Clothing retailer Kohl’s is the latest company to draw conservative backlash for LGBTQ+ Pride support. Like Target
As Pride Month approaches in June, more retailers are showing their support for the LGBTQ+ community through displays and merchandise. In the wake of the Budweiser backlash, where the company featured transgender influence Dylan Mulvaney on a limited-edition Bud Light can, conservatives have been engaging in what they call “Bud Lighting”, where they boycott organizations for LGBTQ+ support.
Target was the next to draw the attention of conservatives by predominantly featuring a line of Pride clothing at their stores. The Pride line included transgender friendly bikinis and children’s clothing. Target responded by removing some of the articles, then relocating the rest to a less visible location in the store. The move outraged the LGBTQ+ community, but failed to pacify conservatives who continued to be upset over Target’s long-standing support of LGBTQ+ causes including donations to GLSEN, a nonprofit that focuses on LGBTQ+ inclusivity in schools.
Kohl’s is now the focus, as conservatives shifted outrage over a Pride Month display that included baby onesies and other clothes marketed for children. While the Kohl’s line is focused generally on pride, and not specifically transgender issues, the line features a number of Disney themed pride items. Disney is still engaged in a political showdown with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis over Disney’s support of the Parental Rights in Education bill, which opponents have dubbed “Don’t Say Gay.”
Bud Light, Target, and Kohl’s actions fit into a broader debate over environmental, social, and governance investing, and pressures placed on corporations to enact certain policies. ESG is a type of investing where factors beyond strictly financial matters are considered. As ESG investing has increased, publicly traded companies began adding ESG reports to their corporate documents. What companies choose to highlight in these reports varies drastically as no reporting standard currently exists. The Securities and Exchange Commission is currently finalizing reporting standards for the environmental aspect, but social and governance relies on third party organizations.
The social category is where the majority of the controversy has been found in the past year, as companies highlight support for LGBTQ+ causes. Companies are given ESG scores based on internal policies for how they treat LGBTQ+ employees, as well as outward facing actions showing support to the LGBTQ+ community.
DiversityInc’s Top Companies for LGBTQ Employees, the standard metric in ESG reports on the internal policies of a company, ranked Kohl’s as a top 50 company in 2022. Comparatively, Target was ranked #4 and Walmart
For a more a more comprehensive look at LGBTQ+ support, most companies rely on the Corporate Equality Index put out by The Human Rights Campaign. CEI is 40% based on outward facing LQBTQ policies, and a company can face an additional 25% penalty for actions which do not support the LGBTQ cause. A perfect CEI score requires donations to LGBTQ+ causes, refusal to donate to non-religious organizations that discriminate based on LGBTQ+ issues, and support of gender transition. Kohl’s received a perfect score in 2022.
It is possible that Kohl’s LGBTQ+ support is in an effort to retain their high ESG scores for diversity and inclusion. However, Kohl’s has participated in Pride Month since at least 2017, meaning this could just be reflective of their corporate priorities. As with many things with ESG, the answer is unclear.