Monday, August 23, 2010

Why I still shop at Target

I know a lot of people who are currently boycotting Target because the corporation donated a chunk of money to a conservative PAC that supports a governor candidate in MN who holds strong anti-gay views. It's come up a few times in conversation, so I decided to write down my thoughts on it.

Before I begin, though, I want to stress that I vehemently disagree with the MN candidate's views on gay rights. I'm an ardent supporter of marriage and other civil rights for gay and lesbian people, some of whom are my friends and students. I will fight for the rights of all of them to have the same rights I do as a straight person.

That said, here are the reasons why I am not boycotting Target, in no particular order:

1) Target has a history of treating employees with dignity, including gay and lesbian employees who are eligible for partner benefits. That doesn't erase the current problem, but at least it indicates an interest in basic equality as a company-wide policy. WalMart, the most likely alternative to those boycotting Target, barely gives their employees benefits, let alone domestic partner benefits. The big picture still leaves me leaning toward Target, albeit with a skeptical eye.

2) Speaking of WalMart, where I live, I pretty much have the choice of it or Target for the basic stuff that gets me through (e.g., health and beauty stuff, cleaners, etc). I to shop at WalMart, which often treats employees like crap, that has a history of class-action lawsuits based on racial discrimination, gender discrimination, AND sexuality discrimination? That has a history of union-busting in order to keep employees suppressed and unorganized? I don't think so. And neither should these people boycotting Target. The old cliché rings true: it's cutting off your nose to spite your face.

3) Further, unlike Wal-Mart, Target has a strong record of supporting the community through donations to education systems in their communities as well as charitable organizations. My dad works for the Salvation Army, and Target frequently donates money and products for poverty relief in the local community. I personally disagree with the SA's stance on homosexuality as well, but at least they are a private, religious organization, not a public one. What this means, then, is that Target does a lot of good in the community that is being erased by the over-hyped boycott.

4) Then there's the issue of making Target of the larger issue of the Supreme Court's recent ruling that corporations can donate like people. That ruling will have huge repercussions in our society. Corporations often don't have the best interest of people in mind, unless you count their shareholders (if they are publicly traded) and/or their corporate leaders. Target's reputation for being reasonably responsible in their communities and to their employees doesn't erase that they are a giant corporation. Corporations are most likely to push for candidates who will help their bottom line first (not to mention the pocketbooks of their leaders). Most of those candidates will be Republicans, who tend to have more pro-corporate policies. They are also more likely to have anti-gay stances, as well as similar stances on other social issues. That means Target is one of about a bajillion companies in this country that will be pushing for candidates whom I won't like. Am I to boycott all of them? Or just Target? Why one and not the others?

Shouldn't we instead be spending our time fighting the Supreme Court ruling and the political process that now heavily favors corporate interests over our own? Shouldn't Target be an example of the problem, not the be-all-end-all of the problem? Shouldn't we be focusing more broadly on the corporations who actively resist treating gay and lesbian employees and customers with respect? In short, fighting the larger problem rather than the symptom of the larger problem?

5) This whole thing smacks of a left-wing reactionary response rather than measured response to social problems. This is reason number one why I resist every day the urge to find myself on a political fringe. People on the fringes of the right and left are guilty of emotionally lashing out rather than intellectually reasoning. This one happens to be on the left side, but if Target responds too much in favor of the gay and lesbian rights side, you know full well the stupid fringe right folks will do the exact same damn thing the left is doing now. And we're all the poorer for this behavior. We all become blind to the real issue in the mud-slinging.

So there you go. I am working hard not to spend more money than I need to in general, but when I need to buy, I don't feel guilty shopping at Target. I will continue to advocate for full and equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans, but in a holistic, realistic way...not through emotional protests and boycotts.

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