Some businesses in countries from South Africa to the United Kingdom face criticism for their LGBTQ Pride marketing campaigns and are being slammed as “woke”—an American term co-opted and exported as more right-wing activists target businesses that celebrate Pride Month or a range of progressive causes.
South African fashion retailer Woolworthstweeted in support of International Pride Month on June 1, voicing a commitment to “better serve our LGBTQIA+ people and customers” and citing initiatives like creating an internal Pride task team, creating Pride merchandise and adapting its dress policy for employees to accommodate for gender identity, religious and cultural needs.
The tweet outraged some South African consumers who branded the company “woke” and said they would no longer shop there.
In response, Woolworths doubled down in a forceful tweet: “Every person has the right to dignity regardless of their identity – this is a fact enshrined in our constitution. It is not up for debate.”
New Zealand retailer The Warehouse faced similar online backlash, reportedly for selling items from Disney’s pride collection, which included a rainbow-colored silhouette of Mickey Mouse and rainbow pens and pencils.
Glamour UK faced right-wing online pushback after it featured pregnant transgender man Logan Brown on the cover of its Pride issue, though Brown’s appearance was also praised by LGBTQ activists who considered the cover image a way to normalize LGBTQ childbearing experiences.
Canadian religious activist group, Campaign Life Coalition, led a boycott for parents to keep children home from schools that have flown Pride flags, reportedly leading to high absence rates on June 1, including nine schools with absence rates exceeding 40% and two exceeding 60% in the Ottawa-Carleton school district.
British media personality Piers Morgan criticizedGlamour UK and Brown’s gender identity in a tweet that garnered more than 114,000 likes. The magazine was also criticized by American commentators, including pundit Ben Shapiro, who posted a video criticizing the Glamour UK cover as “pretending a man can get pregnant.” Other conservative social media users accused the magazine of going “woke.”
Some social media users praised Woolworths for doubling down on its pro-LGBTQ stance and joked the boycotts would make for a “more pleasant shopping experience for the rest of us.” Glamour UK has also been praised by LGBTQ advocates for its cover story. Imara Jones, CEO of TransLash Media, a Black trans-led nonprofit media organization, tweeted Brown’s cover story will “help normalize queer childbearing experiences.” Brown also defended his appearance on the cover: “I am a transgender pregnant man and I do exist, so no matter what anybody says, I literally am living proof,” Brown toldGlamour UK.
These global boycotts follow a long list of American companies that have been targeted by conservative pundits, politicians and social media users in response to their LGBTQ-inclusive marketing campaigns and merchandise. Anti-”woke” boycotts picked up momentum after Bud Light came under fire for sending Dylan Mulvaney, a transgender TikTok star, a custom can with her face on it. Outraged social media users targeted other companies, including Target and Kohl’s, for their Pride product lines, as well as Adidas and Starbucks for trans-inclusive marketing.
$3.9 trillion. That’s the estimated annual purchasing power of the global LGBTQ community, according to corporate advisory and asset management group LGBT Capital. The United States is estimated to account for $1.1 billion of this total.
“Woke” is now best known as a pejorative against anything deemed too progressive, but before it became a global right-wing political buzzword, it originated in Black American communities decades ago to refer to an awareness of racial injustice. The phrase “stay woke” was used as far back as 1938, in the spoken outro of American musician Lead Belly’s song “Scottsboro Boys,” a song about the 1931 Alabama case in which nine Black teenagers were accused of raping two white women. Woke has also been used in a 1962 New York Times article about how white Americans appropriate Black slang, “If You’re Woke You Dig It,” as well as more recent songs including Erykah Badu’s 2008 song “Master Teacher” and Childish Gambino’s 2016 song “Redbone.”