The Target Boycott is Justified
File this one under "Letters to the Editor that will Never be Published." As that last sentence implies, I wrote this as a letter to the Editor of the Star Tribune.
Today's editorial on the recent political donations by the Target Corporation clearly articulated the many fears that people have about the consequences of a nationwide boycott of Target stores. Some of these fears are justified. A decrease in sales might impact the Minnesota economy in the short term. The Star Tribune itself might be affected, as they doubtlessly rely on Target for a substantial portion of their advertising revenue. Surely the Star Tribune editors are aware of the potential consequences of the boycott, and hope that people will act in a way that protects their business relationship with Target. Target's well-heeled corporate leaders themselves must be equally frightened.
Opposition to this boycott, however, is extremely short-sighted, as Minnesotans stand to lose far more if anti-GLBT contributions by businesses are allowed to go on unchecked. Minnesotans face a stark choice in the upcoming gubernatorial election. They can elect Tom Emmer, a dangerous extremist, or one of his two principle competitors, Mark Dayton and Tom Horner, both of whom support a broad spetrum of GLBT rights. In supporting a group allied with Mr. Emmer, Target has indicated that their goal of being pro-business trumps all other concerns, including the human rights of GLBT people.
Target's support of their GLBT employees is somewhat admirable. It is likely motivated by a desire to carve out a niche in the big-box retail market among younger urban people, who are likely to be pro-gay. Their failure to support GLBT Minnesotans more broadly more calls into question the meaningfulness of their support of their own employees. The ultimate goal for GLBT people is to achieve equal rights under the law, not to have available to them as potential employers a small number of benign corporations who deign to give them marginally better treatment than do some other companies. A boycott sends a powerful message to Target and to the entire business community that GLBT rights for all Minnesotans is our ultimate goal.
I realize that this boycott is challenging. Target's donations to some local organizations have been significant. They have also had the powerful effect of indebting those groups and individuals to Target. Sadly, those groups and individuals are effectively held hostage when they face the possibility that they might lose some of the money they receive from Target if the boycott were successful. I would hope that those groups would see that supporting the equal rights of GLBT people is paramount to making money in the short term.
I agree that those who call for a nationwide boycott of Target, me included, have not specified what they would need to do to remedy their ill-advised donation to Minnesota Forward. While I can't speak on behalf of all GLBT Minnesotans, I can make a recommendation. Target should make a donation to a group of GLBT small business owners and business leaders that is independent from Target. Unfortunately, the most obvious candidate, Twin Cities Quorum, is too closely allied with Target currently to assure that this money would be used for activities that are truly independent from those of Target. Surely local GLBT small business leaders--perhaps even a subset of the membership of Quorum, absent those affiliated with Target--could find a compromise. This donation would be a better investment of Target's funds, as such a group represents Target's self-stated pro-business and purportedly pro-GLBT stances. It would be particularly meaningful if the donation were larger--even by just a symbolic increment--than the donation that they made to Minnesota Forward. Furthermore, I would hope that Target would develop an explicit policy that they would donate to no group or individual that had anti-GLBT stances. I personally would feel comfortable shopping at Target if those two steps were taken. In the absence of anything meaningful, Target runs the risk of alienating itself permanently from the very demographic that made its company strong. That, more than anything else, would bring significant lasting harm to Minnesota's people and its economy.