Bomb Explodes in Chicago-Area Target Bathroom

Target store in Evanston Illinois
Target store in Evanston Illinois

Police are investigating a possible hate crime after a small bomb exploded inside a women's bathroom at a Target store in Evanston, Ill., Wednesday.

There was minor damage to the women's bathroom, but no one was injured, Evanston Police Commander Joe Dugan told Chicago TV station WGN. Preliminary investigations indicate that the improvised explosive device may have been constructed from a plastic bottle, but it did not include any projectile objects, which would have caused more extensive damage.

The station reports that police are not ruling out the possibility that Wednesday's attack is somehow connected to the backlash the big-box retailer has faced since affirming in April that transgender customers and employees nationwide can use the store bathroom and changing room that corresponds with their gender identity.

The bombing took place on the same day Target shareholders gathered for their annual meeting, where the company's trans-affirmative policies were expected to be discussed. The far-right American Family Association posted this on its Facebook page yesterday:

Another conservative group, the National Center for Public Policy Research, had a representative at the shareholders' meeting in California yesterday, The Washington Post reports. He challenged Target executives on the trans-inclusive policy, but they stood by it and said it has not affected sales.

The Illinois incident is the latest in a string of troubling interactions in and around Target bathrooms reported since the chain in April confirmed its long-standing trans-affirming policy in the wake of North Carolina's passage of the anti-LGBT law known as House Bill 2. Target's CEO has stood by the company's policy, and categorically denied any claims that controversy over the policy has hurt the store's sales overall. 

Right-wing activists have claimed that more than a million people signed a petition pledging to boycott Target over its trans-inclusive stance, though there is no way to verify those numbers, as ThinkProgress discovered after successfully signing the petition multiple times using different email addresses. Additionally, a multicity protest planned at Target stores nationwide this weekend was deemed a "bust" after turnout was much lower than anticipated. 

Anti-trans activists critical of Target's policy frequently rely on the soundly debunked "bathroom predator" myth, which suggests that allowing transgender people to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity somehow endangers women and children. That fear is wholly unfounded, as more than 200 localities nationwide have trans-inclusive policies on the books, yet there has never been a single verified report of a transgender person harassing a cisgender (nontrans) person in a restroom or elsewhere. Likewise, law enforcement officials around the country have dismissed the claim that allowing trans people to access appropriate facilities creates a "legal loophole" that will be exploited by sexual predators. 

Shortly after Target affirmed its policy, a straight, cisgender man was arrested at a Target store in Bradley, Ill., after entering the store and shouting vulgarities about how he does not want "some wicked pervert in the same bathroom as [his] wife and daughter." Panicked customers mistook the man for an active shooter and called 911, triggering a massive police response. No injuries were reported, and the man was not found to have any weapons.

In fact, every recent disturbance reported in or around Target bathrooms in the past few months have been caused by cisgender, presumably straight individuals. An anti-abortion activist dressed (poorly) in drag picketed a Colorado Springs store last month, and made a point of entering the women's bathroom to highlight a policy that he says puts customers in danger. 

Stressing that he wasn't actually concerned about "the transgender," anti-abortion activist Joseph Martone offered a bizarre warning to a local newspaper when explaining his protest: "How about crazy people, guys that will dress up like me, to spy on you while you're going to the bathroom?" 

More recently, video emerged of a man strolling the aisles of an unidentified Target store shouting biblical condemnation of transgender people, claiming the chain had lost a million dollars over its trans-affirming policy. Before being removed from the store, that demonstrator was confronted by a transgender customer, who reminded the unseen protester that even though he thinks they are going to hell, the man shouting hateful messages "is going to be an asshole for the rest of [his] life." 

Several other disturbances have been reported at Target stores around the country in recent months — almost universally involvinh activists protesting the trans-affirming policy using a faith-based rationale. There were bomb threats at a Sacramento store in May and a Gainesville, Fla., store in June, although no explosives were found.

It is important to note, however, that none of these incidents have been caused by transgender or otherwise gender-nonconforming individuals. In truth, transgender people face a much higher risk of harassment and assault in sex-segregated spaces compared to their cisgender peers. 

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