Joe Mirabella

Should gays and lesbians boycott Target?

Filed By Joe Mirabella | July 30, 2010 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: boycotts, campaign finance law, Citizens United, GSBA, Target

A video featuring an amazingly well intentioned straight ally from Minnesota has been widely shared this week on social media sites.

She respectfully purchased over $200 worth of merchandise from her local target store, then returned it to customer service while she explained to the store manager why she plans to boycott Target.

At issue, $150,000.00 campaign contribution to a group campaigning for anti-gay Republican Minnesota Governor candidate Tom Emmer. Watch:

Isn't she just amazing? I grew up in Iowa, and she reminds me of the most caring and loving Midwest moms I know. I want to give her a hug and say, "Thank you!" If only our community had more straight allies willing to put themselves out there like this. If only we all had parents this dedicated to equality. We would be equal.

However, despite my personal feelings about this act of courage, I have to question the effectiveness of this strategy at this particular moment in history?

First, I acknowledge boycotts are a legitimate form of civil disobedience that do work in some cases. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was strategically brilliant, for example. It was so well organized that civil rights activists were able to cripple the Montgomery public transportation system. Will a gay and lesbian boycott on Target have a similar effect? Not likely.

According to Reuters:

Target's profit rose to $671 million, or 90 cents per share in the first quarter ended May 1 from $522 million, or 69 cents a share, a year earlier.

While a YouTube video with an awesome mom circulating the internet will temporarily impact consumer sentiment for a specific market group, I highly doubt our community will put a dent in Target's massive profit margin.

The progressive community loves to throw the word "boycott" around. While the BP oil gusher was still gushing, I heard several calls to boycott BP. Yet, BP stations I see today are always full of cars sucking down oil.

Effective boycotts take massive organization, huge coalitions, and steadfast dedication to the cause. How many of you have actually performed a similar act at a Target near you? How many of you live in communities where you have choices. In small town America there are not always options. Are any of you really dedicated to boycotting Target or other corporations who let us down?

Rather than boycott companies, I prefer to spend consciously by taking an affirmative approach to consumer politics. I like to reward and focus on good behavior, rather than focus my energy punishing bad behavior. For example, I am on the Board of Directors for the Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA). It is the country's largest LGBT chamber of commerce. By becoming a member of GSBA, our members sign onto a code of ethics that demonstrates their commitment to the LGBT community. I support GSBA member businesses whenever possible and use the annual GSBA Guide to find those businesses. For example, the gym I used to lose 47 lbs this year, Mode of Fitness, is a GSBA member. I remain a loyal customer, because I know they are loyal to my community.

I also am deeply passionate about the environment and organic food. I shop for groceries at Madison Market Co-op. Madison Market promotes and supports locally produced organic non-gmo products. They are also very gay friendly. Not only do I purchase my food there, but I buy household items I would normally get at Target, like dish cleaner, paper towels, etc. Madison Market's strong ethical standards allow me to shop consciously, without taking the negative position of a formal boycott.

My dollar goes a long way towards keeping these businesses open and flourishing. Whenever I get the opportunity, I thank progressive companies for being responsible and welcoming to the gay community. (Consider this blog post with free advertising, my formal thank you Mode of Fitness and Madison Market.) This has a particularly meaningful impact on small business.

Was this mom and grandmother justified for being upset at Target? Absolutely! I find Emmer's politics reprehensible. I find it even more disturbing that major corporations are going to have a heavy hand in our nation's political process. Thank you very much, Citizen's United. This particular boycott call has even attracted the attention of Target's CEO.

From Minnesota Public Radio:

Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel sent a letter to employees earlier this week saying the company is focused on issues impacting the retailers bottom line.

He wrote that the company's support of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender workers is "unwavering."

It is certainly welcome news that Target will continue it's strong record of support for their LGBT employees. They have a far better record than some of their competitors.

