Target CEO Brian Cornell has now spoken publicly about the backlash the company experienced after releasing a statement declaring that transgender individuals shopping at the retail giant can use whichever bathroom corresponds with their gender identity. Among that backlash is an online petition by the American Family Association, a Tupelo, Miss.-based religious non-profit organization founded by First United Methodist pastor Donald E. Wildmon.
Thus far, that petition has received 1.2 million signatures. It argued that “Target’s policy is exactly how sexual predators get access to their victims. And with Target publicly boasting that men can enter women’s bathrooms, where do you think predators are going to go?”
Target’s original statement read, in part:
We believe that everyone — every team member, every guest, and every community — deserves to be protected from discrimination, and treated equally. Consistent with this belief, Target supports the federal Equality Act, which provides protections to LGBT individuals, and opposes action that enables discrimination.
In our stores, we demonstrate our commitment to an inclusive experience in many ways. Most relevant for the conversations currently underway, we welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.
Cornell, appearing Wednesday on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” confirmed the company would not be reversing its policy. He called to mind the civil rights movement of the 1960s by evoking Target’s past in using African American models in its advertising when it was socially unpopular to do so.
“We’ve had a long history of embracing diversity and inclusion,” Cornell said. “A couple of weeks ago, one of our team members sent me a note reminding me that if we went back to the mid-60s, our company was one of the very first to use African American models in their advertising. And back then, you know, it wasn’t well received. We had a lot of tough feedback, but sitting here today, we know we made the right decision.”
He went on to point out that many of Target’s stores have family bathrooms available to customers, and that the company will soon be expanding the option to all retail locations. He didn’t specify whether he considered these places for parents to take children or unisex bathrooms to be used by anyone.
“What’s been lost in this story is the fact that, what we also talked about, is that the vast majority of our stores — actually over 1,400 of our stores — already have a family restroom,” Cornell said. “And we’re committed over the next few months to make sure every one of our stores has that option, because we want our guests to be welcomed in our stores.”
He concluded by stating that safety remains a top priority for the company. The comment seemed to be in direct response to the AFA’s petition, which stated, “Clearly, Target’s dangerous new policy poses a danger to wives and daughters.”
“We took a stance, and we’re going to continue to embrace our belief of diversity and inclusion, just how important that is to our company, but we’re also going to make sure our focus on safety is unwavering,” Cornell said.
In a statement on its website, the AFA claimed one of its members met with Target executives on Wednesday, asking them to create a unisex bathroom “for the trans community and for those who simply like using the bathroom alone.”
“Target representatives were gracious and respectful, but sadly, they rejected our offer,” the statement read.
The AFA is also asking for a “tax-deductible” donation of $5 to reach those “who have not heard about the boycott” in an attempt to gain two million signatures. The statement contains a claim that one anonymous donor gave the association $50,000.