Monday, August 23, 2010

Off Target?

Everyone is mad at Target right now. Not just mad...spitting...cussing...national boycott mad.

All of this has come about because of a political donation that Target and Bestbuy made to Minnesota Forward, a political action fund that supports business friendly candidates for political office. The problem? of the candidates supported by monies from MN Forward is anti-gay Minnesota gubenatorial candidate Tom Emmer. Emmer has gone on record supporting a state consitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. This has caused a major controversy for Target who now faces massive public criticism and a national boycott from the gay community and allies.

 Targets response has been schizophrenic at best. While they did apologize for the lapse in judgement, they also went on to attempt to excuse themselves on the basis that MN Forward is paid into by a coalition of businesses, both large and small, whos primary interests are non partisan and seek only to advance their own "retail agenda". In a statement made to The Awl, this is Targets official response:(emphasis mine)

Target is proud to call Minnesota and communities across the country home. To ensure economic growth in those communities it is critically important to be able to provide jobs, serve guests, support communities and deliver on our commitment to shareholders.

Target supports causes and candidates based strictly on issues that affect our retail and business interests. In fact, Target’s Federal PAC contributions year-to-date are very balanced between Republicans and Democrats, and we work collaboratively with legislators and officials at all points on the political spectrum.

Target fosters civic engagement through a wide variety of nonpartisan efforts aimed at enhancing team member and citizen participation in the political process. We encourage team members and citizens to engage in civic activities in the ways that are most meaningful to them, as we believe that engaged communities are healthier and stronger communities.

Target is proud of the diversity of its team, and we greatly value the wide range of perspectives offered by all of our team members. It is this diversity that creates our unique and inclusive corporate culture while helping our company remain relevant and competitive."

So here we have Targets self revelation...They did not consider the political opinions or stances of those they gave to because they consider themselves to be politically neutral in all but one respect...whats good for business. Now they are seeing the error of their ways because of  the scalding response they are getting from the public.

The backlash from this  has been intense. Recently, a protest sponsored by arrived at Targets corporate headquarters with a petition  and a joint venture with designer fashion website GILT is going sour as people abandon membership because of the sites association with Target. However, instead of meeting protest head on, Target has chosen to raise the drawbridge and defend the castle...sometimes literally. Another protest against Target saw in the lobby of it's corporate headquarters, petitions in hand...Target execs got so frightened they actually turned off the escalators to prevent the protestors from storming the keep and sent their "diversity coordinator" down to address those assembled.
Target has clearly felt the heat as they became public enemy #1 not just from shoppers, but also from gay and lesbian employees, prompting Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel to issue an apology saying he was ""genuinely sorry" that the donation upset some employees". He also said Target would set up a review process for future political donations.
But, half baked, non-apologies failed to stop the snowball effect, and support for a boycott continues to grow,...most prominently led by, who not only led the petition drive for a boycott that  gave target the a case of the scareds, but also created a T.V. spot which has been denied airtime by networks supposedly because of its political content. More likely its because Targets ad spots pay more. Check out the ad and you decide:

