Issue 424


EXCLUSIVE photos and interview that ONLY LAVENDER HAS!

Photos by Vincent Sandoval. Makeup by Nancy Silva.

Ross Mathews, Part 2
Congratulations on the weight loss!

Thank you.

40 lbs?
Isn’t that incredible? That’s like change-your-life kinda stuff, right?

I’ve read that you struggled with yo-yo dieting in the past. Why do you think what you’re doing now is any different?
I was always an all or nothing kind of dieter. It was either I didn’t diet and I was a big person and that’s just it. Or it was I’m not going to eat a carb for two years and I’m going lose weight, but the second I start eating again I’m going to be totally lost and I’m going to have a bag of Doritos and it’s going to be 50 lbs later and I’m back where I started.
It was always up and down like that because I was so clueless about how to eat. And then Sara Rue, who’s a friend of mine, transformed herself with Jenny Craig and I asked her to hook me up. What I found with Jenny is that, yes, they have pre-packaged food but I didn’t know that you cook with it. You have a consultant and they teach you stuff you never learned, like what your plate should look like. There’s a formula. You need a quarter protein, a quarter grains and half veggies. Like, who knew that? I didn’t.
They try to ween you off the food, so now I’m going to restaurants and really understanding how to order, really knowing how to cook. And it really has just changed the game for me. That’s why I think I can do this forever.

So it’s not all or nothing. If you make one mistake you haven’t destroyed your goal.
I’ll call my consultant and say, “Oh my god, I feel like I messed up,” and she’ll be like, “No you didn’t, you just made a choice. So tomorrow morning make the choice to walk an extra block or pay yourself back somehow.” There’s balance. I get that. If I make one bad choice it doesn’t mean that I made that choice so let’s just have a whole cake. It’s not all or nothing.

Do you still let yourself have a whole cake sometimes, if you need to pull the emergency break?
I would try not to, but if I really wanted some cake I could totally have some cake. And if I had a little too much cake, I would just try and step it up the next day. I don’t love the exercising, I don’t get it, the people that do, I’m like, you’re a little nuts. But I found that I love walking my neighborhood because I say, “hi” to the neighbors, so I will just walk a few extra blocks, just to get that balance back.

What are your favorite snack foods?
When you’re on Jenny they have a ton of snack food. My favorite are the cheese curls. They’re like Chee-tohs. And every night I have a triple chocolate cheesecake. It’s like a little sliver of cake, because, like I said, there’s no bad food. I always have a little bit of whatever I want. I just try not to have too much of it and, if I do, I pay myself back.
But I love snacking and I don’t want to live in a world where I can’t snack. The first Seahawks game of the season is on ESPN tonight and I know I’m gonna be snacking while I watch it, so I have to shuffle my eating around for the day. I’ll save a few of the calories for during the football game.

You’re crazy busy. How do you maintain that approach when you’re on the go? Do you plan ahead?
I plan in terms of, like, OK, I know I’m going to be gone and dinner’s going to be an hour later because I’m in traffic, so I’m going to grab an apple before I leave the house, rather than swing through Taco Bell. Just that little bit of planning really does help. Then I also know that, if push comes to shove, a taco is not going to kill me and I’ve learned how to order at those places. Like, leave off the sour cream or go light on the cheese. Things like that. The little things really add up.

From the Editor: Boycotts and Story Arcs

One of the lesser-known (but probably predictable) aspects of my job at Lavender is catching up on old issues, literally and figuratively. When approached with an idea for a story, I have to run triage. What have we already said about it? What is the scuttlebutt and what is the nitty-gritty? Who’s been covering it and what have they said? Where is the issue going? What good or harm might come of it? Have we given too much attention to it or not enough? Where should it go? When should it run? Who should write it? Is someone pulling my leg?

I have a well-thumbed stack of Lavenders at home for those times when I don’t have the whole 1995-2011 office library at my fingertips. Odd hours of the day and night, I page through them to educate myself. I’ve always read Lavender, just not with quite the attention that should be paid the publication as by its editor. This issue, we’ve got the 25th Anniversary of Duluth-Superior Pride written by Angela Nichols in response to a mayday call I sent out at the last minute. Articles about fall getaways to Stillwater, Lake Pepin, and Duluth (with a special piece about the Olcott House) each show new aspects of old towns. Café Levain…we may have covered it in recent years, but the news is that Adam Vickerman’s back. Wanda’s State Fairy Guide is new and darned darling. And, we’ve got great photos of the community, the latest and greatest from the arts scene, and thoughtful commentary and witty remarks from our gallery of writers.

Then, we’ve got Target. Corporate giving. The boycott.

