Stonewalling and the Stonewall Legacy

Target and Twin Cities Pride Keep Mum on Sponsorship

After Mark Dayton won the Democratic gubernatorial primary on August 10, his Republican opponent, Tom Emmer, swiftly launched hyperbolic ads warning that Dayton and Independence Party candidate Tom Horner want to “impose” same-sex marriage on Minnesotans.

Target Corporation recently donated $150,000 to MN Forward, a political action committee that backs antigay Emmer. Ironically, Target is known for its inclusion of GLBT employees.

The Twin Cities Pride (TCP) mission statement proclaims: “It is the mission of Twin Cities Pride to commemorate and celebrate our diverse heritage, inspire the achievement of equality and challenge discrimination.”

In 2010, Target was a TCP Silver Sponsor. According to the TCP website, that sponsorship level ranges from $15,000 to $25,999. Neither Target nor TC Pride will divulge the exact amount.

However, TCP has painted itself into somewhat of an ethical quandary because of an appearance of a double standard.

After applying for a booth at this year’s Twin Cities Pride Festival, Wisconsin evangelist Brian Johnson was rejected, because he proselytized at past festivals. When TCP told him he could not pass out Bibles at this year’s festival in Minneapolis’s Loring Park—a public space—he exercised his First Amendment right in court. US District Court Judge John Tunheim ruled that Johnson had a right to evangelize there, as long as he was not disruptive.

TC Pride’s pro bono attorneys for the case were Eileen Scallen, Professor of Law at William Mitchell College of Law, and Amy Slusser, of the firm Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi.

TC Pride Executive Director Dot Belstler said the organization deemed Johnson “was not supportive. He comes off that way initially. He really engages people in conversation. He’s really nice, and then all of a sudden, he gives people a free Bible, and tells them they’re going to hell, because they are sinners—homosexuality is a sin. He kind of has this bait-and-switch thing. It undermines the festival’s message of inclusivity.”

When asked about the difference between excluding Johnson and not excluding Target, Belstler replied, “Right. No. I understand. Target has a very different message. They don’t bait and switch onsite. They are very family-oriented.”

Belstler was referring to Target’s sponsoring TCP’s popular kids-friendly family section that offers a variety of activities. Indeed, it is a positive for the many progressive yet traditional families who attend Pride, but may not feel they have the vocabulary to explain other festival areas more suited to adults. The family section is also a hit with rainbow families.

Target actually subverts itself with this offering. The double standard here is glaring. Target baits and switches offsite, funding a homophobic and heterosexist agenda beyond anything Johnson is capable of, but is included. Johnson is honest about his homophobia and heterosexism, but is excluded.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s openly gay President, John Erwin, weighed in on its website on June 22: “Asking the Minneapolis Park Board to exclude someone from a public space because they have a differing view is a dangerous precedent. I happen to wholeheartedly agree with the message of Twin Cities Pride. I’m gay myself. But I also believe in every person’s right to free speech and expression.”

Let’s put Johnson’s case in perspective. The first Gay Pride marches were potentially perilous for participants, because of homophobic onlookers. The Stonewall Riot of 1969 is remembered for the gay community’s defiance of New York City cops in league with the Mafia. The first Gay Pride took place a year later, a direct outgrowth of Stonewall.

In contrast, according to Belstler, TC Pride has “a safety and security mix of hired police officers, private [Avalon] security, and volunteers.”

Belstler states that the amount paid for the foregoing will be posted on the TCP website in December.

To delve into the relationship between Target and Pride, I attempted to contact Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel—which is like trying to get an audience with the Wizard of Oz at the Emerald City. Steinhafel’s assistant, Denise May, handed me off to Jessica Carlson, the spokesperson for Target spokesperson Lena Michaud. Carlson told me I was to attribute her comments to Michaud, even though I never actually talked to Michaud. I felt like I had woken up inside the movie Michael Clayton.

I asked Carlson, “Are you giving cash to Twin Cities Pride, or are you giving trade to Twin Cities Pride, or is there a combination—for the Silver Sponsorship level?”

Carlson replied, “I cannot provide specifics.”

I asked Carlson, “Regarding your agreement with Twin Cities Pride, is it your agreement, or is it Twin Cities Pride’s agreement?”

Carlson replied, “That information is proprietary.”

I asked Carlson, “Is there a clause about confidentiality about the donation?”

Carlson replied, “I don’t know. I would not be able to share specifics.”

Enhancing the cloak of secrecy was Target’s GLBT workplace group. I simply wanted to know its general reactions and possible action plans in light of the donation.

I played phone tag with Diversity Consultant Bradley Wagner to set up a time to converse. His voicemails were rote: “Thank you again for reaching out. I did talk to my colleagues here, and really, for any inquiries of this nature, we’re really going through the Target media hotline.”

Daniel Duty, Target Director of Strategic Partnerships and Vendor Negotiations, also gave me the impersonal touch when I left a voicemail for him with his assistant, and e-mailed him. He e-mailed me back succinctly: “Thanks for your note. Someone from our Communications Team will be reaching out to you.”

Curiously, Carlson e-mailed me: “Daniel Duty shared your request for an interview with me. We are not able to grant your request, as we are not providing team member interviews.” Note that “providing” is the word she used, instead of “permitting.”

I wonder: Are Steinhafel’s robotic women and gay men the crucial, useful cogs of the new corporate patriarchy?

Communicating with TC Pride was at least a more human experience than attempting to do so with Target.

Belstler, of course, does not have the byzantine infrastructure that Steinhafel commands. She is TCP’s only paid employee, at $75,000 (from which she must obtain her own health care, disability, and retirement benefits). Unlike Steinhafel’s handlers, she answered me directly and personally.

Clearly, Target is a fortressed monolith, and TC Pride is a primarily volunteer organization, which, like other 501(c)(3) groups, is beholden to generosity, a problem enough in good times, and much more so in the present aftermath of economic meltdown.

On August 16, I attended TCP’s Annual Meeting.

I asked what amount Target donated to TCP. Belstler responded that TCP’s contract with Target contained a confidentiality clause, just as every TCP sponsorship contract does.

When I asked Belstler if TCP would join the GLBT community it serves in condemning Target for contributing $150,000 to MN Forward, Scallen stated that TCP could not take a position without jeopardizing its 501(c)(3) status.

When I asked Belstler if TCP would join the boycott against Target, Scallen stated that it could not, because it would violate the organization’s 501(c)(3) status.

In sum, TCP, like any number of GLBT organizations, is at the mercy of corporate caprice.

A partial solution for TCP and others might be 501(c)(4) status—like that of OutFront Minnesota—which would allow them to take firmer political stands.

However, in the wake of January’s Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court, it would not circumvent the problem of corporations giving tremendous sums to special interests on the far right that militate against the GLBT community.

We must ask: Are we seeing the beginning of the privatization of GLBT rights, so that corporations can seize control of discourse on it, while giving the false impression of being progressive—and then, turning around, and feeding the enemy propaganda that stirs its ignorant reactionary politics and homophobia?

This seems to be the real issue that TCP must tackle. Forget the street evangelist.

Clearly, both Target and TCP—an organization that purports to celebrate the Stonewall legacy—are engaging in a lot of stonewalling about their relationship.

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