The big-box store Target has had a long and rocky history with the LGBT community. These days, the company likes to claim that it’s a powerful queer ally — but does that brag actually stand up to the facts? How long has Target’s LGBTQ support actually been a thing?
It’s likely that most people gave little thought to Target’s position on queer politics until 2010. That’s when a report emerged that the company had given $150,000 to a group called “Minnesota Forward,” which was paying to get a wildly anti-gay candidate elected governor of the state.
Neither Target nor Minnesota Forward were focused on civil rights — instead, their mission was the consolidation of wealth for large corporations — but their chosen candidate, Tom Emmer, had declared himself a fanatical opponent of queer people.
The company’s excuse was fairly weak. “Target supports causes and candidates based strictly on issues that affect our retail and business interests,” wrote one company representative. In other words, the company admitted it that it had no moral compass and would support any candidate, no matter how repugnant, in the pursuit of financial security.
A period of public outrage followed. Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel wrote a half-hearted apology and at the suggestion he donate an equal amount of money to Tom Emmer’s opponent in the election, refused. In response, the Human Rights Campaign eliminated Target from its Equality Buying Guide, and various activists organized flashmobs to disrupt Target’s unscrupulous accumulation of wealth.
Throughout this time, Target continued to make donations to anti-LGBTQ candidates, giving $31,200 to various politicians and causes harming the LGBTQ community. Things got even worse when the company banned marriage equality activists from passing out information near stores — an act that a court later ruled was unconstitutional. And when anti-gay extremists put a marriage equality ban on the Minnesota ballot, the company refused to take a stance in opposition.
It wasn’t until Target’s donations began to cost the corporation money that it began to care about the consequences. In 2011, Lady Gaga pulled out of an exclusive deal with the company, with sources claiming it was due to disagreement over the company’s lack of morals around LGBTQ issues.
Behind the scenes, Target was scrambling to make money off its LGBTQ customers. The store began selling “Pride” shirts and advertising same-sex wedding registries.
In 2014, Target finally shifted its position and endorsed marriage equality in a brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals. The company also made several donations to the Family Equality Council, and in 2016 established a trans-inclusive bathroom policy.
These days, Target has refined the practice of monetizing the LGBT community to an art form. Today it sells more gender-neutral products than ever, and has Pride merchandise prominently displayed for sale in its stores.
The lesson here? While there may be no such thing as ethical consumption under capitalism, corporations can be convinced to take a moral stand if customers exert economic pressure. Big companies and major corporations will never willingly support minority communities if they think it will cost them money to do so. If Americans want to see corporations like Target do the right thing, there’s only one effective strategy: target (pun intended) their ability to make a profit.