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LGBT groups turn up heat on Target; but is Best Buy getting off too easy?

LGBT groups turn up heat on Target; but is Best Buy getting off too easy?

While the standoff between LGBT groups and Target stores heats up over a $150,000 political donation that helped fund an anti-gay candidate for Minnesota governor, Best Buy, who donated $100,000 to the same fund, has quietly escaped much of the protests and headlines.

Two weeks ago, Target Corporation came under fire from gay rights advocates for contributing to Minnesota Forward, a political action group that has come out in support of anti-gay gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, a staunch opponent of same-sex marriage, who in 2007, authored a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage and civil unions, and on numerous occasions has tried to change language in bills that would prevent same-sex couples from receiving benefits.

Within hours, LGBT activists sprung into action, and launched a Boycott Target page on Facebook, and a blog TargetingGLBT, all in effort to pressure the company to rethink its political contributions.

Not more than a day later, it was also revealed that Richfield, MN-based Best Buy contributed to the same group. And while a Boycott Best Buy effort was launched on Facebook as well, it was buried among the Target headlines and to date, barely attracted one tenth of the supporters of the Boycott Target effort.

Once the story escalated to the mainstream media, and the relentless LGBT community showed no signs of letting the retailer off the hook, Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel issued this apology in a letter to Target employees:


“The intent of our political contribution to MN Forward was to support economic growth and job creation. While I firmly believe that a business climate conducive to growth is critical to our future, I realize our decision affected many of you in a way I did not anticipate, and for that I am genuinely sorry.

“We remain fully committed to fostering an environment that supports and respects the rights and beliefs of all individuals. The diversity of our team is an important aspect of our unique culture and our success as a company, and we did not mean to disappoint you, our team or our valued guests.

“Going forward, we will soon begin a strategic review and analysis of our decision-making process for financial contributions in the public policy arena. And later this fall, Target will take a leadership role in bringing together a group of companies and partner organizations for a dialogue focused on diversity and inclusion in the workplace, including GLBT issues.”

And from Best Buy, CEO Brian J. Dunn posted this statement online:


“In our quest to focus on jobs and the economy, we’ve disappointed and confused some employees and customers. My leadership team and I are listening to, and learning from, your input. I’m taking it to heart.

“Best Buy’s recent contribution in Minnesota was done through an independent expenditure organization, focused solely on jobs and an improved economy. However, in this case, this contribution has raised questions on broader issues beyond jobs and the economy – most specifically, on issues that involve the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender (LGBT) community. We’ve learned from this. We’ve had a policy and process to guide the company’s voice (which has always remained focused on our business and the economy). We will review the process we use to make political contributions.”

There’s more to Dunn’s statement, and as with Steinhafel, both are equally ambiguous how their respective companies will evaluate political contributions in the future. Both tout their perfect scores in the HRC Corporate Equality Index (which will be unaffected by these donations), and support Twin Cities Pride, etc.

The only significant difference between the two statements is the absence of any apology from Best Buy to either its employees or customers.

So what’s next for these two retail giants?

While Target has issued its apology, it has not asked for its contribution back, nor has it retracted its support for MN Forward (or Emmer). Target is, however, reportedly locked in closed-door negotiations with the HRC, which is demanding that the retailer make an equivalent or greater donation to groups supporting equal rights candidates:

“Target’s apology is welcomed but without tangible action behind it, the LGBT community and our allies will continue to question the company’s commitment to equality,” the HRC said in a statement.

“The promise to evaluate political contributions in the future, while a step in the right direction, is provided without details and does not mitigate their $150,000 supporting an outspoken opponent of equality for LGBT people. Target can still make it right by making equivalent contributions to equality-minded organizations and by making clear the procedure by which they will evaluate potential contributions in the future to include issues of LGBT-equality.”

Best Buy has simply affirmed its political giving strategy –- and its decision to support MN Forward –- is based solely on the need to help elect candidates who will make jobs and economic issues a top priority this election, regardless of their position on other social issues that the company “may not necessarily agree with.”

And given the opportunity to publicly condemn Emmer’s positions on gay rights and commit to suspending funding for MN Forward, Best Buy gave no response.

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