Analysis by Oliver Darcy, CNN
Fri June 2, 2023
Prepare yourself for a Pride Month imbued with callous intolerance.
Fueled by right-wing media personalities and institutions like Fox News, conservatives are waging a ferocious war on companies that express support for the LGBTQ community, with hostilities against the celebration of gay rights swelling to levels not seen in many years. In effect, the supposedly anti-cancel culture crowd is leading the summer’s biggest cancel culture campaign.
In recent weeks, right-wing media has smeared and incited boycotts against Bud Light and Target, two jumbo American brands that have been thrust into the center of the toxic culture wars. Both companies have been relentlessly attacked over their show of public support for the LGBTQ community. In recent days, The North Face, Kohl’s, and Chick-fil-A have also come under assault in the expanding war. And Disney, of course, has been an endless punching bag since it spoke out against the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida last year.
In the right-wing media universe, in which millions of Americans firmly reside, these companies have been portrayed as “woke” and evil corporations seeking to groom children with radical — even Satantic — gender ideology that will corrupt their brains and ultimately lead to the destruction of society.
The attacks have put companies in the uncomfortable position of standing up for the values of their own employees and the public writ large against a relentless volley of threats of mass boycotts, lost revenue, and ultimately, long-term brand harm. With each offensive — and claimed victories — the activists wielding the pitchforks have become more emboldened and the business atmosphere more chilled.
Written in black and white, the attacks look deranged. But it is precisely what some of the loudest and most influential right-wing media figures are promoting to their large followings, with new self-generated outrage cycles generated daily. It isn’t quite QAnon, but it’s close — and it is being fed to the GOP base in broad daylight. You don’t have to go to the dark corners of the internet to find this style of crazed commentary; it’s available each day via mainstream right-wing outlets.
In many cases, prominent personalities are not even trying to be secretive about their end goal as they perhaps would have been done in years past. In fact, they are saying the quiet part aloud. The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh, one of the leading purveyors of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in the US, has explicitly stated that the aim is to make the open embrace of the LGBTQ community harmful to brands.
“The goal is to make ‘pride’ toxic for brands,” Walsh tweeted. “If they decide to shove this garbage in our face, they should know that they’ll pay a price. It won’t be worth whatever they think they’ll gain. First Bud Light and now Target. Our campaign is making progress. Let’s keep it going.”
It is important to remember that a not-so-insignificant portion of the American populace takes this rhetoric to heart. For the conservative news organizations and businesses that promote it, the rhetoric is profitable because it resonates with and excites their audiences. The articles generate clicks, videos attract eyeballs, and the content in general prompts significant engagement — the lifeblood of the internet.
Which is to say that this burgeoning facet of the culture wars, which is now unquestionably the most dominant strain, is not going away any time soon. In fact, with Pride Month about to get underway, and more brands showing their support for the LGBTQ community, expect more fronts to open up. As the right-wing media personalities leading this campaign have said: Bud Light and Target were just the beginning.
The Human Rights Campaign released a statement Wednesday, signed by more than 100 advocacy organizations and allies, condemning the right’s use of the “extremist playbook of attacks.”
“Their goal is clear: to prevent LGBTQ+ inclusion and representation, silence our allies and make our community invisible,” the coalition said. “These attacks fuel hate against LGBTQ+ people, just as we’ve seen this year with more than 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills that restrict basic freedoms and aim to erase LGBTQ+ people.”