Woolworths has launched a high-profile campaign to mark International Pride Month, which has led to a backlash by bigots who have called for a boycott of the company.
The South African retailer has demonstrated its commitment to diversity and inclusion through an online and social media campaign, in-store promotions, and a Pride-themed apparel and accessories collection.
The campaign’s focus is not just raising awareness of Pride Month but also educating consumers about the importance of allyship with the LGBTQIA+ community through several social media and online posts.
“We want to live in a world with no marginalisation, where everyone feels a sense of belonging, and no one is left behind. For this to happen, marginalised groups including the LGBTQIA+ community need support and allyship,” said the company on its website.
“An LGBTQIA+ ally is someone who supports, stands up for, respects, uplifts, and celebrates the LGBTQIA+ community. Whether you’re educating yourself about the LGBTQIA+ community, sharing content from LGBTQIA+ voices, actively advocating for LGBTQIA+ rights, or being a good friend or colleague to an LGBTQIA+ person – there are lots of different ways to be an ally,” added Woolworths.
The company not only used members of the LGBTQIA+ community as the faces of the campaign but has also pledged to donate a portion of the proceeds from its Pride range sales to LGBTQIA+ support organisations.
The campaign has predictably come under fire from bigots on social media who have slammed the company for trying to be “woke” and meddling in politics. Some have ignorantly accused the company of trying to sexualise or “groom” children into “the LGBTQIA+ lifestyle.”
In a statement, rights group OUT LGBT Well-being commended Woolworths for its Pride Month campaign.
“Woolworths’ public affirmation of LGBTQIA+ allyship aligns with South Africa’s vision of a society that guarantees equality, safety, and dignity for all,” commented Sibonelo Ncanana, OUT’s Human Rights Coordinator. “It’s also clear that Woolworths recognizes the importance of celebrating diversity in the LGBTQIA+ community, rather than merely tolerating it.”
OUT, however, strongly condemned misguided efforts to target Woolworths and other LGBTQIA+ affirming companies through boycotts and threats.
“The level of hateful discourse we’ve seen on social media in response to Woolworths’ Pride campaign is disheartening and shameful,” Ncanana says. “We urge the company and other LGBTQIA+ allies within the corporate sector to stand firm against fear and hate. They should remain steadfast in the knowledge that they are on the right side of history and our constitutional values.”
Amid the homophobia and transphobia, the company also received a flood of positive reactions to the campaign on its Twitter page. “Loving this! And particularly your broader initiatives supporting the community and your own staff,” wrote @UlrichJvV.
“In all this Hate, you’ve chosen to be Love!!” added @plantdzaddyy. “You’ve made the decision to be a voice for people who do not have massive representation. And for that? We’re truly grateful.”
@bangiso commented: “Well done Woolies! For creating visibility of the amazing diversity within the South African community. THANK you for bringing visibility to the continued challenges faced by LGBTQ+ people and for educating others on how to become better allies.”
Woolworths revealed that its Pride apparel had sold out on its online store and that it was having to replenish stock to meet demand.
The backlash is part of a trend by social and religious conservatives to assail LGBTQIA+-affirming companies. This trend began in the United States in early April after the beer brand Bud Light sponsored a video post on transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney’s Instagram page.
The video sparked an unprecedented wave of transphobic hate against Mulvaney and Bud Light. Right-wing figures called for a boycott, and the brand’s marketing vice president, Alissa Heinerscheid, was replaced.
Soon after, Target, one of America’s largest retailers, was also attacked for selling rainbow Pride-themed clothing. Videos were posted online showing bigoted individuals brazenly knocking down displays and abusing staff. Some stores even received bomb threats.