So thats the background...heres where I have a few questions...
Sentiment in the gay community is VERY anti-target right now. This presents a problem for me as my family relies on Target heavily for daily goods. A while back everyone was anti-Wallmart because it also was singled out for not treating its gay employees very well....but to be fair, it was also under fire for many other unethical practices. So we stopped shopping there. I don't have that many options left in our little Northern California city.
Target was a good alternative to Walmart and when you are a single income family. As much as you may not like it...big box stores like Target help us out alot by not breaking the bank on stuff we need everyday. We went to Target for all our needs. In addition, we have a good lesbian friend who has worked for our local Target store for years and she has always been proud of the way that Target has treated its gay employees and been active in the gay community by participating in AIDS walks and pride marches and a variety of gay events. We were also aware they Target had scored 100% on the HRC's index of gay friendly corporations. Wallmart recieved a mere 40%. Shopping at Target has a benificial thing for our family for a long time now.
So...when the news of their actions and boycott came through. my first thought was, "oh hell, we are running out of places to shop. Now where am I going to go?" Our town is not exactly bursting with independent options and those that exist are not exactly budget friendly.
Additionally the online fury directed at Target is getting more intense and showing no sign of letting up anytime soon. Indeed Targets CEO seems intent on throwing more gas on the fire. When the HRC asked Target to donate an equivelent amount of money to them in order to offset their contribution to MN Forward, Target flatly refused on the basis that doing so would be "making a politcal statement"...../facepalm. Now Target doesn't owe HRC anything, they can donate  elsewhere to mitigate their previous lapse in donation oversight...but....Would it not have been easier to just to do it and begin some kind of P.R. healing process?
So now shopping at Target...while neccesary for my family...makes me feel like a bad gay. How has it come to this? I do feel its important to vote with our dollars, but we also need to do so intelligently and not just jump on the bandwagon with everyone else. Its too easy to get swept up in the sentiment and blindly follow..and we don't ask ourselves some crucial questions.
Like, What happened to Bestbuy? They donated also and no one is calling for their CEO's head on a platter. So far the electronics retail giant has done well by being quiet on the issue and letting Target take all the flak.
What about the everyday good things that Target does? They did not earn that 100% rating by buying Joe Solmonese a fancy lunch. They offer their gay employees and their families competitive benefits in ways that many companies do not. For example Wallmart has had a long history of questionable ethics and Exxon gave their gay employees domestic partnership benefits only to later remove them...some companies like Jamba Juice donated money to support Prop 8. Also, Target continues to do be present at gay events that many corporations simply wont attend. For many years I worked for an independant home improvement retailer here in California. They did NOT offer partnership benefits...nor did they allow their employees to attend pride events in company uniform. Target does both of these.
And finally...the big one...Is that the core of this issue is not so much that Target gave to an anti-gay candidate by way of MN Forward, but that they are giving to political candidates AT ALL in order to influence regulations in local areas. Thanks fo the recent Supreme Court decision considering corporations persons and removing all restrictions on their campaign donations...isn't the issue here that companies are taking advantage of that to begin to buy their way into government?
As Craig Rigby recently pointed out to me recently, Rupert Murdoch the head of Fox News, recently gave a million dollars to the Republican Governors Association. Does this not freak anyone else out that our politcal process is in this kind of danger? In my opinion it should. Our voices are being lost in a sea of corporate dollars. Our votes for political candidates will count for much less than how we spend our money. Not supporting a particular businesses may be the only effective way left to us to influence our governmental process, as the fallout over Targets donation bears out.
I don't believe Target had any idea who the money they gave to MN Forward was actually going to. I see no intention to support anyone with an agenda hostile to the gay community....BUT....nor did they do "due diligence" in finding out where their money actually went. What I do think Target did was willfully attempt to influence a political campaign for their own gain. Their only concern being support of their business agenda. That's corporations for you...they look out for their bottom line first and formost...ethics and everything else takes a distant back seat. This is where I feel the real point is and fortunately picked up on that as well: husband and I are conflicted about whether this boycott is something our family should participate in and we have talked a great deal about it... On the one hand, we want to support the gay community and avoid supporting those who do harm to it. On the other hand, the backlash Target has already recieved seems to have already accomplished the task we set out to accomplish...which is to teach Target that the gay community will not sit down and take its support of politicians that actively wish to harm us because they feel those candidates are "business friendly." I believe that they have learned the lesson to be more responsible in the future. Also, I dont believe we should punish a company that has had a long standing policy of treating its gay employees fairly and ignoring that history because of one incident of willfull negligence. And not the least because there are a lot of companies out their that DO deserve Jamba Juice, Exxon and companies that  willfully take action to harm the gay community.
But as it stands, shopping in Target makes me feel as if I am a bad gay. So intense is the anti-Target sentiment that you fear that someone will douse you in red paint as you leave the store with your small mountain of daipers and wipies. I do not want to boycott just because its the current focus of so many people. If we are going to do this it really should be for the right reasons and I just don't see that we have those here.
So we open this topic to all of you. We are unclear about the subjest and perhaps a little dialogue may help all of us come to a better understanding. Who's boycotting...who's not?...who had no idea?...and what are YOUR reasons?
Until next time dear readers...


