Target Corp. will stick with its policy of allowing transgender customers to choose the bathroom they wish to use as part of the company’s long history of supporting diversity and inclusion, chief executive Brian Cornell said Wednesday.
At the same time, he offered an olive branch to those who have been upset by the policy and said the company will add family restrooms to all of its stores, an option for people who worry about the mixing of sexes in bathrooms.
Cornell made the remarks during an appearance on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” program. He noted that more than 1,400 of the company’s 1,800 stores already have family restrooms. In the next few months, Target will put them in the rest of its stores.
“We want to make sure we provide a welcoming environment for all of our guests,” Cornell said. “One that is safe, one that is comfortable.”
On April 19, the Minneapolis-based retailer announced that transgender customers could use the bathrooms and fitting rooms that align with their gender identity. With the statement, it became the first major retailer to take a public stance on the hot-button issue.
“Everyone deserves to feel like they belong,” Target said in its initial statement. “And you’ll always be accepted, respected and welcomed at Target.”
The move came after North Carolina passed a law restricting public bathroom use to one’s biological sex, which prompted some businesses outside the state to pull back on work in North Carolina. Earlier this week, the Justice Department and the governor of the state sued one another over the law that the U.S. government contends is discriminatory.
While the issue is now caught up in the courts, the law and other similar proposed legislation inspired by it has led to questions about policies at businesses like Target that attract masses of people. A handful of other retailers such as Barnes & Noble and Starbucks have publicly stated they have similar policies to Target while others such as Wal-Mart have remained silent on the topic.
Target’s move has been blasted by some activists, including the American Family Association, which has called for a boycott of Target, and some Republican politicians. Those critics say the policy opens the door to allowing men to enter women’s restrooms. Last week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a letter to Cornell seeking “the full text of Target’s safety policies regarding the protection of women and children from those who would use the cover of Target’s restroom policy for nefarious purposes.”
On CNBC on Wednesday, Cornell acknowledged the company has received “quite a bit of feedback” on the issue.
“We took a stance,” he said. “We’re going to continue to embrace our belief in diversity and inclusion, just how important that is to our company. But we’re also going to make sure our focus on safety is unwavering.”
He noted Target took a lot of criticism in the 1960s when it was one of the first retailers to use black models in its advertising.
“Back then, it wasn’t well received,” he said. “We had a lot of tough feedback. But sitting here today, we know we made the right decision.”