But is that enough for you? Do you think the LGBT community should boycott Target? Should the Democratic party lead the charge? Are you prepared to boycott every company that makes a campaign contribution to a candidate or issue you don't like? I once joked with a group of anti-gay protesters that they should boycott all computers and stop traveling, because every major airline and every computer company in the country is gay friendly. They said, "I don't think I want to go that far." So how about you, are you willing to go that far, or do you think that taking the affirmative spending approach is more effective? I am eager to hear your response. Let me know in the comments below.

Note: The opinions expressed in this post are entirely mine and are not representative of an endorsed opinion by GSBA.

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Simple answer, No. More complex answer, boycott imported goods. The government can't turn the economy around but discriminating consumers can. Far more important to all our futures is a healthy economy and every dollar spent on foreign goods is one dollar less spent supporting American jobs.

I don't think we should all boycott Target. I haven't heard of my local Target giving money to an anti-gay Republican (is that an oxymoron?). However; I do think a boycott of this particular Target would be okay.

I think this is why companies do not want to disclose where they spend their political money. If they gave to a pro-gay candidate, then the anti-gay groups would be screaming boycott. This is why the disclosure act should've passed.

But, that's just my opinion.

There is no such thing as a "local Target". It's a national chain.

"Anti-gay Republican" is not an oxymoron. The word you are looking for is "tautology".

troybear74 | August 1, 2010 3:41 AM

Yes, there is such a thing. I worked for a Target Distribution Center for over seven years, and we partnered with the local Target store to donate money to causes deemed worthy yearly. Most of it went into local schools and and various United Way charities. None of this was through corporate hands.

I'm not going to say Target is perfect, because just like any large corporation, they have their flaws...but homophobia isn't one of them. Any company that offers domestic partner benefits to gay employees is an ally in my book.

Some good questions here. In addition, Alex Blaze's very detailed and excellent analysis, titled "Get equally screwed over," opens up a host of questions that might trouble an otherwise uncomplicated idea of targeting Target for "anti-gay" policies. That piece, also on Bilerico, can be found here:

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | August 1, 2010 1:23 AM

Has it been fact checked?

I found it quite humorous that only a few days after the news broke, I had a endorsed ad looking for Target managers, and the top banner heavily emphasizing their HRC score. Coincidence?

(not sure if link will work, but gonna try anyway)

I just spoke to Randi (the nice woman in the you tube video.) She emphasized how important a boycott of Target is for her, because she wants her son to be able to marry in Minnesota. If Emmer is elected that absolutely won't happen any time soon. Minnesota is close to equality now. Their legislature is ready, but with a Governor as vitriolically anti-gay as Emmer, that state would be off the list for some time to come.

We can't even get gay Christians to boycott bigoted, anti-gay religions, how will we get the community to give up the stylish and affordable Target?

Also too, bigoted Christians can't even band together and effectively boycott Disney, Ford, etc., and get them to bend to their will. A boycott takes a lot more work than someone on the internet saying "I'm boycotting X" especially since X is usually something the person speaking wouldn't buy/shop at anyway.

If someone's organizing a boycott of Target, I'm all in. but I haven't shopped there for years even when I'm in the states (Walmart as well), so my participation would be more in spirit.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott, BTW, was a lot riskier, better organized, and a much bigger sacrifice than any action I've seen recently. It was more than a few people saying "Well, we won't take the bus anymore."

Agreed. It reminds me of GetEQUAL's boycott of Exxon when they inconvenienced people at their local convenience store. It was odd.

Most people buy their gas because of price and convenience, not equality or any other issue.

"We can't even get gay Christians to boycott bigoted, anti-gay religions, how will we get the community to give up the stylish and affordable Target?"

What, I should give up my religion because your politics don't like the way I practice my faith? Gay Christians should leave the Church to homophobes who are twisting the message of the Gospel? That would change (Re-read the part in Joe's post about how boycotts don't work.) Oh would make your world more black and white. You wouldn't have to worry if that hot guy on Saturday night needs to get up early to go sing in the choir come Sunday morning. Got it.

Your comparison of the faith of gay Christians to shopping at Target would be offensive if it weren't so sad. It is an example of the ignorance and unhealed wounds that GLBT Christians have to face from people in the GLBT community. That attitude keeps many gay youth who are Christians in the closet, since they feel forced to choose between their God and their the gay community, rather than by the Church.

