satan Respects Pronouns piece as this was what turned Abprallen into the pastel goth LGBTQ+ pride store it is today, it helped to give me direction and allowed me to express not only the queer parts of my identity but the part of me that has long been fascinated with the spooky, the weird, and the macabre.”

While this piece was never part of the Target collection, conservative voices used it as fuel to make false accusations that the designer was a “Satanist” who markets his work to children, claims that Erik has debunked numerous times.

 

 

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A post shared by Abprallen (@abprallenuk)

Too often, for-profit companies claim to care about LGBTQ+ rights for Pride month but prove to be more concerned about protecting their profits than actually supporting queer people. GCN asked Erik what would it look like for corporations to authentically support their LGBTQ+ employees, customers, and collaborators.

“Corporations that choose to support the LGBTQ+ community must do so completely and unapologetically. They cannot bend to the wills of bigots, homophobes, and transphobes. Their decision to pull my collection speaks to the idea that only the Palatable Queer is to be accepted – the one who doesn’t stand their ground, the one who is perfect and harmless,” he said.

“If you choose to stand with the LGBTQ+ community then you must do so in any and all cases, you have to go down with the ship. If your existence as an ally falters when you face backlash then you have to ask yourself what is it truly that makes you an ally?

“If supporting LGBTQ+ people means you lose business or your stock drops you have to either accept this as a risk you’re willing to take or you avoid working with LGBTQ+ people. You can’t reap the benefits of the pink dollar if you backtrack when things get difficult.”

Erik created over 60,000 items for the collaboration, and he owns the rights to all the designs. Target has not shared what it plans to do with the remaining stock, but you can support Erik by following him on Instagram, sharing his posts, and by purchasing items from his online store and Etsy.

The post Trans artist Erik Carnell responds to Target pulling his Pride collection appeared first on GCN.