I reached for my stack of 26 issues and shuffled through them for the era involving the Emmer donation. A handful of covers ask the question, “Boycott Target?” Beyond the covers, the answers are hashed out. What a good exercise, to read the coverage—it helps me to get to know the writers, the topics, and the readers much, much better. Thoughtful Letters to the Editor, biting requests for more transparency, the grey between the black and the white. Plenty of anger and betrayal with a healthy dose of reality that, no, corporations are not necessarily our friends. But, what else?

When John mentioned that he had a piece about Target in the hopper, I was pleased to find out that it was about the efficacy of boycotting Target. When referring to story arcs in communications and publications, I appreciate the fact that we’re coming to our resolution with the question we raised over and over last year—“Boycott Target?”

I’m well aware of the “slacktivism” that runs rampant on social networking sites. Saying I’m for or against something–while not actually doing anything about it in my daily life–can be seen as a slacker’s approach to activism. Effective? In some cases. Numbers count, when it’s a sentiment or a petition. But, what happens with boycotting? When the click of the mouse isn’t really the action required to constitute the actual movement or demonstration, is it effective? By joining the boycott, I am not boycotting. To boycott, I must abstain from making purchases. Right?

I’m not going to go around and survey folks about whether or not they boycotted Target, either by mouse clicks or by withheld credit card swipes. Some of us did, some of us didn’t. Would the backlash have been felt so fiercely had there been no button to click to Boycott Target? If people hadn’t withheld their business? What would have happened in a time without social networking? What do we need to know as we move forward toward Election 2012? What have we learned?

Was it a question that needed to be asked?

Those questions are an editorial outline for the year ahead of us. In this issue, to round out the discussion about the efficacy of boycotting Target, Kaitlyn also asked the question of local non-profit organizations: “How do you prefer to receive donations? Does it matter if it’s from the corporations, themselves, or their employee groups? What matters?” Next issue, we’ll ask more of the large corporations in Minnesota and find out what they have to say.

It’s good to ask, it’s good to know. The shades of grey are deep and varied.

Let me know what you want us to ask. I’ll put it through triage and see what we can do.

With thanks,

End Notes:
“Roadtripping,” as in “Roadtripping Lake Pepin,” might not really be a word. I’m trying to turn it colloquial to get away with using it as much as I do.

We were a wee late in getting our issue to print because we’ve got the FIRST photos of Ross Mathews taken of him after losing 40 pounds. Please go online to to read more of Bradley’s interview with Ross (in which he talks about his weight loss) and see more photos of his stylish self hot off the camera. They were worth the wait.

Little: The New Big?

Too many Big Things lately. Government debt, government shutdown, end of the world-the sky is falling predictions. 2012 Presidential horror scripts. My Newsweek cover filled with a wild-eyed Michelle Bachmann.

Time to consider Little Things.

Take my knee. I recently underwent what I consider a Golden Years rite of passage: the total knee replacement. Most of my contemporaries, it seems, have either had, is about to have, or knows someone close who has had a new part installed. Live long enough and your body resembles a classic British MGTD – it’ll run, but spends more quality time in the shop.

My own procedure went swimmingly–I was walking without assistance within a week, completing my rehab at a superb facility in nearby St. Louis Park (at the peak of July’s Death Valley Days).

What caught my attention during that period were the numbers of elderly (some older than I) patients who were also having therapy sessions. Everyone had his or her own path to follow, and I was moved by the dignity and tenacity with which each labored to take a step, to learn how to get about again in bath or kitchen settings, and how diligently spouses participated as well, practicing safety techniques to assist their partners upon their return home.

Significant too, the patience and empathy of the therapy staff, sharing the humor and determination of their clients as they strove to regain what they had lost for whatever reason, the victories of those who left to return home, the courage of those who soldiered on. I could not help but compare these small acts of courage to the strutting, bluff and bravado going in the “Big” scene during those same days as the country was brought to the brink of shutdown so that one side might proclaim itself the sole winner.

When I finally pulled out my Newsweek and took a closer look at Ms. Bachmann, I realized I was just witnessing another cheap shot in the choice of that photo. “Because we could” seems to be the prevailing motto these days, politically, socially, financially.

The world needs a time-out from Big. We need less bluff and bravado and a greater recognition and appreciation of the little steps filled with great courage it takes to heal.

Interview with Ross Mathews

Ross Mathews, the bubbly former intern from The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and current regular panelist on Chelsea Lately, arrives in Minneapolis September 10th to receive a Visibility Award at the Human Rights Campaign’s 2011 Annual Twin Cities Gala Dinner. I chatted with Ross recently about his upcoming trip to Minneapolis and his ground-breaking television career.


You’re coming to Minneapolis!

