target - david milberg

Target on Transgenders: a Brand Takes a Stand

More than a week after taking a very public stand on transgender access to public bathrooms, Target is still taking heat on the issue. Folks are talking “ban” and “boycott”…though no organized effort has evolved beyond Facebook and Twitter. Still, if this keeps up, the grousing could become a movement.

Target should be prepared for the public’s response. They likely are. In the wake of the historic North Carolina law banning transgenders from using restrooms different from their assigned birth sex, several companies vowed to stop doing business in North Carolina. Bruce Springsteen and other musicians canceled concerts. To that point, all the public disapproval was directed specifically at NC and its government.

Then Target took a stand. In a public statement, the retailer said: “We welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity. Everyone deserves to feel like they belong.”

Belonging seems like a simple and universal human need, something everyone could get behind. But others have characterized this debate much differently…and that’s really the key here. Dueling narratives are forcing shoppers to pick a side.

Two Sides of the Argument

On one hand you have Target, a brand known to lean left politically, saying the issue is one of inclusiveness, diversity, and love.

On the other side, you have legions of concerned parents, worried that “sickos” will use the law to gain access to their children. They argue they are not speaking of trans persons when they use pejoratives. Instead, they insist they simply see the world as it is, and worrying about deviants and molesters have access to their kids.

Both are compelling narratives, and, taken as they are, most folks would agree with BOTH positions. The sticky wicket, though, is predicting the fallout from this law. Will it simply make it more convenient for trans people to be who they choose to be and live how they choose to live or is it really a Pandora’s box of evil just waiting for some sap to open the lid? Ask either side, and they’re not likely to bend.

Meanwhile, the increasingly combative nature of the communication is driving the sides even further apart. Now one side thinks the other is a bunch of knuckle-dragging Neanderthals, and the other thinks those folks are simply air-headed Hippies who refuse to see the world as it is.

Why Did Target Get Involved?

So, why would Target choose to wade into this battleground uninvited? Possibly because the issue came close enough to home that they felt compelled to act.

Target is headquartered in Minnesota, where a state senator is proposing a bill restricting access to “restrooms, locker rooms and dressing rooms” based on biological sex. As in North Carolina, many companies have come out publicly against this bill, saying it discriminates against both employees and customers. Target is among the largest so, they, ahem, have the biggest target on their back.

Sometimes market position or size makes a brand a leader by default. Sometimes a brand chooses to lead. In this scenario, it seems Target is leading by both default and by choice. And the fight is just beginning.

David Milberg is a Financial expert in New York.

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