Gay shoppers boycotting Target for supporting an anti-gay Minnesota gubernatorial candidate have little reason to rethink their stance as the company, the nation’s second largest retailer behind Wal-Mart, has done little in response.
Target’s negotiations with the Human Rights Campaign ended abruptly this week with the gay civil rights group releasing a statement saying Target would “take no corrective actions to repair the harm that it caused” through its political donation.
Based in Minnesota, Target has been pressured for three weeks by LGBT activists to make amends after giving $150,000 to MN Forward, a group that has run ads supporting Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. A straight father of seven, Emmer is against same-sex marriage and supports constitutional amendments that outlaw it.
MoveOn.org, a group of organizations that works to bring “real Americans back onto the political process,” is spearheading the Target boycott.
MoveOn.org says its members object to Target “trying to buy elections” under the U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections can’t be limited under the First Amendment. To counter Target’s donation, MoveOn.org is seeking $150,000 to “fight back” and “send an unmistakable message that Americans won’t stand for corporations throwing their weight around in our elections.”
More than 250,000 signatures have been collected from people pledging not to shop at Target again until the company promises to stop making political donations, MoveOn.org says. Protestors have reportedly appeared at 1,100 Target stores across the country.
HRC took no official stance on the boycott but was in negotiations with Target, encouraging the company to make a similar donation to an LGBT-supportive candidate in Minnesota.
“We were in talks with ways they could make it right … and were close to some sort of agreement, but finally they backed away from the table and refused to give an explanation about why they would talk no further,” said Michael Cole, an HRC spokesperson.
“I don’t know that we’ve reached out to them in the last few days, but their final word to us was, ‘No, we will not be giving anything to them to make it right and this is the end of the conversation.’”
In a statement, Target told the Blade that a decision was made to wait before taking action on the matter.
“Given the current political and emotionally charged environment, we have concluded that it is best to wait before taking further external action regarding our MN Forward contribution,” said Jessica Carlson, a Target spokesperson, in an e-mail.
“We believe that it is impossible to avoid turning any further actions into a political issue and will use the benefit of time to make thoughtful, careful decisions on how best to move forward. We remain committed to the GLBT community and will continue to seek thoughtful ways to demonstrate the strong support for inclusiveness that we have held throughout our history.”
While no D.C. gay groups have taken any lead role in the boycott, local LGBT people have expressed anger about the situation and joined the boycott.
Geri Hughes, a Washington transgender activist, said she shopped regularly at the Target stores in Washington’s Columbia Heights neighborhood and Virginia’s Potomac Yards shopping center, but won’t now.
“Until this is resolved, I’ll tell you this,” she said. “I’m not gonna spend any money there. And if it doesn’t make the paper, I’ll never shop there again.”
The news of Target’s donation supporting an anti-gay candidate came as a shock to many gays who recognized Target for its perfect score on HRC’s most recent Corporate Equality Index, which grades corporations on their approaches toward LGBT-related workplace matters. Target also has given money to the Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays in Twin Cities and participated in Minnesota Pride events.
Joel Lawson, a gay Washingtonian with his own public relations business, said the controversy reminded him of disputes in the 90s with United Airlines and American Online. Those incidents involved resistance to enacting domestic partner benefits and a service member’s inadvertent outing.
“They think, ‘Oh, we’re fine. This is a misunderstanding. It will resolve itself in a short matter of time,’” he said. “And that’s just not the case. The hurt is magnified and even more startling, more newsworthy and more difficult to resolve. … Unless they acknowledge the hurt and injury, it will only linger.”
Lawson said he’s confident, though, Target will eventually make right on the matter.
“It’s a very bad moment for a very good company with very good LGBT policies,” he said.