THEOnline critics are calling for a boycott of Hershey after a transgender woman was featured on chocolate wrappers for its International Women’s Day campaign in Canada.
The backlash is the latest attack by conservative social media users against brands they say are “too wide awake,” or in this case, “Erasing Women.”
#BoycottHersheys was the top trending topic on Twitter when users saw Fae Johnstone, a trans woman and 2SLGBTQIA+ advocate, was one of five women being honored as part of the confectioner’s ‘Her for She’ campaign.
While many praised the brand for including Johnstone, hundreds of right-wing users took to Twitter to express their disdain. “The reaction to my inclusion as a trans woman in Hershey’s Canada’s IWD campaign shows how far we still have to go in the fight for feminist liberation and trans rights, Johnstone he tweeted on Thursday. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m not silent. I will always stand up for women and girls, cis and trans.”
Hershey has since defended their actions, saying they “value unity and recognize the power that diversity creates,” Hersey tweeted. “For the past three years, our Women’s History Month programming has been an inclusive celebration of women and their impact. We appreciate the countless people and meaningful partnerships behind these efforts.”
Deb Gabor, CEO of branding agency Sol Marketing, says the controversy is reminiscent of similar backlash M&Ms faced when Mars Wrigley switched shoes to some of the candies. “You have people who are kind of divided about the role that brands really play in these highly charged, politically charged and, you know, divisive social issues,” Gabor tells TIME.
Gabor says Pennsylvania-based Hersey likely knew it would face backlash for including a transgender woman, but is taking a gamble and taking a stand on the company’s values, despite the fact it will lose some customers. “Hershey’s is showing the world what we stand for is inclusion,” says Gabor.
The attacks on Johnstone and the broader queer community also come at a time when Republican-led states are pushing for a record number of anti-trans and anti-gay bills across the country. Currently, seven states have bans on gender-affirming health care, although similar legislation has been introduced in 21 other states.
“As younger consumers come of age, these older legacy brands are trying to reach out and build relationships with younger consumers,” Gabor tells TIME. “(To do so) they have to reinvent themselves to become relevant. And I think that’s what we see Hershey doing here.”
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