Op-Ed: Target’s Steinhafel: So Long, You Queers, Thanks for the Cash
By Mark Costello
Special to The Clyde Fitch Report
It’s been a tough month for the friends of Judy.
“Queeny munchkin” Leslie Jordan tried to duke it out old-school with fellow lesbian Elisabeth Vincentelli after she panned his one-man Off-Broadway pride parade, My Trip Down the Pink Carpet. The New Jersey State Supreme Court balked when asked to take another gander at the unconstitutional and restrictive language of the Garden State’s current civil union legislation, and ballet shoes, for some reason, seem to be making the rounds in some fashionable circles. Somehow, though, we’ll survive it all — except for that last one, maybe.
Indeed, so long as we can retire to our tastefully appointed fifth-floor walkups and bask amongst our high-quality, low-cost Target products, we can at least eke by. Allowing gays to be fabulous for fabu-less, the very idea of Target (or as the Velvet Mafia would have it, Targét) wraps us in big red and white hugs, cheaply distributing the accoutrement of good living while providing its gay employees with domestic partnership benefits. Target is the ruthless efficiency of Walmart crossed with the coy grace of Julia Stiles.
Or, as it turns out, the not-so-coy predilections of Julia Child. In the aftermath of the Citizens United debacle, Target exercised its newfound right to corporate personhood in teaming up with Minnesota Forward, a PAC that staggers uncomfortably toward the right. Using 150,000 of Target’s dollars, MN Forward released a TV spot for Tom Emmer, the GOP state representative running for governor of Minnesota. For those playing along at home, that’s Tom “Marriage is Between One Man and One Woman” Emmer, or right-leaning, queer-bashing, drunk-driving Tom Emmer.
If Emmer is allowed to make legislative decisions centered on what I do behind closed doors, I’m allowed to make character judgments centered on what he does behind the wheel. Fair’s fair, people. Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel explained in an email to his staff that the company still cares for its LGBT lieblings, that they backed Emmer for his big business aesthetic and that this is in no way a reversal of Target’s stated pro-queer warm-and-fuzzies.
But it isn’t Emmer that I care about, per se. I live in Philadelphia, several worlds and cultural revolutions away from Minnesota, a state whose import fell when Little House on the Prairie went off the air — despite any resurgence in interest that Jesse Ventura’s curious election might have aroused. What’s more worrisome is Target’s bald-faced hypocrisy: It drunkenly walks the line between unctuous sycophancy and, well, plain old evil — with the lion’s share of those red and white circles leaning closer to wicked.
Steinhafel’s statement, Target’s finances and its history of involvement in the LGBT community are like Cerberus’s three heads, each one pointing in a different direction, each one lured by a similar, if different, piece of meat. Social responsibility? There’s money in that, right? Big business political lobbying? There’s money in that, too. Cowed non-admissions of wrongdoing that seek to let a touchy subject blow away in a forgetful wind? Boom, baby! Greed is good!
But that’s where Target is living these days. Their greed is self-defeating, their three heads ripped to shreds in front of us. And now a conscious minority is left to ponder where else we might find affordable, effective, generic whitening mouthwash, for we no longer can, certainly, under the banner of the Big Red Bulls-Eye.
Sorry, Target. Unlike you, I can’t split myself so neatly in half. When I said so in an email to Target’s Guest Relations office, they replied with the following blow-off, reproduced in full:
Dear Mark Costello,
Thank you for writing Target Corporation. Gregg Steinhafel would like to extend his appreciation for sharing your thoughtful feedback.
Target has long believed that engaging in civic activities is an important and necessary element of operating a national retail business. What’s more important than any one candidate’s stance on a particular issue is how we nurture thoughtful, long-term growth in the state of Minnesota.
Our support of causes and candidates is based strictly on issues that affect our retail and business objectives. To continue to grow and create jobs and opportunity in our home state, we believe it is imperative to be engaged in public policy and the political process. That is why we are members of organizations like the Minnesota Business Partnership, the Chamber of Commerce and many others. And that is why we decided to contribute to MN Forward.
MN Forward’s objective is to elect candidates from both parties who will make job creation and economic growth a top priority. We operate best when working collaboratively with legislators on both sides of the aisle. In fact, if you look at our Federal PAC contributions year to date, you will see that they are very balanced between Republicans and Democrats. For more information please visit www.target.com/company, and view the Civic Activity page.
Target has a large stake in Minnesota’s future, which is why it is so important to be able to provide jobs, serve guests, support communities and deliver on our commitment to shareholders. As an international business that is proud to call Minnesota home, it is critical that we have a business environment that allows us to be competitive. Our guests, team members, communities and shareholders depend on Target to remain competitive.
Thanks for taking the time to share your feedback.
Target Executive Offices
My email to Target revolved around gay politics and my response to their actions as a young gay man who once relied upon their discounted merchandise to make my life a bit more livable. Their blithe, blithering, token form response doesn’t make mention of LGBT issues, nor does it acknowledge the anger or hurt resulting from their actions. With the best of all possible spins, it’s merely a castrated rehash of Steinhafel’s in-house memo: a reassertion that business, when faceless, is allowed to piss on you and blame you for taking offense. Target’s response to me might as well have read:
Thanks for the ‘concerned citizen’ letter, kid, but respect for queers doesn’t put moolah in the bank. Now kindly go pound.
I wasn’t the only one to get this response from Jennifer Hanson, by the way, although it seems that earlier letters had a touch more personal flair, as noted here. Note the multiple phone numbers, note the half-hearted invitation to further conversation, implying an almost human concern for the tread-upon feelings of a loyal customer.
Target represents that most subtle and aberrant form of hypocrisy: faux-liberalism. They’ve become one of those self-proclaimed suburban liberals who vocalizes a desire for equality and justice but at home, behind closed doors, tries to beat the gay out of their son or daughter because “that sort of thing is all right for ‘those’ people, but damn if they’ll have it in our house.”
Employee marriage benefits and sponsored pride parades have proven to be PR talking points meant to make the red and white of Target’s logo blaze brighter, but they belie the corporation’s tacit — now obvious — homophobia. We’ve mistaken them all the while: Target’s heart was making noise, but finally its wallet has spoken.
Mark Costello is a Philadelphia-based playwright, dramaturg and director. He holds an MA in Theater from Villanova University and has worked in various Philly-based theaters and playwright development labs wearing any number of hats. Follow Mark’s Twitter at twitter.com/markjcostello.