If anti-Christian gays want to bring down the homophobic theocrats, what you should be doing is encouraging GLBT Christians to stay in the Church - not leave it.

John Smith | July 30, 2010 4:47 PM

I will boycott for a while and probably end up going back there just for groceries. The days of purchasing high-yield items are over. No more electronics, DVDs, camping, or housewares. Corporate America is disgusting me, and they all seem to support hateful causes, so I'm just learning to live with less and save my money.

I admire what Randi is doing. Taking a personal stand is always important. Having said that I must admit to more than a little skepticism about any systemic change coming as a result of economic boycotts.

I make a point of not shopping at Walmart because of their employment and sourcing practices. Realistically how different is Walmart from Target, Best Buy, or Macy's for that matter? The problem really isn't Target or Emmer, but the undue influence of corporate money in the electoral process.

Best Walgetdale's is the tip of the unsustainable iceberg of materialism. As long was we love our things more than our liberty, none of us will really ever be free.

Leigh Anne | July 30, 2010 5:52 PM

From what I've read, Target didn't even make this political donation, it's CEO did. He makes a lot of money, and backs Republican groups.

Are we going to boycott all corporations with top executives that give money to Republicans? Other political groups?

I need more cat food, and I'll be buying it from Target, which has a store in my neighborhood -- not the best part of town. Around here, all of WalMart's stores are in affluent suburbs.

Sinan Birdal | July 30, 2010 6:04 PM

I am not going to give my money to a corporation which forwards it to people who hate me. So that is why I think boycott is the right thing! If you do not have any other option you might think otherwise. But There are a lot of options in big cities and the boycott might actually work. You sound very defeatist!

I currently have my own boycott of Target -- it has nothing to do with any LGBT issues -- it's about all the CRAP they sell.

In my experience, a lot of their private label goods are WAY below par. A lot of stuff from Wal-Mart is actually sturdier, better made, and no more (or less) expensive.

In my eyes, Target is all "sizzle", with very little "steak".

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 31, 2010 5:06 AM

As I used to sell to their former parent company before they were in turn sold to Macy's I have to say from the inside that their corporate culture is very progressive. They are a Minnesota based corporation, but each local store provides funding to area charities.

Still, they should not actively support any political candidate and remain popular even if the Supreme Court has given them license to do so.
It is impolitic to take political sides when you want to sell to everyone.

I have long stated that Gay Orgs should buy stock in top corporations allowing them to place motions at annual meetings. (One share!) Right wing groups already do this to discriminate against us you know! The Supreme Court's recent decision makes this all the more necessary.

To protest do the following.

The Chairman, CEO and President of Target is:

Gregg William Steinhafel
1000 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, Mn 55403
Ph 612-304-6073
Fax 6012-696--5400

He lives in Wayzata MN with his wife Denise. Ask him why his marriage is better, and more privileged, than yours.

"inside that their corporate culture is very progressive"

How can they be progressive when they donate to Republicans?

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | August 1, 2010 1:16 AM

Well, I guess, as explained by BernardChicago they did not specifically donate to Republicans. There are also MANY socially progressive Republicans by the way. Still, if Huffpo published, it went ignorantly viral. This is as bad as being forced to watch Fox News in slow motion. I am glad that the company who is the largest employer in Minnesota remains solidly pro inclusion whether we deserve it or not.

