Target to expand single-stall restrooms, without budging on bathroom policy

Target has faced backlash since April, when it announced that transgender customers and employees could use the bathroom corresponding with their gender identity. 

Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor
People walk into the parking lot from Target in Oxford, Ala., on April 28. Target's corporate policy allows patrons to choose which bathroom – male or female – they use. In August, Target announced that it would add a single-stall restroom to all of its stores.

As the national debate over transgender bathroom policies remains pitched, one company is trying to find a middle ground.

Retailer Target has been at the center of the transgender bathroom fight, with its announcement earlier this year that it planned to let transgender employees and customers choose which bathroom they used prompting boycotts. Now, Target has amended its policy to emphasize a third option – a private bathroom for those who feel uncomfortable using the traditional bathroom facilities.

"We get it. Some like it, some don't. We're committed," Target spokesperson Katie Boylan told USA Today of the company's controversial policy.

The discount retailer plans to spend $20 million to build private bathrooms in stores across the country, The Wall Street Journal reports. While most of the company’s 1,797 stores already have private bathrooms, 277 more stores will build private bathrooms by November, and a further 20 will finish the building project by March.

The recent response to transgender bathroom policies has been mixed, with several companies and groups, including the National Basketball Association, boycotting states like North Carolina over stringent rules stating that transgender people must use the restroom that corresponds with their biological sex.

Groups such as the American Family Association (AFA), on the other hand, called for a boycott on companies that break from traditional male/female bathroom designations. More than 1.4 million people have signed the AFA's pledge to boycott Target. The AFA has portrayed Target’s open bathroom policy as an opportunity for sexual predators to target restroom users.

Some towns and municipalities have also opposed Target’s decision. In April, Oxford, Ala. passed an ordinance that would punish individuals with a $500 fine or up to six months in jail for using a bathroom that does not correspond with the gender on their birth certificate. That ordinance has since been repealed.

On Wednesday, AFA spokesperson Walker Wildmon told The Wall Street Journal that Target’s recent decision to make private bathrooms universal among its stores is not enough.

“If the majority feel uncomfortable, they will have to go into the single-stall bathroom,” said Mr. Wildmon. “Transgender individuals should have to use the single-stall if they feel uncomfortable using the facilities assigned on their birth certificate.”

Target’s existing policy, which allows all individuals to use the bathroom or fitting room that they are most comfortable in, will remain unchanged.

Target is not alone in the search for a middle ground on this issue. In July, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, signed anti-discrimination legislation that includes allowing transgender people to use the restroom facility in which they felt most comfortable, but would also prevent individuals from claiming to be a different gender for an “improper purpose.”

"This compromise legislation extends additional protections to the commonwealth's transgender community, and includes language to address the public safety concerns expressed by some by requiring the attorney general to issue regulations to protect against people abusing the law," Governor Baker said after signing the law.

Meanwhile, across the country, schools are attempting to find their own middle ground between each state’s bathroom laws, and their mission to support and protect the children in their care, regardless of their gender identity. 

“Everyone deserves to feel like they belong,” Target wrote in an April blog post. “And you’ll always be accepted, respected and welcomed at Target.”

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