Target has never been one to shy away from controversy: from getting liquor licenses to allow for possible drinking on premises, to getting rid of their gendered toy aisles, the brand has always been just a little more progressive than its big box counterparts. Now the company’s made another important decision: in the midst of controversy about whether or not transgender people should be using the bathroom of the gender they identify as, Target is sending the message that, in their stores at least, people should be free to be who they are. That means no one will be policing the bathrooms and demanding birth certificates in order for someone of “dubious gender” to pee comfortably.
Target released a statement on the issue. It started with a reminder of the brand’s core principles:
Recent debate around proposed laws in several states has reignited a national conversation around inclusivity. So earlier this week, we reiterated with our team members where Target stands and how our beliefs are brought to life in how we serve our guests.
Inclusivity is a core belief at Target. It’s something we celebrate. We stand for equality and equity, and strive to make our guests and team members feel accepted, respected and welcomed in our stores and workplaces every day.
And then the company dropped the bomb that in order to keep in line with these principles, they’d be continuing to respect both their transgender employees and customers:
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.
Of course, this led to a flurry of heated responses. On Target’s corporate page, comments ranged from support and reminders that most people have already probably used a restroom with a trans person without incident to angry promises to “never shop at Target again.” There was even one person (as required by law in all such situations) who completely misunderstood what discrimination is, pointing out that it’s strange for Target to cater to a small portion of the general population instead of focusing solely on the 99.5 percent of people who are not transgender.
I wonder if Target would care to make a comment explaining their reasons for catering to the .5% or less of the population that is transgender and in the process discriminate against the 99.5% that is not. Just wondering! Let’s see: Out of a population of 323,000,000 that would be 1.6m to 321,400,000. Hmmmmm!
Just wondering! How friendly and pleasant and completely ignorant of the fact that Target had just made a clear and concise statement about why they’re continuing to promote equality. But that wasn’t enough for some, with many angrily demanding to know why trans people deserve “more rights than we do” and even calling the decision “arrogant.” And you know what? Fine! Don’t shop at Target if you don’t want to (you’ll be back, deck furniture and undershirts aren’t just going to buy themselves), but understand that Target’s message is even more important in context. It’s not just a minor win for equality, but a big step in the right direction in revolutionizing the way corporations (and individuals) think about equality.
Target’s certainly not the first to join the fight against discrimination–everyone from PayPal to the NBA to Tracy Morgan have spoken out about the recent spate of anti-LGBT+ legislation–but it may be the most visible. With almost 1,800 stores in the United States and a huge commercial presence in every form of media, it’s a retailer that can’t be ignored. Couple that with the fact that the brand is such a cultural phenomenon that people just go to the store to hang out, and you’ve got another chink in the armor of America’s history of discrimination against the LGBT+ community.
Those who are concerned about the theoretical slippery slope of “men dressing up as women to go into the bathroom and start assaulting others” would do well to remember that those who identify as transgender are much more likely to be the victim of assault as opposed to the perpetrator. In fact, a recent report even states that the rate of transgender individuals being victims of homicide has reached a “historic high.” Politicians like Mike Huckabee might joke that they’d also pretend to be trans if it meant “showering with the girls,” but there’s literally no evidence (outside of ’80s movies) that anyone is actually doing this. Because the point that Target is getting and all its detractors are missing is this: It’s hard to be trans in America. There’s often little support from family (see the excellent New Yorker video below) and the suicide attempt rate among the transgender population is incredibly alarming, if not outright terrifying. What Target’s doing isn’t catering to special interests, it’s respecting the dignity of everyone who visits and works there. It’s an important stance that will make them more successful, not less so (as some people who “will never shop here again” suggest it might).
There are two more reasons why this move towards equality is a big one for both Target and the United States in general: 1) It’s a company based in the Midwest (MN), and this move subverts many of the stereotypes usually associated with the heartland; 2) Target is associated with the very value of “Americanism”– it’s big and loud and they serve cheap food, that’s as mainstream as mainstream can be.
Americans love Target, tourists love Target, and with the service and convenience Target provides (not to mention the valuable life lessons we learn there), there’s no way that all of the people who claim they’re going elsewhere will actually be doing so. [Spoiler: Macy’s and The Home Depot are also pro-equality! So are Starbucks and Safeway! And Apple and Google! Even Facebook, the platform many people are using to decry Target’s new policy is all for people getting equal treatment!]
Point being: If people going to Target stores across the country can come away with a little lesson in acceptance, issued to them by a store they already visit and trust, then it’s a win across the board.