Target Corp. made it clear Tuesday that transgender people who visit its stores are welcome to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.
The statement by the Minneapolis-based retailer comes amid debates in many state legislatures over restricting public restroom use to the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate.
While many of those conversations have centered around restrooms in public schools and government buildings, Target appears to be one of the first big-box retailers to take a proactive stance in declaring its position on the matter when it comes to its own restrooms.
While they may not be technically public, restrooms in stores are often the most easily accessible and widely available options outside of people’s homes and workplaces.
Target’s position also extends to its fitting rooms.
“Inclusivity is a core belief at Target,” the company said in a statement on its corporate website. “It’s something we celebrate. We stand for equality and equity, and strive to make our guests and team members feel accepted, respected and welcomed in our stores and workplaces every day.”
Molly Snyder, a Target spokeswoman, said it is not a new policy, but the retailer wanted to clarify its position given questions it has received from both customers and employees amid the national debate. Executives sent an e-mail to store leaders earlier this week to convey the message.
“It’s a restatement of a policy,” she said. “It’s just us being very overt in stating it.”
A number of other companies, including some retailers, have been vocal in opposing North Carolina’s recently enacted law that restricts transgender people from using the restroom that aligns with their gender identity in public buildings. Other states are considering similar bills. A Minnesota House committee held a hearing last week on a similar proposal but it faces long odds and, if the measure passed, a likely veto by Gov. Mark Dayton.
More than 100 companies that include Starbucks, Apple, Google, Twitter and Facebook have signed a letter asking the governor of North Carolina to repeal its law. Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen are among those who have canceled concerts in the state in protest.
Retail industry analysts said they haven’t heard much until now from major retailers about their own restroom policies.
“Target being more proactive about it could very well open — or force — the dialogue,” said Carol Spieckerman, a retail consultant. “Any time a retailer takes a more vocal stance, the microphone goes in front of all of the others.”
Wal-Mart and Richfield-based Best Buy did not immediately return requests for comment late Tuesday afternoon.
It was probably smart for Target to get out ahead of this issue, Spieckerman added, rather than waiting until it is pressed up against a wall or until a conversation unfolds on social media about it. In the past, she noted that retailers often tried to be somewhat vague when it came to controversial issues.
“But it’s now a really relentless environment in which retailers have to clearly state their beliefs,” she said.
While Target’s public declaration may not be popular with everyone, it will be more accepted by its core shopper base, which tends to be younger and more urban, said Amy Koo, an analyst with Kantar Retail.
“They’re going to do what’s in the interest of the business,” she said. “It doesn’t hurt them as much as it helps them.”
This isn’t the first time Target has treaded into more controversial issues. Last fall, Target received both praise and criticism when it took down the gender-based signs in its toys and kids’ bedding aisles.
A couple of years ago, it found itself in the midst of a gun debate when protesters tried to force it and other retailers to ban customers from openly carrying guns in their stores. Target ended up pacifying protesters by asking customers to not bring guns into its stores.
And in 2010, Target found itself on the defensive when gay rights activists assailed it over campaign contributions to an Republican Minnesota gubernatorial candidate who opposed gay marriage. But the retailer has worked its way back into the good graces of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community since then.
In 2014, the company, which has long offered benefits to same-sex partners, came out publicly in support of gay marriage.