Target made the decision to pull some of their Pride merchandise from their stores toward the end of May.
The company, which has only publicly supported the LGBTQ+ community for the past decade, indicated that this action is in response to the destruction of Pride displays in their stores and homophobic threats their employees have received.
Queer folks are used to this betrayal. While this move doesn’t come as a surprise with all the queerphobic rhetoric everywhere these days, it still stings.
You may be thinking, “Kali, don’t you think ‘betrayal’ is a little harsh? I mean, they said they had their employees’ interest in mind, right?” Two thoughts come to me in response.
First, there are many things that Target could do to protect their employees: ban folks who destroy any displays in the store; press charges against any person who threatens employees on the premises; empower security with the authority to escort violent people out of the store.
Those actions would send a clear message of support for both their employees and the LGBTQ+ community.
Second, and more cynically, when a key demographic (specifically, straight white conservative middle-aged moms) is threatening to boycott the store because of the presence of the Pride merchandise, taking “the path of least resistance” equates to “the path that least affects the bottom line.”
In a capitalist society, a moral backbone is an expense most companies claim they can’t afford. Standing up for the least of these simply isn’t profitable.
As I think of this betrayal, I’m reminded of the betrayal Jesus experienced in the hours leading up to his murder. Jesus was unabashedly himself in the face of a society that expected him to do what men were “supposed” to do.
He was scandalous: healing on the Sabbath when the law told him not to; eating with tax collectors and prostitutes; communing with the lepers even though that made him ritually “unclean.”
In the face of a religious institution that expected him to align with the empire of Rome, he preached “love wins.” He was different, odd, abnormal.
In the most literal definition of the word, Jesus was queer – and both the religious and political establishments felt his queerness was a crime worthy of death.
As Jesus was arrested and tried, he experienced deep betrayal from two of his closest disciples: Judas and Peter.
Judas betrayed Jesus because it was profitable: he was given 30 pieces of silver to do so.
Peter betrayed Jesus for a different reason. He was confronted by folks who said they had seen him with Jesus before. Scared for his life, Peter responded that he “didn’t know what they were talking about” and that he “didn’t know the man.” He betrayed Jesus to save himself.
The Target board room is full of both Judases and Peters, but that’s not the only place they reside. There are Judases and Peters everywhere, but most prominently in moderate churches who claim that “all are welcome.”
The Judases have continually fought against public statements of LGBTQ+ affirmation because they are afraid of how such a statement would impact giving totals. For Judases, clarity isn’t important as long as we’re hitting the budget.
For years, Peters have fought to welcome everyone, claiming that it’s the Christ-like thing to do. They are friendly to queer folk, making queer folks feel comfortable. They create safe spaces for queer folks in churches who refuse to offer clarity about if they will wed the queer couples who call that church home.
Peters are great people to have in your corner until significant challenges arise; then, they go into full preservation mode. They assure non-affirming folks that their church doesn’t affirm queer people – and that they don’t either.
They may genuinely care about queer folks, but not enough to stand their ground when their own way of life is threatened. When trouble comes, Peters turn their backs on the folks they claim to love.
I think I speak for all queer people when I beg the Peters to repent. All over the country, queer folks are getting assaulted more regularly. LGBTQ+ youth are experiencing higher rates of anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation.
Recent Florida legislation legalized the use of the death penalty against child rapists – after the Florida government spent months telling its citizens that LGBTQ+ people are pedophiles, groomers and rapists.
Additional Florida legislation makes it legal for medical personnel, such as first responders, EMTs and doctors, to deny care to someone based on religious grounds. Under this law, an EMT could deny life-saving care on the scene of an accident if they are a Christian and discovered the victim was trans.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “that’s absurd – no first responder would deny care to someone who’s at risk of dying just because they’re trans,” then you need to know it’s already happening across the country – it’s been happening for years.
We need the Peters to find their conscience while we’re still alive. Unlike Jesus, we will not be able to resurrect ourselves to forgive them over a beach-side brunch.
As tempting as it was for me to write a feel-good Pride piece about how the divinity of Christ resides within all queer people, I couldn’t in good conscience allow anyone to think Pride is going to be all rainbows and sunshine this year.
Pride this year is in defiance of all the people who are currently shouting “Crucify them!” when all we want is to live our love in peace.
We need the Peters to respond to Christ’s call to feed these queer sheep, to love them, to protect them from those who would take us to the slaughterhouse.
I beg you, Peter, repent while there is still breath in our lungs. Give yourself a reason to be proud.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week for Pride Month (June).
A bivocational pastor, writer and spiritual director based in Atlanta, Georgia, she currently works as a Spiritual Director at Reclamation Theology. Cawthon-Freels is the author of Reclamation: A Queer Pastor’s Guide to Finding Spiritual Growth in the Passages Used to Harm Us (Nurturing Faith Books), and a contributing correspondent at Good Faith Media.