I can’t wait. I was there for Pride last summer and I just fell in love with the place. I’m thrilled because I’ve traveled all over the country for years with HRC hosting dinners for them. I love what they do and I’m friends with Joe Solmonese and his partner. I’ve been on Leno now for ten years and on Chelsea for I don’t know how many years and this is an award they give people who are in the national public eye; celebrating LGBT issues and being a positive role model. I’ve seen so many other people get this award and I can’t believe they’re giving it to me! I’m so thrilled.

Why do you think visibility is so important for our community?

Oh my gosh, it’s like crazy, super, big time important! I grew up in a teeny farm town in Mount Vernon, Washington, and I was a little gay kid and I didn’t know what it meant to grow up to be a big gay grown-up. I didn’t know any gay people and back then I didn’t see any gay people on TV. I didn’t learn until I went to college that I could be a totally happy grown up, loud, proud, out gay person. It’s a different world now, in part, not to toot my tooter, partly because people like me are on TV, out, loud and proud for a decade now.

Has the way people react to you on TV changed over the last ten years?

I think it absolutely has changed. When I first started on Leno it was like a big W-T-F kinda thing, but now on Chelsea it’s so celebrated. It’s not only accepted, it’s celebrated. And that’s changed. It’s different.

Have you been able to share more of your genuine self as opposed to the character of Ross the Intern?

I don’t think I was ever really a character as Ross the Intern. That was a kid who was still in college getting a shot to be on national television and interview the biggest stars in the world. That kind of excitement level was authentic, it wasn’t anything that I was putting on. And still, when I do that today, I don’t put anything on. It really is my genuine self. I have been able to evolve over the past decade and I think I’ve really broken some ground too doing it. What I love doing on Chelsea’s show is, you know, Chelsea doesn’t edit anything. She doesn’t want to know what I have to say until we’re on stage. There are no rehearsals. It’s just sort of like, Ross, bring your “A” game and bring your point of view and let’s go. I love that. It’s such a challenge.

What allows you to bring your “A” game?

I have an incredible support system in my life. I have the best friends and all my friends are people who, the majority I made in middle school and high school and I’m still totally B-F-Fs with. I have a partner. We’ve been together almost three years and have a really solid home life with two dogs. I garden. I think it’s so important to have that stable family life and that comes from growing up with real people in a real town and not being like a Hollywood kid. To me, it’s so important to have a stable home. If you don’t have that, I don’t think you can go and and fly as high you want to.

Do you have a message other than your own experiences that you’re going to share with Minneapolis?

I’m writing a book right now, sort of about my experiences, thus far, in life. Growing up in a small town and then navigating Hollywood. The theme that’s been running through that is something I talk about on Chelsea a lot; what I’ve coined as “man-up.” I think I always try to man-up. What I mean by that is, understanding you are what you are and you’re going to have your flaws, but rather than heaping a lot of negativity on whatever makes you different or whatever makes you unique, really shine the light on that and use it to make you stand out, I think that’s just something innately that I’ve done my entire life, totally on accident. I probably owe it to my mother, because she was effusive with her compliments, even when they were undeserved. I would love to spread that message. Like, come on, life is short you gotta love yourself. Get over it and let’s keep movin’ on to make a difference in the world.

Duluth-Superior Pride 25th Anniversary

When the Main Club opened in 1983 in Superior, Wisconsin, owner Bob Jansen would host a picnic during June Pride weekend celebrating “Happy Homosapien Days,” as people were abated to say the word “gay,” recalls Jansen. A few years later, a Pride Picnic was hosted on the Lester River in Duluth by three men. “It was a nice sunny day with a potluck and a few beers,” Jansen explained.

Next in memory is Jansen’s interaction with a member of the “Minnesota Pride Committee.” Jansen told one of its members that Duluth-Superior was going to have a Pride Festival. He was told, “You can’t have Pride; we are having it in the Cities.” Jansen said his reply was, “Watch us!”

This Labor Day Weekend marks the 25th Anniversary of Duluth-Superior Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Queer Allied and Intersex Pride Weekend; the weekend starts on Thursday. Over the years so much has changed. It has grown from a picnic on the Lester River to a full-blown regional festival at Bayfront Festival Park, the largest outdoor stage venue in the Twin Ports.

The four-day event includes a 5K run, the Duluth Mayor’s Pride reception, command of the Vista King and Queen, the historic Depot’s catered train ride up the North Shore, drag show fundraisers, a block party, worship service, art exhibit and poetry reading, a film festival, bonfire, jazz night, and the D-S Pride Parade in Superior, Wisconsin. Events bridge the Twin Ports, sharing the party across state lines along infamous Lake Superior, the largest freshwater body in the world.

