Target--Among Others--Risks Big Bucks in Alienating Gay Shoppers

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Aug 24, 2010

Gay equality advocates, outraged that a $150,000 donation from Target that ended up funding an anti-gay political candidate, have called for a boycott of the national store. One industry blog says that Target, and other retailers, would do well to be sure they don't alienate gay shoppers.

Blogger Barbara Farfan wrote in an Aug. 24 posting that Target and Best Buy both risk losing big money if they disregard the purchasing power--estimated at more than $750 billion--of LGBT shoppers.

But others in the blogosphere point out that Target has been a longtime supporter of equality causes, and note that other major brands--such as AT&T and Wal-Mart--have given significantly more to Republican candidates than Target had when it gave $150,000 to pro-business group Minnesota Forward.

The right-wing group then directed the funds to the campaign of an anti-gay candidate for governor, Tom Emmer; but the indirect nature of Target having funded Emmer did not appease pro-equality organizations, which called for Target to give a similar amount to a pro-equality candidate or face a boycott. The company later apologized, but said that it had no plans to make an equal contribution to Democratic or pro-equality causes. Another major retailer, Best Buy, also contributed to Minnesota Forward; Best Buy gave the group $100,000, according to CBS News.

However, noted blog Odds and ends on Aug. 4, according to Target's own 2009 annual report, the company donates "more than $3 million a week in support of the arts, education, social services and volunteerism. In 2009, our giving totaled more than $133 million in cash, $53 million in in-kind donations, and 450,000 volunteer hours." CBS News, meantime, suggested that Target became the focus of LGBT advocates' anger precisely because that company has been a longtime supporter of equality.

A video posted at CBS shows Target shopper Randi Reitan returning her purchases and informing the store's management as to why she felt she could not buy items there. "The Target I know was a Target that embraced its gay employees," said Reitan, going on to explain that she was returning things she'd bought for her grandchildren because she has a gay son.

"The items were for my grandchildren, and they love their uncle Jake so much, and Jake is gay, and they wouldn't want to have things coming from a store that contributes to a campaign that would have a governor candidate with the antigay views that Tom Emmer has," said Reitan.

"Target's support of the GLBT community is unwavering, and inclusiveness remains a core value of our company," Gregg Steinhafel, the company' CEO, told the media.

Farfan's blog sourced the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which publishes a "Buying for Equality" shopping guide to inform its members of the policies and stances of various businesses. The HRC had given both Target and Best Buy 100% scores in the guide; following revelations of political contributions to the Minnesota Forward, however, the HRC removed both companies from its list of recommended retailers.

Farfan also zeroed in on the issue of Target having built a reputation as a GLBT-friendly brand, with the sting of "betrayal" one of the main causes of the wrath that has befallen the company. "At the political point of purchase, both Best Buy and Target proved that gaining a political advantage was more important than losing LGBT customers," wrote Farfan, whose blog pointed out that, according to the HRC, more than three-quarters of GLBT shoppers were more likely to give their business to gay-friendly companies.

Moreover, "More than 300,000 people have used the LGBT shopping guide published by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) to make buying decisions," the blog stated. "To alienate 300,000 consumers in one fell swoop is not an insignificant thing. And certainly it is not fiscally responsible in the midst of what is only a technical recession recovery to drive consumers with $759 billion in their pockets to the doorsteps of the competition."

Farfan went on to say that Target and Best Buy both seemed to have adopted a wait-and-let-it-blow-over posture, when proactive steps were a better idea because, Farfan wrote, "The HRC does a pretty masterful job at organizing and motivating LGBT activism. The LGBT community is encouraged to support the corporations that support the LGBT community. And that reciprocal back-scratching philosophy is backed up by some well-executed infrastructure."

Added the blogger, "To assume that those who care about this LGBT issue today are going to stop caring about it tomorrow is to not know much about a subculture filled with people who feel like they have struggled for acceptance and respect every day of their lives." Farfan noted that in the struggle for full legal and political acceptance, GLBTs may not have the political power they need to achieve their goals, but they do have some financial leverage and they appear to be willing to use it.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


  • Patrick, 2010-08-24 15:11:32

    Elmer? Who the hell is Tom Elmer. I believe the Nazi you’re referring to is Tom Emmers

  • , 2010-08-24 17:20:56

    I will not shop at such a place any longer, My brother is gay and he bleeds like I bleed, and cries like I cry. He has good morals and does not push his beliefs, he knows where he belongs in this world and shame on you for not knowing. When does it stop?

  • , 2010-08-24 22:59:33

    I have perfect the starship enterprise cloaking device. When I drive by a Target or Worst Buy (it really is a rip off supreme operation), all I see is all those bible thumpers who worked on the sabbath, wore clothes of different cloths, ate pig and shellfish etc >.... being tatooed and then dropped through a trap door to hell. Where all the money in the world will be worthless.

  • , 2010-08-25 07:45:44

    I just sent my best buy rewards card back to them

  • Garrett, 2010-08-26 01:26:33

    I’m sorry but honestly $150000 really isn’t that much to Target or Bestbuy. They apologized, prob won’t do it again, and didn’t intentionally or directly contribute to anti-gay agendas.

  • , 2010-08-27 08:56:41

    Garrett .... Target apologized only to their employees. I hope you read the apology ... not a very good one. The $150,000 was only first donation that Target was planning to give to MN Forward - the group backing Tom Emmer. We have a unique situation here in MN. Our Democratic candidate, Mark Dayton, fully supports marriage equality. Tom Emmer, the Republican, has spent his years in the MN legislature doing all he can to deny our gay citizens their rights. He authored the bill to change our state constitution so marriage would not even be a possibility. If Mark Dayton wins in November, we will have a real hope to be the next state to embrace marriage equality. If Tom Emmer wins our hopes are not only dashed but he will veto any gay friendly legislation. I can not shop at a store where they will take my money and use it to help elect Tom Emmer. Gregg Steinhafel, Target’s CEO, already gives the max he personally can to candidates like the Emmer and Michele Bachmann. It was Steinhafel who made the decision to give Target’s money too. I feel the only thing he is sorry about is that it made the news. My son’s equality is on the line here in Minnesota. Target is backing the man who will deny equality to him.

  • , 2010-08-27 08:59:03

    I just posted the last comment ... I never post anonymously ... I think it is important to always stand by your words. Not sure why it didn’t post my name. Randi Reitan

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