I am trying to figure how best to respond to Target as a big box Corporate Store for what appears to be supporting a candidate dead set against our GLBTQ interests in Minnesota. Yes I have shopped at one in the past. The reason being that in February 2010 it was the only store carrying swimming attire walking distance from the hotel I was staying at on a trip to Portland for a VA dental appointment. I don’t have a Target Credit Card so cutting it up will not be an option. I cannot say that Target or any other store is off of my shopping list but I can say that every dollar spent at any store that buys its merchandise out of country is the same as flushing that dollar down the toilet of our economy. This may be one of the many various reasons that our economy went in the same direction. So should we support smaller stores and shops that do business in our neighborhoods? Maybe and maybe not when it used to be that only the largest big box stores bought its merchandise out of country many of the smaller corporate stores down to the mom & pop stores have followed suit as a necessity in keeping their doors open. I believe that I read that it was the CEO of Target who gave those bucks to a PAC that then gave the money to the homophobic candidate for governor of Minnesota. Shame on that CEO for sending the wrong message seen by his customers; he should have known better for his actions would be seen as reflecting on his company as a whole. I still will probably not shop at one of those big box stores in the near future for the simple reason that I choose not to. I started my own tiny manufacturing company more than 20 years ago making totally American made products, mostly with supplies purchased locally. I am not promoting my small garage sized company on BILERICO because this is not what this letter is about. However the simple reason is that every dollar that comes in gets spent in my neighborhood and city (Eugene, Oregon) it isn’t just gay friendly it is a gay company. While the 5 products that we make will not put Target or Walmart out of business, or even sold there, it is without a doubt contributing to our economy with wages and purchases to local supply houses. So in following the footsteps of Harvey Milk, as a business person, I approached the Lane County (Oregon) Board of Commissioners to support in a resolution the repeal of DADT in March. In June a letter to our entire Congressional Delegation asking for the repeal of DADT was mailed. This letter was also sent to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the President of the Senate, and the President of the United States. Thanks to BILERICO’s Waymon Hudson and the actions of Andrew W this resolution was presented I just wanted to say thanks to all of you.

Jim Stone | July 31, 2010 5:41 PM

What a wonderful woman..I nearly cried when she was talking about her family. I wish more gay kids had parents like her! The world would be a much better place..
Contrast her with Maggie Gallagher-the divorced NOM that spews hate masquerading as "family values!" The woman on this video knows more about family values than any of those hate money grubbers at NOM!

BernardChicago | July 31, 2010 7:04 PM

NO, you should not boycott TARGET, because the original article these follow up stories are based on are flawed.

TARGET, along with BEST BUY, and 5 other companies all gave $100K as startup funds to MNForward in June and July of this year. The FIRST year of operation of MNForward, which totes itself as promoting jobs in MN. (TARGET gave an additional $50K in kind.)

HERE's MY BEEF ... it took me 10 minutes to get the above info from the MN Secretary of State's website ... why couldn't AWL and Huffington Post have spent a few minutes doing the same before slamming TARGET, which has been a good corporate friend to the LGBT community?

My answer is that AWL and Huffington Post, as far as this story goes, were more intent promoting themselves ... more interested in getting their name out there as "breaking" a senational story than dealing with the big picture. From what I can see they had NO interest in responsible journalism. Yes, 7 companies gave money to MNForward, which in turn used to it run an ad for Emmer. The story there is what are corporations due diligence policies when making PAC contributions. That is a more interesting story and one that TARGET, BEST BUY, and the other 5 could be criticized about ... and I'm guessing lots of other corporations as well.

I have no idea whether TARGET and others were misled about how the monies were to be used or not, but it seems to me that given how new MNForward was (and they got the money, not Emmer), any responsible news organization owes it to its reader to check those facts.

I have to wonder about Randi's decision to plead her case with the manager at her local store--someone who almost certainly did not have a voice in the policy nor any power to change it.

To the reply by Page S. It probably made her feel better about where she spends her money but as BILERICO reported last week the money given did not go directly to the homophobic candidates. And yes I wish that we had more parents who would support their children in this way. The story like the law in Arizona was not read by most of us who happened to come in late and then go off the wall in order to retaliate against a big box store. While I have my own beefs with the same, purchasing from out of country being only one of those, it has not stopped me from buying there if it happens to be the most convenient as it was when I was traveling earlier this year or it is the only place that stocks what I need when I need it.

You all should listen to this week's Same Sex Sunday. I interview, Randi Reitan, the mom and grandmother featured in the Target Boycott Video.

