The CEO of Target Corporation defended the company’s commitment to “diversity and inclusion” at its annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday amid numerous complaints about its new policy allowing men to access women’s restrooms and changing rooms.
Outside the meeting, a dozen or so individuals gathered to pray and protest against the policy.
And inside, three shareholders, or their representatives, criticized the bathroom policy, and two others praised the company for its “diversity.”
Prior to the meeting, shareholders voted overwhelmingly against a shareholder proposal urging Target to unite people rather than divide them and to provide investors with a lens through which to understand the company’s political advocacy. The proposal’s failure was announced at the meeting.
The proposal was initiated by Justin Danhof, General Counsel and Free Enterprise Project Director at The National Center for Public Policy Research, and during the meeting he urged the 60 or so shareholders present to get behind it.
Addressing Target CEO Brian Cornell and some of the company’s top executives, Danhof pointed out that Target signed an amicus brief in support of same-sex “marriage,” and weighed in on North Carolina’s bathroom privacy law, yet still operates in places where homosexual activity is criminalized.
And he questioned why Target engages in political advocacy in the first place. “It seems the company has stubbed its toe in its recent forays into legal and policy issues,” said Danhof.
After the presentation of Danhof’s proposal, Abraham Hamilton III, a representative from the American Family Association (AFA), was the first to speak at the question and answer session at the end of the meeting.
He asked whether Target had conducted a cost-benefit analysis before adopting the bathroom policy, which has caused over 1 million Americans to pledge to boycott Target.
“We’re a company that believes strongly in diversity and inclusion,” Cornell responded. “We listened very carefully to our guests,” for whom Cornell stressed Target is determined to provide a “safe environment.”
Cornell mentioned that many Target stores already have unisex family bathrooms and that in coming months, the company will start working to ensure each store has one.
Pro-family groups like AFA have argued that single-stall, unisex bathrooms are a common-sense solution to the transgender bathroom debate.
Cathy R. Smith, Target’s Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, said that there has been “no material impact” from Target’s new bathroom policy.
In the month after it announced its new policy, Target stock has dropped significantly. The company has denied any relationship between the public outcry and boycott and its plummeting stock prices.
People ‘don’t want to be undressed’ near the opposite sex
Danhof also asked Cornell if it’s Target’s position that customers who prefer to undress with members of their own biological sex are bigots and whether he had any regrets about making those opposed to the transgender bathroom policy uncomfortable.
“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,’” said Danhof. “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 has many unisex restrooms and a commitment to building more, could easily have avoided this entire controversy,” continued Danhof. “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.’”
“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?” asked Danhof. “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?”
“We think it’s very important to create a welcoming environment,” said Cornell, who again repeated that the company has a “long history of diversity and inclusion.”
David Eads, the Executive Vice President and COO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, praised Target and thanked the company for its massive contributions to the local economy and for “being diverse.”
Shareholder Jane Garcia from Detroit also thanked Target for its “diversity.”
Another shareholder who identified himself as John G. asked Cornell and the other Target executives if in the future they would “exercise more discretion and common sense” before taking actions that offend so many of their customers.
“I’m a baby boomer. I have long-standing values which I struggle to modernize,” he said.
“We’re a company that is very guest-centered,” Cornell responded.
Others spoke on environmental safety concerns, community service and entrepreneurship, Target’s commitment to animal welfare, and Target’s pharmaceutical partnership with CVS.
‘Disgraceful’ to compare civil rights struggle with transgender bathrooms
“I am protesting Target because of their destructive transgender policy which they announced in late April,” Arthur Schaper of the California chapter of Mass Resistance, told LifeSiteNews. “This is a policy which is putting…women and children at risk.”
Entrepreneur Vivian Greene told LifeSiteNews that it was possible Target’s new bathroom policy was an attempt to balance out its image, which under its previous CEO could have been perceived as less pro-gay. She said she didn’t agree with the boycott of Target but thought both sides should work together to resolve the issue.
“I’m sure that there’s another way,” of opposing the policy that doesn’t include a boycott, Greene told LifeSiteNews. “Maybe they just want an extra bathroom. So, we could pay some money to get an extra bathroom…We’re not gonna solve anything unless we get together and we create a solution.”
Aaron Epstein, who has owned Target shares since 1967, told LifeSiteNews he was “on the fence” about the company’s new bathroom policy. He said Target came under fire from the left when the company donated to a Minnesota business organization that sponsored an “anti-gay” candidate for governor.
Danhof told LifeSiteNews that while the Free Enterprise Project supports corporate free speech, they “question it when it angers investors, consumers, [and] the general public at large.”
“Target stepped into this mess unnecessarily…they made their own controversy and now they’re suffering the results,” said Danhof. “To compare transgender bathrooms to the suffering of the civil rights movement and the true atrocities that did happen to African-Americans at that time, it’s disgraceful.”