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Why the Religious Right Hates Target

Target store

If you need a reason to patronize Target when shopping for holiday gifts or everyday supplies, here’s one: The religious right, especially the virulently anti-LGBTQ American Family Association, really, really hates the big-box retailer.

The primary source of the AFA’s ire is the inclusive policy Target announced for its restrooms and dressing rooms in 2016, allowing customers and employees to use whichever facilities matched their gender identity. At the time, it was a stick in the eye to the government of North Carolina, which had just passed a law requiring people to use only the accommodations designated for the gender they were assigned at birth, although it applied to government buildings only, not private-sector companies like Target. The law has now been partially repealed, while the AFA is still mad at Target.

“Let’s hold firm to our conviction that men have no place in women’s restrooms and dressing rooms and continue our pledge to boycott Target, especially through the Christmas shopping season,” AFA president Tim Wildmon said in a recent press release. The group claims to have documented several instances of sexual predation in Target restrooms.

It has pointed to incidents in Woburn, Mass., and Knoxville, Tenn. The Woburn case involved a man trying to get a young girl into a restroom stall in a Target. The Knoxville one involved a “peeping Tom” in women’s dressing rooms.

However, there’s no evidence these men were pretending to be transgender women – and their behavior remains a crime, regardless of whether a store has a transgender-inclusive policy for restrooms and changing rooms. Law enforcement agencies and sexual violence prevention experts have consistently reported no correlation between these inclusive policies and criminal conduct.

“Nondiscrimination laws do not allow men to go into women’s restrooms — period,” says the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence. “The claim that allowing transgender people to use the facilities that match the gender they live every day allows men into women’s bathrooms or women into men’s is based either on a flawed understanding of what it means to be transgender or a misrepresentation of the law.”

Nonetheless, the AFA continues its call to boycott Target, and it reports that nearly 1.5 million people have pledged to do so.

Other far-right groups have taken on Target at various times. In 2016, Anita Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, advised women to carry guns when shopping at Target, even though she couldn’t name a single incident in which a trans-inclusive restroom policy had led to increased violence.

And in 2014, the National Organization for Marriage called for a boycott of Target over the company’s support for marriage equality. Now marriage equality is the law of the land, Target still does plenty of business, and NOM is pretty much irrelevant.

It wasn’t so long ago, however, that LGBTQ activists were mad at Target. In 2010 it donated $150,000 to a political action committee supporting Tom Emmer for governor of Minnesota, where the company is based. Target officials said the donation was made because of Emmer’s business-friendly views and in spite of his anti-LGBTQ stances. CEO Gregg Steinhafel was apologetic, but Target kept on donating to homophobic politicians. Emmer, by the way, lost to Democrat Mark Dayton.

Then, in 2014, came Target’s support for marriage equality, in a friend-of-the-court brief filed in a federal appeals court. Its sales of Pride-related merchandise, portrayal of same-sex couples in advertising, and finally the trans-inclusive restroom and dressing room policy convinced LGBTQ activists and allies that Target had evolved. It has a 100 rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index and has voiced support for the Equality Act, which is pending in Congress and would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, credit, and more on a national basis.

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