Two years after a brouhaha erupted over its support of a group backing Tom Emmer, the Republican gubernatorial candidate who opposed gay marriage, Target Corp. has launched an online charitable partnership supporting gay pride.
The Minneapolis-based discounter says the two aren't related -- it has partnered with the Washington, D.C.-based Family Equality Council, which supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families, for more than a decade.
"I certainly recognize what an incredible reaction [the Emmer-related donation] generated," said Jennifer Chrisler, the council's executive director. "But here's what I know about Target and their work with us: They're 100 percent committed to the goal of families being respected in all communities including parents who happen to be LGBT. This is just a continuation of that support."
Target had supported Twin Cities-based Rainbow Families even before it merged with the council, she said.
Ten T-shirts are now featured on Target's website with gay-friendly themes. Two feature a design by rocker Gwen Stefani, who has her own line of kids' hipster clothing called Harajuku Mini at Target. The Stefani design reads, "Love is love." Each Pride T-shirt sells for $12.99, all of which will be donated to the Family Equality Council. Donations are capped at $120,000.
Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder said the Pride T-shirt promotion grew out of a grass-roots effort among employees and the company's LGBTA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allies) Business Council, which includes about 1,200 employees at the company's headquarters.
"Over the past year, we heard from our team members and guests that they'd like to see an assortment of Pride merchandise available at Target," Snyder said. The promotion went live on Sunday, in time for the gay pride season next month, which includes with the 40th annual Pride festival on June 23 and 24.
Target's campaign comes as the debate heats up over gay marriage. President Obama expressed his support earlier this month, and Minnesotans vote this fall on whether to amend the state Constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
The Twin Cities business community has largely been quiet on the issue, although on Sunday former Medtronic CEO and bestselling business author Bill George called for his corporate brethren to oppose the state's marriage amendment.
"Defeating this amendment is essential not only to provide civil rights, but also to ensure that Minnesota is open and welcoming to everyone," wrote George, who glumly noted that only two other former CEOs, Wheelock Whitney and Marilyn Carlson Nelson, have gone public with their opposition.
Target, the $70 billion cheap chic retailer, hasn't taken a public stand on the amendment. In a statement, the company notes its "long history" of supporting the LGBT community but acknowledges "there is a broad range of strongly held views on the [Minnesota] Marriage Amendment." The company goes on to encourage employees to exercise their right to vote.
In 2010, Target gave $150,000 to MN Forward, a political action group that supported Emmer, a pro-business candidate who opposes gay marriage. Target said at the time that its decision was based on MN Forward's tax and jobs platform.
Other companies supported MN Forward, too, including Best Buy and Regis, but Target by far took the most heat. (Emmer was defeated by Democrat Mark Dayton, who supports gay marriage.)
At the time, gay-rights supporters called for a nationwide boycott of Target, and the flap eventually led to pop star Lady Gaga reportedly scrapping a music-related partnership with the company.
Janet Moore • 612-673-7752