When Target announced it would remove some of its 2023 Pride Collection from stores — siding with anti-LGBTQ+ fear-mongers who decried inclusive merchandise and threatened violence — it was LGBTQ+ folks who were harmed the most.
Not only did the popular department store regress in its support of LGBTQ+ representation by removing a swath of inclusive clothing and swimsuits from stores, but it also removed life-changing opportunities for LGBTQ-owned businesses.
Ash & Chess, a small queer- and trans-owned business based in Upstate New York, creates greeting cards, prints, home goods, apparel, and accessories highlighting the beauty and vibrancy of the LGBTQ+ community.
Owned by couple Ashley Molesso and Chess Needham, the duo’s work is stocked in small shops around the world — but the collaboration with Target would have been a game-changer.
Originally, the brand had been hired to design 16 unique and exclusive designs for Target’s Pride campaign. Target pulled 14 of those designs out of stores and moved them to be “online exclusives” and removed Ash & Chess’s “Trans People Will Always Exist” shirt from the collection completely.
“This came as a blow, not only to us as queer and trans artists whose work was supposed to be featured in Target stores all across the country,” the duo shared online, “but to the millions of LGBTQIA+ people and families who will not be able to see affirming messages displayed in a large retailer and who have been told that their existence is dangerous and doesn’t deserve to be celebrated and stood behind.”
Amid the heartbreak and demoralization of Target’s decision, these queer creators have been met with resounding support from customers and other wholesale stockists.
This also led Ash & Chess to the decision to move their “Trans People Will Always Exist” shirt to Bonfire, an independent apparel fundraising platform where they are now raising funds for the Campaign For Southern Equality.
“We are putting this shirt up for sale for those of you who wanted it but couldn't get it, for those of you who love trans people, and of course, for those of you who aren't finished fighting,” Ash & Chess shared on the product page.
After production costs, the profits from shirt sales will be directly donated to the Southern Trans Youth Emergency Project through the Campaign for Southern Equality. This fund provides rapid response and direct support to families of youth who are impacted by anti-trans healthcare bans in the South.
In just a few days, shirt sales raised over $23,000.
What is the nuance?
While, of course, these funds and the actions of Ash & Chess provide invaluable support to trans youth and their families, a fundraiser like this should have never been necessary.
Trans youth and their families should never have been legislated into danger or social and financial insecurity. Target should have never pulled its Pride items — especially those made by LGBTQ+ designers.
“Once again, the community we love so dearly is left to pick up the pieces of another harmful and failed attempt at performative allyship,” Ash & Chess continued on the Bonfire product page.
This performative allyship is one enormous example of the concerning territory of “rainbow washing,” in which large brands and corporations sell products catered to the LGBTQ+ community during Pride but refuse to support — or actively cause harm to — the community at other times of the year.
LGBTQ+business owner and the first openly gay member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Bill Rossi, said that the first step in mitigating this kind of harm from corporations is to see LGBTQ+ folks for who they are: people.
“We need to push companies to support LGBTQ+ people on a continual basis; not just during Pride Month,” Rossi told Good Good Good. “We are gay 365 days a year. Brands need to stop empowering hate.”
Of course, it’s not all bad news. The North Face is one standout example of a brand standing behind its LGBTQ+ collaborators amid backlash, continuing its partnership with eco-drag queen Pattie Gonia and the “Summer of Pride” campaign.
This continued support is not in celebration of The North Face, but in the beauty and visibility of the queer community.
“We know visibility doesn’t save us, and in fact, makes us more vulnerable a lot of the time,” Needham shares in an Instagram post on the Ash & Chess page, “but it really can save individuals.”
As difficult as this particular Pride Month has been, Ash & Chess — and thousands of other queer artists and community members — remind us to turn our attention to what really matters.
Pride has never been, and never will be, about corporate sponsors or performative products, but the ongoing commitment of individuals resisting hate through joy, creativity, and community action.
“Trans people deserve more than existence,” Needham continued. “We deserve to be loved and celebrated for who we are.”
Header image courtesy of Ash & Chess