Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Off-Target

I have not said much about the Target controversy. For those not in the know, the discount-store chain Target, decided to give $150,000 to an indpendent political committee that supports Republican Tom Emmer for Governor. Emmer tends to be not-so-friendly when it comes to gay issues. Target, which is based in Minneapolis, made the donation because they view Emmer as pro-business, while Mark Dayton the Democratic candidate is not viewed in the same way.

(Irony alert: Dayton's family started the Target chain.)

This has set off a storm of protest from many in the GLBT community who were shocked that Target would do something like this. Target has a reputation of being one of the better employers for gays and has been viewed as incredibly gay-friendly. Many gay folks were shocked that Target would ever dream of doing something like this.

While I was dissapointed, I wasn't surprised. I know that Target executives had supported Republicans at the local and national level for a while and I also know that Target was making a business decision; not a moral one. Emmer's pitch is about trying to shrink government and lower taxes while Dayton is all about taxing the rich. If you are a large business, I can tell pretty much tell you that they are going to go for door number one. Do I think it was a good decision? No. But I also understand why Target did it.

I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about it all; on the one hand, in this post- Citizens United world, where companies can give directly to campaigns, those businesses that give to campaigns are now free to give openly. That said, having the freedom of speech to give to a campaign now means that you are opened up to criticism, which is also a freedom our nation celebrates. If Acme Widgets decides to give money to a campaign that supports clubbing baby seals, Acme should prepare for anger from their customers.

But I also have take some issue with how the gay community is dealing with this issue. As I've said, Target has had a history of being a good friend to the gay community. I think that has to be taken into account in light of this donation. The problem is , many in the gay community have not looked at its past actions and weigh that against the current issue. Groups like the Human Rights Campaign have tended come out against the company with both guns blazing-demanding that Target either give back the donation or give an equal amount to a cause or campaign that supports gay equality. Now, this might have been a worthy request to make. The problem is that it should have been done behind the scenes. Why? Because for the most part, Target has been an ally. It makes sense to handle some of this away from the public and not try to purposely embarrass Target. But many wanted to make an example of Target. I guess in my view, I would have hoped that they would have quietly worked for an apology and maybe a donation to a gay rights group without trying to rake Target over the coals.

The other problem that I have here is that there seems to be a hint of partisanship here. As Stephen Miller notes, I doubt that there would be so much kerfluffle is Emmer was a Democrat:

Of course, if Emmer were a Democrat who opposed gay marriage it's doubtful that HRC would be targeting Target, given that HRC has itself supported the campaigns of candidates such as Virginia's Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat who favors keeping "don't ask, don't tell," as well as a great many Democrats who oppose gay marriage to varying degrees. Maybe HRC should target itself?

At the end of the day, I think that Target will learn a lesson: not to never give to anti-gay candidates, but to be far more discreet about the donation.

2 comments:

Anne said...

I have pretty mixed feelings about this but I haven't parsed them out in as sophisticated a manner as you have. I watched a video of what was called a flash mob but I would call a highly choreographed protest at a Target store. As far as I can tell here is why it bothers me. First they call it a flash mob. Second, if you are going to plan and choreograph a totally awesome protest, that's your right, but it should be outside of the store, not inside, in my opinion.

Steven said...

I don't know that I'm against what Target is doing. If you think about it, a pro-business is likely to make some progress that Target can appreciate. However, it's unlikely that this guy's anti-homosexual beliefs will make negative changes. He may prevent progress in certain areas, but progress has been slow in that arena anyway.

I do agree with your assessment of pro-LGBT groups, however. You can't simply attack every group that appears to do something against you without allowing that group even the chance to make amends. Sadly, I would compare this to how the black community pulls the racism card far too often. Not everything is racially motivated. Additionally, Target was most likely making a pro-business decision, not an anti-gay decision. Don't pull the bigotry card without at least applying some common sense. Hopefully, there hasn't been any real damage done to Target's, thus far, pro-gay business operations.