Here it is

David reid | August 3, 2010 2:00 PM

Target should be boycotted until the CEO is fired. Gregg Steinhafel is the one that approved the $150,000 to support this right wing homophobe. He personally supports Michele Bachmann (google her) the queen ofbthe Tea Party. She wants a constitutional amendment against gay unions.
He has to go.
He should fall on the sword himself.
Once he's gone then we shop.

Contact the members of the Board of Directors. This will take some work.
Shop&Drop. Get 40 friends in red t0shirts to invade your local Target. Fill your shopping carts. Go to the cashier. walk away.
The employees re paid to re-stock. it is bad PR for Target. If it happens on youtube over and over it will drive this homophobe from his perch.
Boycotts are effective if they are truly followed. Unfortunately you never no when its okay to shop again. (EXXON REMAINS OFF LIMITS).
when this CEasshOle is fired then we start shopping!

Even GLBT rights group OutFront Minnesota isn't calling for a boycott. We need to keep this in perspective. Target isn't pursuing an anti-gay agenda, they are pursuing a tax reform agenda. See blog post: "Is Target Anti-Gay? Unlikely".

I fully believe that we should be boycotting both Target and Best Buy, regardless of who they gave the money to, what political proposals they're actually supporting, etc. They both obviously didn't do the proper due diligence to ensure that their monetary donation wasn't going to hate mongering politicians, regardless of the intermediary.

Ever since our friends at Citizen's United managed to get the Supreme Court to allow corporate donations, essentially saying that corporations are people and share our right to free speech, we've been waiting for one shoe to drop. Some were speculating that the corporations would stay away from the issue, for fear of alienating their customers. Unfortunately, Target and Best Buy decided not to heed this warning, and in doing so, demonstrated why corporations should, AT ALL TIMES, stay out of politics.

Therefore, Target and Best Buy must be made examples of to show ALL other corporations that if they do the same, we will take our business elsewhere. Preferably, to local businesses and vendors who are members of our local GLBT Chamber of Commerce.

And if anyone's forgotten, the CEO of Cinemark theaters gave the biggest amount allowable by law to the backers of Prop8. This was a blatant, anti-equality monetary donation that left no room for interpretation. And just for the record, I haven't given my business to any of their theaters (Cinemark, Tinseltown, Century Theaters, CineArts) since I found this out. I was also sure to give a monetary donation to our supporters fighting Prop 8 in his name, ensuring that he received a notice of thanks the pro-equality foundation.

I'm no longer shopping at Target because of the contribution. If it was not anti-gay but pro business that is still a problem - anti minimum wage is a problem (Emmer is anti-minimum wage) and pro Emmer is a big big problem. Not shopping at Target has made me re-think where I spend my money in general. See my life-after-Target blog:

David Detente | October 23, 2010 5:17 AM

So it's okay for me to financially support a company that finances far-right anti-gay politicians? And millions of us doing this isn't going to make any difference? RIDICULOUS. This article reads like an advertisement from a Target salesperson trying to convince us that the absurd is true. It's wrong on so many points that I hardly know where to begin.

If millions of progressives are boycotting Target, that means tens of millions or hundreds of millions Target loses each year. If you think that "won't matter," why not try calling Target and asking if they'd give you ten million. Apparently, this "wouldn't make a dent" in their profits, so why would they care?

Businesses are obsessed with profits above all else, they have an endless stream of financial problems to deal with, and the LAST thing they need is another economic problem hurting profits. Boycotts hurt them, and even more importantly, scare them with the threat of growing and growing if they don't act acceptably. NO company wants this, and will dramatically change their behavior to avoid it.

Finally, the point of a boycott is not necessarily to annihilate a company, but to severely punish them. Tens of millions of dollars lost yearly is a HUGE punishment, and Target would do ANYTHING to make sure this trend won't increase.

Interesting how we haven't heard about Target giving any more giant contributions to anti-gay, far-right poiticians. Isn't it?

Fact is, the Target boycott has been a huge success. And if you hear some absurdity that losing tens of millons "won't make a dent," then a) don't trust that source ever again, and b) instead of considering dropping the boycott, consider how we need to INCREASE it -- by ten times as much, or more.