CALIFORNIA: Target Stands Firm After Haters Ambush Shareholders Meeting Over Support For LGBT Rights

Just as they did at PepsiCo’s shareholders meeting in North Carolina last month and at Walmart’s shareholders meeting in Arkansas last week, anti-LGBT activists from the National Center for Public Policy Research ambushed Target executives at yesterday’s annual shareholders meeting in Costa Mesa, California. A spokesman for the group confronted Target’s board of directors, demanding to know if they had any “regrets” for their company’s vigorous support for transgender rights. Here’s a portion of what he said:

In a May appearance on CNBC, CEO Brian Cornell compared the company’s decision to mix the biological sexes in states of undress to the company’s decision in the 1960s to use African-American models, saying the decision to use black models “wasn’t well received.” The implication appears to be that people who believe sex is determined physically, or who simply don’t want to be undressed near people who have a different physiology, are bigots, and morally equivalent to racists.

Investors have noted that Target, which as many unisex restrooms and a commitment to building more, could easily have avoided this entire controversy. Instead, as one financial analyst put it, Target “went in guns blazing” and “took a hard-line stance, promoting a very small social movement over the conservative sensibilities of millions of Americans.”

I have a quick two-part question: Is it the company’s position that Americans who prefer to undress only near people of the same physical gender are bigots, the moral equivalent of racists? And second, since Target could have avoided most of this controversy, do you have any regrets about taking, as the financial analyst put it, “a hard-line stance” that, regardless of your intention, has made many Americans feel unwelcome at Target?

According to the group’s press release, Target board members and CEO Brian Cornell responded by dismissing their claim that the company’s stock value has been affected by the controversy and by reaffirming their support for LGBT rights. Here is their spokesman’s reaction to being blown off:

Target’s shareholder meeting was appalling from beginning to end. Liberal corporate leaders such as Cornell throw around the words ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ so much they are starting to lose their meaning. In addition to my question, two other shareholders also expressed concern over the company’s offensive bathroom policy. Cornell just kept repeating the same vacuous lines about diversity and inclusion. He doesn’t seem to get that he has offended the sensibilities of millions of Americans.

When Cornell ducked my question, I followed up and urged the company’s leadership team to think hard about the fact that they are branding millions of Americans, potential customers and investors as bigots. Not a one of them had a response. If you are offended by Target’s decision to allow grown men to be in states of undress in front of young girls, and at the potential for predators to abuse Target’s bathroom policy, the company is basically saying that they don’t want your business. That’s the message that I took away from today’s meeting.

The group then submitted a shareholders resolution which denounces Target’s support of same-sex marriage and (as they did with Walmart) which demands an official policy statement on why they support LGBT rights in the United States while “operating” in brutally anti-LGBT nations. Again from their spokesman:

I’m sure few investors here realize that Target – and many other corporations – were heavily involved in the Supreme Court’s decision regarding gay marriage. In a brief before the Court, these companies bashed American states that supported traditional marriage (which by the way included California where voters overwhelmingly supported traditional marriage) by claiming that traditional marriage laws “hamper employer efforts to recruit and retain the most talented workforce possible in those states.”

If there was a mass exodus of employees from traditional marriage states to those that recognized gay marriage before the Supreme Court ruled on the issue, the world at large must have missed it. It’s worth noting that Target operates in countries where homosexual acts are criminalized. So it’s fair to ask: what’s the company’s position on its employees in those countries? But our proposal is not about re-litigating one Supreme Court decision.

Rather, as corporations get more and more involved in political, policy and legal debates, investors should be given a lens into that decision-making process. Issues such as gay marriage and whom to allow in North Carolina’s public restrooms hardly seem like issues that are germane to Target’s core business. Yet the company chose to make very public stands on these issues. Many consumers and investors didn’t react well to the company’s activist positions.

Target, in fact, has no international locations but their website does note that they ship to over 200 countries. Here is their official response to the policy statement demand as posted in their shareholders proxy statement (Page 67):

Respect for human rights is a fundamental principle throughout our business practices and standards. We require all vendors, including manufacturers, contractors, subcontractors and suppliers to meet our Standards of Vendor Engagement, which address eleven business principles focused on ethical sourcing (see https://corporate.target.com/corporate-responsibility/responsible-sourcing for additional detail).

Our standards often exceed requirements set by local law. To drive accountability throughout our supply chain for these standards, we consistently monitor our vendors to confirm that our standards are being met. In 2015, we conducted over 1,500 supply chain audits on human rights, labor, health, and safety in 21 different countries (more information about our audit program is available at https://corporate.target.com/corporate-responsibility).

In addition, we believe that implementing this proposal would not be a productive use of company resources, and that doing so would not provide meaningful information to shareholders. If the requested report were undertaken, it would omit proprietary information and not materially enhance Target’s existing publicly-available information relating to our commitment to human rights. For these reasons, we do not believe that this proposal is in the best interests of Target or our shareholders.

In other words, these asshats are 0-3 in just the last three weeks.

UPDATE: The American Family Association was also there yesterday.

A spokesman for the American Family Association says he was clearly snubbed by Target officials today when he expressed his group’s deep concerns about the retailer’s bathroom policy.

AFA’s Abraham Hamilton III went to today’s Target shareholders meeting in Southern California to raise concerns again about the company’s policy allowing transgenders to use the bathroom or changing room of the gender in which they say they identify. AFA’s concern has been that sexual predators may take advantage of the policy, thereby putting women and children at risk.

“It’s amazing. The response really was We don’t care what you have to say. We don’t care what the American Family Association represents. We don’t care what those people who signed your petition represent. We are committed to the complete overhaul of American society as it pertains to sex,” says Hamilton. “That literally is their response.”

“Father’s Day is right around the corner … and even back-to-school efforts,” he tells OneNewsNow. “[So] we plan to increase and expand our boycott effort because Target has put us in an unenviable position by saying We don’t care what you think – so we’re going to have to make them care what we think.”