The Right Wants to Boycott Hershey’s Because a Trans Woman Was in Its Ad

The right is furious that Fae Johnstone, a 27-year-old transgender woman, appeared in a Hershey's chocolate ad campaign.
Fae Johnstone in Hershey's recent ad campaign (Screenshot via Hershey's)

Right-wingers across North America are harassing a transgender woman and threatening to boycott Hershey’s after the chocolate company included her in a PR campaign to “celebrate women changing the future.” 

The vitriol aimed at 27-year-old Fae Johnstone is just the latest attempt by the right to paint massive corporations as “woke” over the issue of visibility for minority groups, particularly transgender people. And it comes as right-wing legislators and commentators not only attempt to further restrict access to healthcare for trans adults as well as children but aggressively attack the idea of transgender existence entirely. 


Johnston, an activist and consultant based in Ontario, was one of five people featured in a Canadian PR campaign for Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day on March 8. Johnstone, who uses she/they pronouns, tweeted a 15-second ad for the “#HERforSHE” campaign Wednesday, saying: “The chocolate's out of the wrapper! Honoured to be featured in this campaign by @Hersheys Canada for #InternationalWomensDay alongside 4 brilliant sisters and change-makers.”

Conservatives flooded the replies and quoted replies of Johnstone’s tweet, describing her essentially as a drag queen and the ad as an attack on women. 

“So @Hersheys is featuring a male in costume as a woman for its international women’s day ad campaign,” Mollie Z. Hemingway, a Fox News contributor and writer for the far-right website The Federalist, posted to her Twitter account with over 1 million followers. 

“Hershey has decided to stand against women. Putting a trans identified man as a face of  “herSHE” for International Women’s Day,” an anti-trans account called “TroonyTunes” tweeted, a posted which was later retweeted by far-right commentator Matt Walsh. 


By Thursday, the hashtag #BoycottHershey was trending on Twitter. 

On Thursday afternoon, Johnstone said that the reaction to her inclusion in the campaign “shows just how far we still have to go in the fight for feminist liberation and trans rights.”

“I’m not going anywhere. I’m not shutting up,” Johnstone tweeted. “I will always stand up for women and girls, cis and trans.”

In a statement to VICE News, the U.S.-based National Center for Transgender Equality said visibility like the Hershey’s campaign “tells transgender people, and all people, that we are not alone.”

"More and more, we see companies across the country using their platforms to voice support for the transgender community. In a time when our community is being attacked in the media and the legislatures, we are thankful that companies like Hershey’s firmly assert that transgender people are living brilliant lives that deserve to be recognized,” communications director Leroy Thomas told VICE News in an email. “Transgender women are not only part of women’s history, but also part of our collective present and future.” 

But by Friday morning the news was circulating on more extreme corners of the internet.

Members of  far-right groups on Telegram and subscribers to the extremist message board, The Donald, were outraged by Hershey’s decision. Most simply decried the chocolate maker, claiming its products were “shit anyway” and that they would no longer buy them—or as one member of The Donald put it: “I'll never eat that f------ bullshit again.”


But as usual on these platforms, some members used the news to make violent threats against the trans community and even Johnstone’s life. Others commenting on the news claimed Hershey’s decision was proof that it was worshipping the goat-headed heathen idol known as Baphomet, who was supposedly a winged hermaphrodite. More commenters made claims that Hershey’s products contained “babies” a reference to QAnon conspiracies about the torture and murder of children.

The LGBTQ+ civil rights organization Egale Canada said in a statement Thursday that it was “disgusted by the transphobic response to what should be a celebrated campaign.” 

But the campaign from the right to “cancel” Hershey’s over visibility is nothing new in right-wing circles. After Disney publicly opposed a Florida law which restricts conversations about gender and sexuality in some public schools last year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who will likely run for president, and his culture war allies launched an effort to strip Disney World of a special tax status the company has enjoyed for decades.

DeSantis signed a bill doing just that last week and appointed allies to oversee the new “Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board,” including Bridger Ziegler, a county school board member in Florida who co-founded the “parental rights” group Moms for Liberty, a conservative nonprofit which has led a national right-wing effort against “critical race theory” and LGBTQ+ rights in schools as well as COVID-19 restrictions earlier in the pandemic, and campaigned for hardline conservative control of school boards. 


Hershey’s is not even the first candy that the right has targeted. Far-right Fox News star Tucker Carlson has criticized the perceived decrease in hotness of the cartoon M&Ms characters—a symptom of wokeness, to be sure—to the point that it’s turned into a running bit on his show. 

The attacks on Johnstone also come as Republican lawmakers in at least five states have introduced bills this year that would restrict transition care for adults, particularly those on Medicaid, according to the Washington Post. And in Florida, the DeSantis administration banned gender-affirming care for people under the age of 18 and ended Medicaid coverage for all transgender healthcare last year, Republicans have proposed expanding the effective ban on discussions of sexuality and gender through middle school. 

Michael Knowles, a right-wing commentator and former co-host of Sen. Ted Cruz’s podcast, called for states to “ban transgenderism entirely” last week. 


"It's not enough to say, ‘You have to wait until you're 12,’” Knowles said the following day. “It has to be the whole thing." Knowles also said there “can’t be a trans genocide” in America because “transgender people is not a real ontological category, it’s not a legitimate category of being.” 

In a Twitter thread Thursday night, Johnstone wrote that it was an “immense honor” to be included in the campaign but that she was declining to speak to the media in the immediate future and that it was  “best to let this blow over.” 

“Trans women are women. We face systemic discrimination on the basis of both misogyny and transphobia - from harassment to hate, poverty and homelessness and more,” Johnstone said. “I am thankful to Hersheys Canada for including me in their campaign.” 

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.