  1. I will not join this boycott. All else being said, this is America. I believe Target execs have the right to give to any campaign they choose. This boycott actually makes the gay community look bad, in my opinion.This boycot is trying to dictate Targets actions by coercion.If the gay community ever expects to achieve respect and acceptance, they better learn to practice some as well. I AM a gay man and I'm saddened by this.We need communication, not coercion.

  2. I am SO glad you wrote this blog. I have been conflicted myself. The last two times I have been in Target I felt like the first time I was in a gay bar before I came out to my parents. Full of fear and shame that anyone was going to see me there.

    I understand the reason Target donated, it was good for their business. I don't think they're antigay. BUT I disapprove of corporations donating to political campaigns and feel the need to do something.

    Adding onto this, I work for a News Corp owned company. I've written a long letter to Rupert Murdoch expressing my objections but haven't sent it to him because many who've read it think its politically (from a corporate standpoint) unwise to do so. At what price do we silence ourselves in order to survive the status quo?

    As to Target, I've split it this way. I shop there for the items that I can save a lot of money on which for me makes a difference. For the stuff where I only save a few cents, I buy from the grocery store or drug store. That way I don't support Target by buying more than what is advantageous for me and I lose a few dollars here and there to other retailers just to keep dollars out of Target's hands and therefore out of political hands.

    It's my rationalization...for now.

  3. It's strange that conservatives are angered by "judicial tyranny" going against the "will of the people", but are perfectly fine with corporate cash influencing the democratic process.

    But anyway, back to topic, I enjoyed reading your take into this.

  4. I found a very good article on the net about this whole thing. It seems the CEO, Gregg Steinhafel is a born again loon who sends his children to Christian schools that reject gay people. So..I don't think this is just a little "error."

    I wonder if Target was around in the 1930's if they would donate money to the Nazi party? Hitler was all about job creation and "fixing" the economy during the depression. Who cares about a "few" societal issues..right???

    In a way this is a bit scary. The same thing is going on now..our economy is BAAD and kooky crazy people are in the forefront running for political office that promise to fix everything.

    Let's sit back and watch the show.... BUT..don't just sit back!! Donate money to GLBT friendly to your coworkers and friends and family...COME OUT OF THE CLOSET!!!!!!..and also..make sure your passport is up to date.

  5. For me im far more upset with the fact that they are donating to political campaigns in the first place. I feel the corperations have no buissnes catering such infulance in the political system as more ofthen then not their will is counter to what is acutly best for the people.

  6. It's easy to join the masses and rail against something unpopular, but as we all know, just because a majority believes something to be wrong doesn't make it so. As you present the situation, it seems that Target was either willfully negligent or just made a mistake in their donation, especially considering their previous history. So screw all this hype and fervor and do what seems to be right. Besides, in the end the family always has to come first, and you shouldn't make your family suffer over something as trivial and ambiguous as this.

    As for myself, I will be boycotting Target because I do not approve of their negligence and also share your frustration about the political "donations" in an attempt to influence elections. I was and continue to be appalled at the decision to view corporations as citizens and will continue to be dissatisfied until ALL their rights as citizens are taken away. It's my opinion that until we as true citizens make it fiscally unprofitable for corporations to go around attempting to influence elections, they will continue to do so unabashedly: If all Target was doing is good business, then we shall dictate to them what good business is!

  7. As part of a married gay couple (sorry, no kids), we won't be boycotting Target. They indirectly donated money to an anti-gay politician. It obviously wasn't intentional, and they have already said that they will screen future contributions. Their 100% approval rating from the HRC proves that they are a very gay positive company. Regarding the possibility of a matching donation... What the HRC was doing is very close to extortion. So I don't blame Target for blowing them off. -- Like Bryan said, I'm more disturbed by the fact that corporations are allowed to influence elections. The Supreme Court is responsible for the likelihood of destroying democracy in our country.