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LGBTQ brand creator is relieved after Target pulls its items from shelves amid backlash




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NEW YORK — When a Target distributor approached Erik Carnell last year about possibly placing his brand, Abprallen, in Target stores, he was excited.

It was “the biggest opportunity of my career,” Carnell told CNN. “I was ecstatic at the thought of being able to share my stuff with a whole new market.” London-based Abprallen, described on its Instagram page as “art and accessories for the proud, loud and colorful,” would go from a small start-up to a brand available at a major US retailer.

In the months that followed, he said, Carnell sat Target and came up with designs that would be appropriate for the big box store. Eventually, Target began selling three Abprallen items for adults: A sweater, a tote bag, and a messenger bag, each 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 death threats, some of which falsely said the collection was marketed to children, as some people lashed out at Target over the Pride offerings.

By Wednesday, Target had pulled Abprallen merchandise from its U.S. stores and online marketplace, Reuters reported.

“Since we introduced this year̵[ads1]7;s collection, we have experienced threats that affect our team members’ sense of safety and well-being while at work,” Target said in a statement about 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 behavior,” Target said.

Carnell’s immediate reaction was relief.

“The amount of backlash I’ve had has been overwhelming,” he said. “I just hope this is the beginning of the end of the messages and the attack I’m getting.”

But for a small brand, losing access to Target’s massive reach is a blow.

“When all this has died down, I’m going to be incredibly disappointed that such a great opportunity was taken away from me.”

But Carnell understands Target’s decision regarding his line.

“I don’t know what, other than withdrawing it, can be done to protect the retail workers,” he said. “Their safety must absolutely be the top priority.”

Still, Carnell is disappointed that Target wasn’t more communicative with him about the decision. Although he has heard from a distributor he worked with, he has not heard from the corporate office, he said.

Target did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.

Labor of love

Abprallen was born out of Carnell’s affinity for drawing and a desire to connect with his queer community.

“I made a couple of sticks about six years ago and it’s been growing 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, who was so lost and in so much pain… I owe it to him to make things that he could be proud of, things that tell him that who he is is not wrong. Who he is. it’s amazing,” he said.

Abprallen sells shirts, elaborate pins and other accessories that juxtapose pastel blues, pinks and purples with skulls, skeletons and UFOs. The images are paired with a series of phrases, such as “Transphobia sucks” and “Gay icon”. Some are in direct conversation with specific events, such as “Witches and Wizards Love Transgender People,” a response to Harry Potter author JK Rowling’s heavily criticized comments about transgender people.

But one design sparked an online uproar.

Rebellion

The backlash against Carnell and Abprallen has largely centered around a design that says “Satan respects pronouns”. Online, an anti-LGBTQ campaign called for a boycott of Target, which displays images of the expression on an Abprallen t-shirt. A video circulating on TikTok shows an employee being asked if she supports “satanic Pride propaganda”. Carnell has been called a Satanist in the right-wing press.

The particular design was not available at Target.

In early conversations, the dealer told Carnell that “Satan respects pronouns,” the design would not be a good fit, he said. The designs that ended up for sale are of a more neutral tone, with the phrases “Cure transphobia, not trans people”, “We belong everywhere” and “Too queer for here”.

Still, Carnell wasn’t surprised when the partnership caused a backlash (though he didn’t expect it to be this bad).

“I’m not naive. I certainly knew there would be negativity thrown my way,” he said. “I understand that people are incredibly passionate about their hatred of LGBT people. And the current political climate is one that tells these people that they have a right to feel that way,” he said.

On Twitter, right-wing commentator Matt Walsh described a targeted campaign that goes beyond Abprallen or Carnell. “The goal is to make ‘pride’ toxic to brands,” he said. “If they decide to shove this garbage in our faces, they should know they will pay a price. It won’t be worth what they think they will earn.”

Before Target, Carnell, which operates Abprallen alone, sold Abprallen products online as well as in some markets and to some wholesale customers, he said.

One part of the attention has been an increase in support, financially and emotionally. The Abprallen site has received so many orders that he temporarily closed the virtual store to catch up.

“I’ve been inundated with support,” he said, including “so many beautiful, compassionate, loving messages,” he said. “And when I’m in a better headspace, I know how much it’s going to have a positive impact on me.”

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