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LGBTs in flux with Target; Gaga nixes deal
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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With her latest CD, Born This Way, Lady Gaga was poised to sell a deluxe edition of the album containing three additional studio tracks and five remixes exclusively at Target stores this spring. Now just a month later, Lady Gaga has nixed the deal, according to her spokesperson.

The deal was contingent on Target reforming their corporate donation policy following last summer's donation to Minnesota Forward, a pro-business group who had ties to anti-gay Minnesota GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. When news of this donation broke, many LGBT people and their allies boycotted the retail chain in protest. On the heels of the boycott and public outcry, Target President/CEO/Board Chair Gregg Steinhafel apologized to his employees in August of last year and vowed to form a review group to examine all political donations in the future.

"Target made several changes to our corporate political contributions policy as a result of a thorough review conducted by the Corporate Responsibility Committee of our Board of Directors during and immediately following the 2010 U.S. election cycle," Amy Cantu, manager of public relations at Target, e-mailed Windy City Times.

Cantu (who previously worked as press advance for Sen. John McCain in 2008 and as press liaison at the Republican National Convention) also stated, "One of the results of the review included the establishment of a Policy Committee that consists of our most senior executives. The committee's primary goal is to guide the decision-making process regarding financial support of political activities by considering a variety of perspectives and factors. Before any contribution is made, they will determine that it supports Target's business interests; give consideration to the interests of our guests, team members, shareholders and other stakeholders; and conclude that under the circumstances, it is an appropriate means of advancing our public policy position."

Cantu also cited Target's involvement with the LGBT community through its sponsorships and corporate giving to LGBT organizations as well as its history as one of the first retailers to offer domestic partner benefits, along with forming an internal LGBT Diversity Business Council (which has 900 members) that integrates diversity into Target's business strategies. The company has also pledged to invest $500,000 in LGBT organizations and causes in 2011, according to Cantu.

If that is the case, then why would Lady Gaga change course and sever ties with Target after she met with their executives in what she called "one of the most intense conversations I've ever had in a business meeting?" The deal, according to Lady Gaga, was contingent on Target supporting the LGBT community in a more substantial way as well as making amends for its past association with anti-gay groups and candidates. Target representatives have said that they are "surprised and disappointed" at Lady Gaga's change of heart, claiming that they have made the changes she demanded including policies to support the LGBT community.

However, is the Target leadership really committed to these changes?

One only has to do an Internet search into the political donations of Target's leaders. In 2008 alone Steinhafel donated more than $20,000 exclusively to GOP candidates—most of whom are anti-gay—in Minnesota and other states, including Rep. Michelle Bachmann, Sen. Norm Coleman, Rep, Eric Cantor, Sen. John McCain and others. The donations came through Target's political action committee (PAC)—led by Matt Zabel, who was the chief of staff to Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., before coming on board at Target as their government affairs director last July. (Among other things, Thune has questioned the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and has voted for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.) Under Zabel, Target's PAC donated $31,200 out of its total amount of $41,200 to anti-gay candidates in the 2010 election cycle.

Target has had other controversies crop up in the last decade. These include ending grants to Planned Parenthood Minnesota and Planned Parenthood South Dakota through its foundation in 2001, when the company went from the Dayton family to new owners, despite giving these organizations money since the late 1970s and a recent "conscience clause" for pharmacists who refuse to fill contraception prescriptions over religious beliefs. Recently, Target has come under fire for trying to prohibit a grassroots, pro-marriage-equality group called Canvass for the Cause from obtaining signatures outside its stores in California, and has taken them to court. That trial is set to begin on March 25; in the meantime, San Diego Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Barton has refused to temporarily remove the group, saying Canvass has a right to collect signatures due to free-speech issues.

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