Target's gay problem keeps getting worse [UPDATED]
Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel wants us to believe that when his company threw money into Tom Emmer's campaign for governor last month, it wasn't because Emmer's a raging homophobe, but because he's a raging pro-business tax-cutter.
But Steinhafel's limp non-apology apology last week hasn't satisfied his critics, and now it's getting harder to take his "no homophobe" plea seriously.
For one thing, the apology came out the same day that the Huffington Post pointed out that Target employees had put quite a bit of money behind California's Proposition 8 measure. It's not really fair to hold a company responsible for the actions of individual employees, but the news served to muddle Steinhafel's message of (sort-of) contrition.
It's gotten worse from there. This weekend, The Awl noted that Target's work against gay equality goes well beyond the $150,000 it gave to the Pro-Emmer MN Forward fund. Steinhafel sent his daughter to Wheaton College, a Christian institution where being gay will get you expelled. The younger Steinhafel also studied at the Focus On the Family Institute, one of the leading proponents of therapy to cure gayness.
Meanwhile, one of the other executives with his hands on Target's political donation purse-strings has an even stronger homophobic pedigree: Matt Zabel, the company's VP of government affairs, is a former staffer for Sen. John Thune, the South Dakota senator who supported a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and sought to outlaw gay adoption.
There are rumors that Target is negotiating with gay-rights advocates to give an equivalent donation to pro-GLBT candidates or causes, but nothing has come of that yet. And when the Awl tried to ask Steinhafel directly whether he personally supported the legalization of gay marriage, this response that came back: "Unfortunately, we are unable to address the points or the questions in your e-mail to Mr. Steinhafel."
Looks like the Target PR department has a ways to go before it's going to patch things up with gay-friendly customers.
Target is hardly the only corporation to have donated to MN Forward. Big money has also come in from the "fluid handling" suppliers Pentair and Graco, the convenience-store empire of Holiday Companies, and the Red Wing Shoe Company, among others.
But none of these have the public face that Target does, and those that come close -- Best Buy and Hubbard Broadcasting, which owns KSTP and other local media outlets -- haven't actively courted LGBT consumers the way Target has in recent years. As major national groups like MoveOn.org have piled on to the fracas, it looks like Target is at least partly the victim of its high profile and the gay-friendly image it cultivated.
But there's also reason to believe that the growing groundswell is motivated by more than just concern for gay rights -- it's about the role of corporations in the political sphere. We already knew that the Supreme Court decision that freed corporations to make these donations was wildly unpopular. The Target scandal shows that the public is ready to push back with their wallets.
For more on Target's ongoing public-relations implosion, check out our previous coverage:
It's also worth taking a look at Abe Sauer's excellent work on the Target story for The Awl. Thanks to Abe also for taking an active part in the conversation in our comment section.
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