Octavia Jimenez was at Target with her partner, April Dean, on Thursday to pick up some prescriptions when she saw a dress that she liked in the Montana store’s Pride section.
Jimenez went into the changing room to try on a rainbow-checkered dress. When she came out, there was an older man in a baseball hat looking at her holding the garment, she said in an interview. He came up close to her and said, “Enjoy it while you can.”
At that moment, Jimenez said she felt her sense of danger elevate. She and Dean spoke to a Target employee to ask them for assistance.
That’s when Jimenez started recording. In the video, which has been shared across social media, the man is seen removing clothing from the Pride section and throwing items on the floor as a Target employee asks him to “knock it off.”
Jimenez said the employee asked the man to leave the area and escorted him to the manager’s office.
As a visibly trans person in Missoula, Jimenez told HuffPost she normally feels very safe but that this experience was “rattling.” The incident, which went viral, was just the latest episode in an ugly rash of confrontations involving aggressive customers who are upset with the store’s embrace of Pride Month. The company announced this week that it would remove items “that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior” from some of its stores.
“It’s kind of sad to see them kowtow to pressure from these people who clearly have no way to be satisfied other than seeing us go away,” Jimenez said.
HuffPost reached out to Target about the incident involving Jimenez, but the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Jimenez said she was surprised to come face to face with this kind of hate, especially in Missoula, which she says is generally trans-friendly. The city is represented by Montana state Rep. Zooey Zephyr, the first openly trans woman elected to the state legislature. Both Jimenez, a trans woman, and Dean, who is nonbinary, attended rallies in support of Zephyr when she was barred from the legislature last month.
The lawmaker voiced her support for the couple on Thursday.
“My heart goes out to the trans woman & her nonbinary partner who were harassed,” Zephyr tweeted. “While the man may have said ‘enjoy it while you can,’ I hope the couple knows there are people across this state working towards creating a Montana where they can always enjoy their lives in peace.”
In April, Montana Republicans voted to ban Zephyr from debating on the House floor after she criticized her colleagues for supporting a ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth.
In a speech, Zephyr cautioned Republicans that they would have “blood on their hands” for such a bill, which was later signed into law by Republican governor Greg Gianforte.
“I think [Zephyr’s censure] directly mirrors the movement that we saw here, in the sense that public displays of hatred and attempts to remove queer people from public life are being enacted by our elected officials,” Dean said. “This trickles down to things like this and ideas like this being permissible in the public sphere that animates people to do things like they did today.”
Right-wing commentator Matt Walsh called for a boycott of Target on his podcast for selling “tuck friendly” swimwear — geared toward trans women who have not had gender-affirming surgeries — that Walsh falsely claimed was being marketed to children.
The company said in an online statement that the removal of certain products comes after it experienced “threats” to its employee’s safety and well-being.
These confrontations aren’t new. There are dozens of videos of right-wing agitators confronting Target employees and customers about LGBTQ-affirmative products each June during Pride Month, as well as many more of employees fielding threats from anti-masker customers at the height of the pandemic.
Since the announcement about the removal of Pride products, a number of LGBTQ+ rights organizations, including GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign, have called on the company to reverse its decision.
After Jimenez and Dean left Target, she broke down and cried in her car. She was getting ready for her first day as a cashier at a grocery store later that day.
“It definitely made me a little scared to go to work today,” Jimenez said. “It’s the kind of thing you never expect to happen.”