Washington U. backed out of a partnered event with Target Corp. after the retail powerhouse received heat for a donation it made to an organization backing a Minnesota gubernatorial candidate with a history of staunch opposition to gay rights.
University administrators opted to cancel the Target After Hours Shopping Event—a nationwide program in which Target keeps various stores open after hours and provides transportation for college freshmen to shop and receive prizes. This was to be part of the First 40 Days series of events at Wash. U. for the incoming freshmen class. The University has participated in the Target event since 2007.
Target donated $150,000 to Minnesota Forward, a political action committee focused on creating private-sector jobs and economic growth. The PAC then purchased TV ads for Tom Emmer, a candidate who, according to his campaign website, believes that ‘marriage is the union between one man and one woman’ and has consistently supported legislation that aims to protect this union.
In statement to various news outlets, representatives from Target have said that their support for the LGBT—lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender—community is ‘unwavering’ and that they back Mr. Emmer’s economic stance, not his social values.
Best Buy also contributed money to Minnesota Forward.
Target’s donation rankled LGBT activist groups and garnered attention in media outlets throughout the nation. Jill Carnaghi, associate vice chancellor for student affairs, said that news of the controversial donation prompted her to look into the policies of Emmer and, after discussion with other administrators, ultimately led to the decision to cancel the event.
Campus Pride, a non-profit LGBT advocate organization that works with college campus nationwide, recently announced that Wash. U. was one of 19 campuses to receive five stars, the highest honors, for LGBT friendliness on campus. The ranking is based on a questionnaire fill-out by university administrators and takes into account LGBT- friendly policies and programs and practices on campus.
“We need to walk the walk as well as talk the talk,” Carnaghi said.
The Target controversy has become the poster-case for the potential backlash of the January Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United—a decision that enables corporations and unions to donate money to political campaigns. Prior to this decision, Target would not have been able to make the $150,000 donation to Minnesota Forward.
Minnesota Forward was established after the Citizens United decision to collect donations from corporations.
Despite the urging of activist groups, Target has decided not to make a political contribution of equal or greater value to a political campaign with liberal social views, according to a statement issued by the Human Rights Campaign, the largest civil rights group in the country working for LGBT equality.
The HRC subsequently dropped Target and Best Buy from their list of LGBT friendly companies and donated $150,000 to elect pro-LGBT equality candidates in Minnesota.
A Facebook group urging people to boycott Target currently has over 70,000 fans.
This is not the first time that a company Wash. U. has conducted business with has come under fire for its LGBT policies.
Last year The Laclede Group, a major gas and energy provider on campus, was ranked dead last in the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Corporate Equality Index of companies’ LGBT employment policies.
Though their policies did not protect LGBT employees, the University did not cut ties with the Laclede Group.
According to Carnaghi, who had no authority over the Laclede Group situation, the Target shopping event logistically was easy to cancel because it was an optional event set to occur on a Thursday night.
“We are hopeful that Target will get it together and that we will work together with them in the future,” Carnaghi said.