Bathroom wars: Why a conservative group is boycotting Target

Target has vowed to let transgender employees and customers use the restroom of the gender they identify with, prompting a conservative boycott. But do bathroom bans hurt companies and states even more? 

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    Employees work at a Target store at St. Albert, Canada in 2015.
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As corporations move to boycott states which have enacted anti-LGBT laws, some consumers have pledged to do the same to Target because of the company's inclusive bathroom policy, pushing executives to try and reconcile their values with the bottom line. 

A petition circulated this week by the American Family Association (AFA) called for customers to boycott Target due the company's announcement of a bathroom and changing room policy that promotes "inclusivity." By Wednesday afternoon, more than 900,000 people had signed the online petition.

The pushback appears to be spreading. In Oxford, Ala., which has a local Target outlet, the city passed an ordinance Tuesday making it illegal for anyone to use a public restroom different from their gender at birth.  Oxford Police Chief Bill Partridge says the law will be enforced like any other city ordinance. Violators could face a $500 fine or up to six months in jail, the Associated Press reports.

Currently, Target's policy welcomes transgender customers and team members, and encourages them to use whichever bathroom they feel most comfortable using.

The AFA based its petition on concerns that Target's bathroom policy would expose families to sexual predators.

"Target's policy is exactly how sexual predators get access to their victims," AFA president Tim Wildmon said in a statement announcing the petition. "Clearly, Target's new policy poses a danger to wives and daughters. We think many customers will agree."

Target, however, has stood its ground. Company spokespeople maintain that customers have a variety of bathroom options, including single stall bathrooms available for those uncomfortable with the policy.

"We certainly respect that there are a wide variety of perspectives and opinions," Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder told USA Today. "As a company that firmly stands behind what it means to offer our team an inclusive place to work – and our guests an inclusive place to shop – we continue to believe that this is the right thing for Target."

While the AFA's petition has generated plenty of support, groups including the Southern Poverty Law Center and Human Rights Campaign have labeled the organization as "extremist" or a "hate group" for its anti-LGBT stances.

Target's policy is becoming less unusual. After North Carolina signed its so-called bathroom bill in March, prohibiting cities from allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with, businesses rushed to condemn the state's new law.

Some, like PayPal, actually pulled out of the state. Musicians like Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam canceled shows. The Raleigh, N.C., area alone is slated to lose $3.5 million in travel revenue.

In Georgia, which is considering similar legislation, filming companies are threatening to remove their filming operations from the state. One popular show in particular, The Walking Dead, could cost the state if producers decide to film elsewhere.

Yet, there are two sides to every story. As businesses rush to oppose anti-LGBT laws, do they stand to lose customers?

"It looks like Target has decided to sacrifice the safety of our wives, our daughters, our mothers all on the altar of political correctness," Houston attorney Jared Woodfill told local news station KHOU.

Many have echoed Mr. Woodfill, saying that the bathroom one uses should match one's biological sex as written on their birth certificate.

Others told KHOU that Target's policy does not enable sexual predators, but rather protects transgender individuals vulnerable to assault.

"For ethical investors, which is at least 15 percent of the market, [Target's stance] will be a big plus," Karen Paul, a professor of business management at Florida International University, tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview. "That should be a big benefit for them."

Dr. Paul says that even at a customer level, Target is probably making a wise business choice.

"They are responding to what is likely a larger portion of their shoppers," she says.  

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