“The rainbow flag is the new Confederate flag”: GOP group behind Target boycott compares gay rights to “slavery”

Hateful rhetoric and grotesque distortions spewed by organizers of the Target boycott have not produced results

By Nico Lang

Published May 23, 2017 6:57PM (EDT)

One of America’s loudest anti-LGBT hate groups is at it again.

The American Family Association, which led a boycott of Target after the big-box chain came out in support of trans equality in 2016, referred to LGBT rights as “slavery” in a blog post about a Kentucky court case. The case, which was decided in an appellate court earlier this month, determined whether a Christian t-shirt manufacturer discriminated against the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization (GSO), a Lexington-based LGBT group who was turned away by the shop. Blaine Adamson, the owner of Frankfort’s Hands On Originals, said that printing apparel for a local pride event would violate his religious beliefs.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled in Adamson’s favor, finding a 2-1 decision that he had the right to refuse service to the organization based on his sincerely held religious beliefs. “The right of free speech does not guarantee to any person the right to use someone else’s property,” wrote Judge Joy Kramer. “The ‘conduct’ Hands On Originals chose not to promote was pure speech.”

Groups like Breitbart called the decision, which will likely be appealed, a victory in the battle over “religious liberty.” But the AFA took it much, much further: In a blog post, president Bryan Fischer compared LGBT rights groups to the Confederacy.

“For a man to be compelled under threat of punishment to perform work against his will is slavery,” said Fischer, who has claimed that homosexuals were behind the Holocaust. “The reality is that the LGBT lobby is the reincarnation of some of the worst elements of the mindless prejudice of the Old South in its irrational venom toward people (Christians) who are not like them. The rainbow flag is the new Confederate flag. It is as much a symbol of bigotry as that flag ever was in the minds of the left.

“Bottom line: In Frankfort, Kentucky, homosexual activists tried to reintroduce slavery to the Deep South,” he concluded. “They failed in the attempt.”

Fischer, who has also advocated that LGBT people be subjected to the death penalty, has a long history of using his organization to push false, incendiary propaganda. The AFA, which has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, has claimed that God will use the “pagan armies” of the Islamic State “to discipline the United States for our debauchery.” Fischer has also proposed building an “underground railroad” to take the children of same-sex couples away from their parents and has compared homosexuality to bestiality, incest, polygamy, and pedophilia.

But the most persistent myth pushed by the AFA is that the group felled the giants of pro-gay activism by chopping Target’s profits at the knees.

The group famously led a demonstration against the popular retailer last year after Target announced that it would allow transgender customers to use the restroom of their choice at the company’s 1,800 locations. That decision was made in the wake of North Carolina’s House Bill 2, the controversial 2016 law which forced trans people in the state to use restrooms that correspond with the sex they were assigned at birth. After more 1.5 million people signed an AFA petition claiming that they would take their business elsewhere, the anti-LGBT group took credit for Target’s stumbling stock prices.

The store has, indeed, fallen on hard times in the past year, but to claim that the AFA protest is the cause amounts to a generous helping of wishful thinking on the part of a fringe group that desperately wants to believe it’s relevant.

Target’s stocks have fallen 32 percent since announcing its trans-inclusive policy in April 2016, but the timing was largely incidental. Last year was an abysmal one for retailers across the United States. Referred to as the “Mall Meltdown,” stores like HHGregg, Sears, American Apparel, Wet Seal, Payless ShoeSource, BCBG, and Wet Seal filed for bankruptcy, unable to compete with the industry-shattering success of Amazon. Macy’s and J.C. Penney shuttered hundreds of stores as shopping increasingly moves to digital platforms.

For AFA to say that a crumbling business model is its handiwork would be like claiming to control the weather, and arguably, Target has fared a lot better than its competitors.

Anti-LGBT groups have continued to take aim at Target in order to reverse engineer a teachable moment, even despite the obviousness of their fallacious thinking. After the store recently unveiled its Pride month apparel, Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies with the right-wing Family Research Council, said in a statement, “I would think Target would have learned their lesson about participating in aggressive LGBT activism from the backlash they received from their open bathroom policy last year.”

But a bunch of hullabaloo over some rainbow displays hasn’t hurt Target. The business, which has been investing greater resources in online shopping, has rebounded this year, outpacing analyst expectations. Target has announced that it will spend $7 billion in the next three years to revamp its stores and stay afloat in the digital economy.

If the AFA is founded on lies and hate, the reality is that the Target boycott has never been all that effective. When Faith2Action, a right-wing group located in Washington D.C., announced a nationwide protest of the trans-inclusive policy in May 2016, the organization hoped to “bankrupt the bullies at Target.” The turnout was unimpressive, to say the least. Only a handful of store locations had people show up at all, and you could count the number of attendees on your hands and feet. At a demonstration in Lubbock, TX, not a single person was in attendance, leading the local radio station to call the protest a “bust.”

Even the AFA’s much lauded petition has likely been inflated. ThinkProgress pointed out that signees can attach their name to the boycott multiple times, meaning that highly motivated bigots could account for hundreds of tallies.

Fischer and his cohorts might get to claim temporary victory over the “slavedrivers” of the liberal left in the Kentucky court case, but there’s a reason that the AFA is so excited about this win: The culture war has slipped through their Bible-stained fingers. After calling for a boycott of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” over its inclusion of a gay character, the film has managed to make nearly $500 million in the United States.The live-action remake has hauled in $1.2 billion globally. Like all their efforts, the protest was sound and bigotry, signifying nothing.

Fischer and the AFA can keep their Christian t-shirts. They’ll need them to wipe up their tears.

Nico Lang