Target Antigay Contribution Stirs Up Hornet’s Nest

MN Forward Supports Homophobic Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Emmer

When Gregg W. Steinhafel became Chairman and CEO of Target Corporation in January 2009, he had to fill the big shoes of outgoing Chairman and CEO Robert Ulrich, who served for the previous 15 years.

When Ulrich retired, consultant Kurt Barnard told Minnesota Public Radio, “He is a retailer’s retailer. Not only has he established a model, he has done extremely well.”

By the end of the 1990s, Walmart had decimated the bulk of its discount-chain competition. But Target, the nation’s second largest retailer, held higher ground, surviving with an image that was clearly more socially conscious and community nurturing.

Thus, Target seemed to enhance rather than erase communities. It offered what smaller businesses couldn’t without disrupting local economic traditions. Even enlightened shoppers would turn a blind eye, applying a double standard to the exploitative origins of some of Target’s products, along with its subtle move to snare business away from grocers and farmers markets—all in the name of “customer service.”

Target hails from wholesome, fair-minded Minnesota, with its Scandinavian ideal of community as a supportive social structure for all. Up here in North Country, we’re pure as the driven snow. We’ve retained our individuality in a way that would have made Abraham Lincoln proud.

Ulrich came out of a time in which comparatively moderate Republicans like former US Senator Dave Durenberger and former Governor Arne Carlson stood on the historical shoulders of moderate Minnesota Republican Governor legends Elmer L. Anderson and Al Quie. Both Durenberger and Carlson especially have lamented quite publicly the hard-right turn of their party.

Carlson, who received a Lavender PRIDE Award in 2008, became the prototype for the straight ally of the GLBT community when he bravely stood up to a crowd of homophobic zealots at a State GOP Convention in St. Cloud.

But times have changed.

When Target recently donated $150,000 to MN Forward, which ran ads for Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, a firestorm erupted.

Emmer is no Carlson Republican. Although he may seem like someone you might want to have a beer with, he comes off as a dangerous flake in this year of the Tea Party. Nationally, right-wingers, many of them Tea Partyers, have put in place the Montana GOP platform to ban homosexuality, as well as the Texas GOP platform to recriminalize sodomy and ban same-sex marriage.

Frankly, Emmer is the escaped Freudian id from the right-wing Republican subconscious. His flamboyance, which might be compared to that of Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin, probably reflects the true mentality of more “acceptable-appearing” neoconservative Republicans, such as US Representative John Klein and former Twin Cities Federal CEO Bill Cooper.

But politics during the Great Recession is serious business, and Emmer bombed with the heteronormative public by his brazen call to tax the tips of financially struggling servers, while advocating huge tax cuts for wealthy Minnesotans.

This position only amplified Emmer’s odd past, wherein he pushed for the “conscience clause” that would have allowed pharmacists to refuse to dispense a drug or device on “moral” grounds. He advocated chemical castration of sex offenders. He exhibited an overall contempt for public education. He expressed support for a state GI Bill, forgetting he had voted against one previously.

Emmer endorsed Governor Tim Pawlenty’s unpopular unallotment actions that cruelly target GLBT folks. He backed Pawlenty’s veto of the Final Wishes bill, which would have granted domestic partners the right to carry out the last wishes of a deceased partner. He rejected antibullying legislation, which ought to be totally nonpartisan. In one of his more prudish missteps, he called for stripping funding from the Minnesota AIDS Project because of a graphic, adults-only weblink to safe-sex practices that was not funded by the state.

Emmer, like Bachmann and her husband, Marcus Bachmann, along with the Catholic antigay chastity group Courage, sees gay citizens as mere manifestations of sexual acts. They hew to the idea that sexuality in general must be suppressed and repressed in order to maintain social order. That a consenting adult actually can harness sexual energy at her or his actual personal level does not figure into their ilk’s hyperbolic ravings about “liberty and freedom.” They don’t want you to see the obvious: The state and the corporations purchase it to get to control our bodies.

If you think they’re only against abortion, think again. Many in this crew want to have contraception made illegal, rolling back Griswold v. Connecticut.

One wonders where Steinhafel and his individual board members stand on these issues. Steinhafel personally donated tens of thousands of dollars over the past few years to the Minnesota Republican Party, along with candidates including Michele Bachmann, Eric Cantor, Norm Coleman, Lisa Murkowski, and Erik Paulsen.

Additionally, Target Corporation made contributions of $3,500 to the main organization pushing for Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage in California, but gave only $750 to groups opposing it.

Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Joe Solomonese reprimanded Target’s Tea Party tendencies toward homophobia: “Every day that goes by, fair-minded consumers are wondering when Target and Best Buy plan to recognize that equality is good business.”

HRC also noted Emmer’s association with homophobic Bradlee Dean, the androgynous and anarchistic Patriot Radio jock.

Boycott efforts against Target are sprouting in Minnesota and beyond. Randi Reitan, mother of former Lavender columnist Jacob Reitan, and part of Lavender’s 2008 Family of the Year, made national news and won hearts by tearing up her Target credit card at one of its store.

We must ask: Is Steinhafel’s board, whose individual members need to be much more public in all this, sacrificing principles for political access, or are they merely “being fair” to both sides?

Steinhafel calls Target’s support for the GLBT community “unwavering.” But his words sound hollow not only to GLBT folks, but also to the public at large.

In January, the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision monumentally expanded the ability of corporations and unions to make political donations. Target’s $150,000 donation to MN Forward seems modest in a political system ravaged by money, but it’s the first targeting (no pun intended) of a group after the Citizens United decision.

Hence, a dark triumph for the GLBT community is that the decision is utterly despised across the political spectrum. It symbolizes titanic corporate leverage over the “little guy”—or in the case of Target, “the little gay.” So, even homophobes are made to empathize with the people they deplore.

When President Barack Obama chided the court for its decision in his 2010 State of the Union Address, even some of his fiercest critics said, “Right on!”

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