Supporters rally around trans activist in Hershey's Women's Day campaign

Canadian transgender activist Fae Johnstone is one of five women featured on Hershey's Canada's limited edition bars for International Women's Day. Now, some social media users are calling for a boycott of the U.S. chocolate giant while others applaud the company for its inclusion.

Calls to #BoycottHersheys after Ottawa transgender activist Fae Johnstone featured on chocolate bar

A woman holds up a bar with her image on it.
Ottawa's Fae Johnstone holds the new HER for SHE bar as part of a Hershey's Canada campaign to celebrate International Women's Day. (Hershey's Canada)

A social media campaign by U.S.-based chocolate giant Hershey's has garnered both a hateful response and a loud chorus of support after a call to boycott the brand's chocolates over ads featuring a Canadian transgender woman.

For International Women's Day, Hersheys Canada has released five limited edition "HER for SHE" chocolate bars, featuring the faces of five women to "shine a light on women and girls who inspire us every day."

The chocolate bars feature Autumn Peltier, an Indigenous rights and water activist, Naila Moloo, a teenage climate innovator, Rita Audi, a gender and education equality activist, Kélicia Massala, the founder of Girl up Québec and Fae Johnstone, a transgender activist and the executive director of consulting firm Wisdom2Action.

The campaign was meant to celebrate women and note the ongoing fight for equity, according to Hershey's. It is donating up to $40,000 to Girl Up, a group that focuses on women's equity.

When the HER for SHE bar launched on March 1, Johnstone posted that she was honoured to be featured.

In the social media campaign video, the 27-year-old raises an eyebrow, twirls and talks about creating a world where people live in "public space as their honest and authentic selves."

"I hope this campaign shows trans girls they can dream big and change the world, too."

After #BoycottHersheys started trending, she posted Thursday, saying it "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. I will always stand up for women and girls, cis and trans."

"Spurring an international campaign to boycott a chocolate company definitely wasn't on my list of predictions for 2023," she quipped.

She later added: "It was, and continues to be, an immense honour to be included in Hersheys Canada's campaign, as a young trans woman & feminist advocate."

CBC News reached out to her for an interview, but she was not available.

Backlash to boycott

While the special-edition chocolate bars are only being distributed in Canada, U.S. media outlets have jumped on the issue, including the New York Post and far-right Breitbart, who called the campaign a "woke fail."

On Twitter, #BoycottHersheys was trending Thursday, with comments attacking transgender women and the company. Some attacks denied the existence of trans people altogether.

Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale Canada, said in a release that she applauds the chocolate company for including transgender representation, but condemns hateful reactions, saying this points to how much more work needs to be done.

"Since the release of the campaign, Fae [Johnstone] has been the target of an indescribable number of transphobic comments, news stories and even a call for a boycott of the chocolate company for including a trans woman in their campaign. Egale is disgusted by the transphobic response to what should be a celebrated campaign."

Michelle Fortin, executive director of Options for Sexual Health and co-chair of the Vancouver Pride Society, said seeing backlash hit a corporation "making the right decision" is disappointing.

"I'm just aghast that in 2023 we haven't figured that out inclusion and equity includes our trans women siblings. Being born with a uterus isn't what makes a woman. There is more to it than that."

Julia Levy, Canada's first trans queer woman to receive a Rhodes Scholarship and head to the University of Oxford, said it's disturbing to see women failing to support a trans person.

"This transphobic backlash is all the more tragic when it comes from women who claim to be feminists," said Levy.

She believes movements to control women's bodies affect all women and trans people.

"The desire to curtail the bodily autonomy of trans people goes hand in hand with the removal of rights for cis women to make choices for their own bodies — as we have seen in the US. The movements of Female Liberation and Trans Liberation are inexorably intertwined."

The Hershey Company issued this statement today:

"We value togetherness and recognize the strength created by diversity. Over 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."

Three Hershey's chocolate bars rest on some chocolate shavings.
For the past three years Hershey's has released a special edition chocolate bar on March 1 to honour International Women's Day on March 8. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)


Yvette Brend

CBC journalist

Yvette Brend works in Vancouver on all CBC platforms. Her investigative work has spanned floods, fires, cryptocurrency deaths, police shootings and infection control in hospitals. “My husband came home a stranger,” an intimate look at PTSD, won CBC's first Jack Webster City Mike Award. Got a tip?