Companies Grapple with Difficult Choices as Anti-LGBTQ+ Backlash Challenges the Efficacy of Boycotts

June 23, 2023 :Attacks targeting businesses for their support of the LGBTQ+ community are placing companies in a difficult position, forcing them to choose between expressing their values and risking backlash, including violence, from a vocal minority of customers. Recent boycotts against companies such as Anheuser-Busch, Target, and Disney have resulted in significant public relations challenges, market share losses, legal battles, and employee threats. Companies face criticism from both conservative customers who reject LGBTQ+ marketing efforts and liberal shoppers who perceive attempts to appease conservative critics as a betrayal of the brand’s values.

While boycotts typically have minimal impact on a company’s financial performance, the increasing resistance to LGBTQ+ marketing threatens the progress made in corporate inclusion efforts in recent years. The backlash, particularly targeting transgender individuals, has even affected large companies with liberal reputations. Starbucks, for example, faced restrictions on decorating for Pride Month in some locations due to safety concerns following violence linked to Target’s Pride merchandise. However, Starbucks denies changing its policies and encourages stores to celebrate Pride Month.

Amid the aggressive legislative session introducing anti-LGBTQ+ bills across the country, LGBTQ+ inclusion has become a standard business practice. Despite the headlines and criticism, corporate boycotts are considered overstated, with hundreds of companies, including Nike, North Face, and Walmart, continuing their Pride campaigns despite pressure from extremists.

Anheuser-Busch’s Bud Light faced a significant backlash and sales decline following a promotion featuring trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney. The company’s response failed to appease conservative critics and those on the left who felt unsupported. Bud Light’s experience highlights the broader challenge faced by corporate America in navigating an increasingly polarized social landscape, where taking political positions or engaging in multicultural marketing can alienate customers.

Companies like Target, Nike, Adidas, Jack Daniel’s, Ford, and Chick-fil-A have faced boycott calls for their LGBTQ+ marketing campaigns. While these companies haven’t experienced significant financial consequences, the boycotts have led to the scaling back of LGBTQ+ inclusion efforts.
Target faced a boycott that diverged from traditional consumer activism tactics by adopting an aggressive and confrontational style. The harassment of Target employees has broader implications beyond the brand’s finances. Starbucks workers in Oklahoma were also affected by safety concerns, leading to restrictions on decorating. Walt Disney Co. has stood firm against an anti-LGBTQ+ movement in Florida, facing calls for a boycott and engaging in a legal battle against the state’s restrictive law.

Companies must navigate the delicate balance of catering to the LGBTQ+ community, which represents high disposable income, responsiveness to tailored advertising, and brand loyalty while facing legislative attacks and cultural criticism. GLAAD and other advocacy groups are working to ensure companies do not abandon their support for LGBTQ+ inclusion. Over 50 companies, including Cisco, Intel, Pfizer, and Salesforce, have pledged to reject harassment and bullying of the LGBTQ+ community and support businesses striving for inclusivity.

Companies must stand their ground and continue supporting the LGBTQ+ community if they seek their loyalty and the business that comes with it. The community and its allies have demonstrated their purchasing power and expect companies to support them in challenging times.