“Celebrate Pride month,” proclaimed the merchandising at Target stores nationwide. But the retailer wasn’t celebrating when consumer backlash and boycotts led to a 5.4% drop in second quarter sales and forced the retailer to change course.
Bud Light, the nation’s bestselling beer, faced boycotts for its partnership with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney, leading to a 10.5% sales decline and the loss of its No. 1 spot to Mexican beer Modelo Especial.
The humbling of two major brands was encouraging for the descendants of American Family Association founder Donald Wildmon. The nonprofit enjoyed its biggest boycott victory in 1986 when 7-Eleven stores nationwide stopped selling Playboy and Penthouse magazines.
AFA, which has a $26 million annual budget and claims nearly two million people listen to its American Family Radio network of stations, announced its boycott of Target in 2016.
“Target shifted so quickly” to support transgender issues, said Walker Wildmon, AFA’s vice president of operations and a board member of its political arm, AFA Action. “The public was not ready for that.”
Public reaction against Target and Bud Light was spurred in part by conservative media but comes at a time when boycotts are losing their effectiveness, said Wildmon, one of three family members “carrying on the family tradition.” Brother Wesley is vice president of outreach and father Tim is president.
“Things have changed so much” since the 1980s, Walker Wildmon said. “Consumer behavior has changed since then and today, boycotts are not as effective.”
Consumers have more options, aren’t as concerned about where they spend their money, allowing convenience and affordability to replace “diligence.”
Christmas was approaching in 1976 when Methodist minister Donald Wildmon was shocked by TV shows featuring obscenity, adultery and torture. He organized a “Turn the TV Off Week” in Tupelo, Miss., and the next year founded the National Federation for Decency. He renamed it the American Family Association in 1988.
Wildmon used snippets from hard-core porn films and large tables displaying porn magazines to shock 350 pastors attending the 1984 Cincinnati Consultation on Pornography, Obscenity and Indecency. They voted in favor of a nationwide boycott.
AFA has called for many additional boycotts, many of them focusing on LGBTQ issues:
- Walmart for including a gay couple in its “Love Is in the Aisle” promotional video series, which “normalizes homosexual relationships.”
- Target for using the word “holiday” instead of “Christmas.”
- Ford for running Jaguar and Land Rover ads in gay magazines.
- McDonald’s for allowing one of its executives to serve on the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
- Hinge, the dating app that helped Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg meet his husband, Chasten, for “sexual perversion.”
- Ritz crackers for its LGBTQ-inclusive “Where There’s Love, There’s Family” ad campaign.
- And Gillette for obscenity and use of the words “pubic hair” in its online tutorial “How to Shave ‘Down There.’”
Its anti-LGBTQ efforts have earned the AFA a “hate group” designation from the Southern Poverty Law Center. Bryan Fisher, who hosted American Family Radios’s Focal Point program, made numerous anti-gay claims, including that homosexuals caused the Holocaust. He also offended Muslims, Blacks and Hispanics before AFA cancelled his show without explanation in 2021.
Recently, AFA has experienced its own LGBTQ problem. Robert Chambers, an AFA executive for seven years, sued AFA claiming fellow male employee Ron Cook made repeated sexual advances, and that AFA fired Chambers after reporting it. Chambers also questioned AFA’s financial integrity. AFA denies his claims.
AFA says America’s morals have been in steep decline ever since the 1960s.
AFA says America’s morals have been in steep decline ever since the 1960s. “Our role is to reverse this decline,” Walker Wildmon explained. He acknowledges AFA faces a David and Goliath battle.
“The biggest issue is not necessarily unbelievers or pagans,” he said. “The biggest problem is the percentage of people who say, ‘Yes, I’m a Christian, I believe in the Bible, I believe in Jesus Christ as Son of God,’ but their lives are not reflecting that.”
“It’s easy to become pessimistic at times,” he said. But he sees glimmers of hope in lower divorce rates and says America’s decline is “easily fixable” by training believers in “biblical worldview.”
AFA’s boycotts generate publicity and donations, but it’s not clear they bring about lasting change in companies or American culture. AFA’s Disney boycott ran from 1997 to 2006 with no obvious victory. Wildmon said the boycott “definitely got Disney’s attention.”
Some boycotts wind up publicizing the offensive entertainment they condemn. Writer Neil Gaiman thanked AFA for its help to get the word out about his 2022 Lucifer series, which exceeded 18 billion streaming minutes on Netflix.
Wildmon acknowledges America has millions of gay citizens who buy products but says companies should remain “neutral” instead of promoting pro-gay views or any views at all.
“Companies view themselves as virtue trains, but our desire is that they should remain neutral,” he said. “Their sole purpose should be selling products or services” which has “nothing to do with these ideological battles facing our country.”
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