In the distant past, we cannot forget the 1969 Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village in New York City after one too many police raids at a gay bar, The Stonewall Inn. Patrons took the streets rioting, rolling police cars, and starting fires. A year later, the Riots were commemorated and as Pride was born, the festivities began to sprout around the globe. “It is rumored that [Duluth and Superior] police request to work the Pride Festival,” explains Jesse (Dykhuis) Campbell, one of this year’s Pride Committee Co-Chairs. “I feel a tremendous amount of love from our public figures…Pride reminds folks about our history and builds a sense of community spirit that is felt months after the Pride season is over,” she explains.

Dianna Hunter, another long-time member of the queer community of the Twin Ports remembers the first few Pride events in Loring Park in Minneapolis in the early 1970’s. “The rallies were smaller than Duluth’s present festival, and the parade was similar in size to the ones in the Twin Ports now,” she said. Hunter, who was honored a few years ago with the “Dinosaur Award” for lifetime service, has enjoyed watching the events grow here over the years. “This forum [Pride] lets us celebrate our accomplishments. Like the people in every other social justice movement, we really need community and celebration as well as outrage and hard work,” she explains. “We’ve come a long way, but we’re still in a civil rights struggle,” observes Hunter. Without such celebrations, she explained, it’s easy to burn out.

The social impact on the local community seems almost tangible for Josh Miller, a now 6-year resident of Duluth. “I consider Duluth a very gay-friendly city,” explains Miller. “By incorporating elements like the Mayor’s endorsement through a Pride event, I believe that acceptance has grown over the years. A shrinking minority of bigotry is simply fading away,” he said. Miller has friends from Canada who make an “annual pilgrimage” from Winnipeg to attend Duluth-Superior Pride.

The Duluth-Superior Pride Committee is usually comprised of about 20 people who organize, fundraise, and publicize the events. Campbell reports that the Committee adds and tweaks things based on feedback from attendees.

Miller’s enthusiastic remarks are exactly what seem to draw people to this particular Pride festival. According to him, “DS Pride is the most unique pride event in the entire country. Duluth and Superior have so much to offer as destinations for beauty, entertainment, and fun. When you marry that with the events of Pride weekend, it makes a perfect recipe for a truly unique experience.” Miller continues, unable to hold back, “other cities enjoy park events with vendors….how many Pride events include cruises, train parties, dinners, and an outdoor concert overlooking the largest inland port,” he asks?

In fact, Out Magazine named it “The Hottest Small Town Pride” in 2005. As the popularity has grown, times keep changing. Allies, faith-based organizations, and rainbow families are ever-present.

We are in a time of increasing change and uncertainty about a lot of things in the world. One thing remains true, however. That is, the baby boomers who started the movement are aging. I think it’s high time we thanked our courageous GLBTQI and Two-Spirit elders and honored them. If you are one of our elders in Duluth and wish to join the GLBTQ Elder Network, or you are someone who would like to help our elders, please contact me at or call 218-726-7300.

Happy 25th Anniversary and Congratulations beloved Northlanders!

Angie Nichols is the founding Director of GLBT Services at the University of Minnesota Duluth since 2000 served two years as Duluth-Superior Pride Co-Chair, has received the Pride Award and is a former columnist for Lavender Magazine.

Roadtripping Lake Pepin

One of the most beautiful stretches of Minnesota is found between Red Wing and Winona, along the Mississippi River. To be truthful, we owe a lot of credit to Wisconsin, as Lake Pepin is hard to enjoy wholly from only one of the two states. While I call this piece Roadtripping Lake Pepin, it’s somewhat of a misnomer. Feel free to end your trip when Lake Pepin does by crossing over to Wisconsin on Highway 25 at Wabasha, but I’d recommend seeing it through all the way down to Winona. This is a trip I’ve made each fall for many years and the adventure doesn’t feel complete without seeing a fair stretch of Bluff Country. Read the rest of this entry »

Big Gay News

Dolly Parton Apologizes for Gay Marriage Shirt Spat

The Atlantic Wire reports that Dolly Parton has responded to a controversy involving a lesbian who was asked to turn her gay marriage t-shirt inside out in July at Dollywood. Parton said in a statement to ABC, “I am truly sorry for the hurt or embarrassment regarding the gay and lesbian t-shirt incident at Dollywood’s Splash Country recently. Everyone knows of my personal support of the gay and lesbian community. Dollywood is a family park and all families are welcome.”

Chile President Offers to Legalize Gay Unions

AFP reports that conservative Chilean President Sebastián Piñera proposed legislation in August that would legalize same-sex civil unions. Piñera said in a statement, “I deeply believe that marriage is by nature between a man and a woman, but that conviction does not prevent me from recognizing that other forms of affective relationships exist.” The proposal would grant gay couples some of the same rights as married couples.

Dallas Museum Finds The World’s Last Gay Holocaust Survivor

D Magazine reports that Rudolf Brazda, who passed away in August, was not, as had been reported, the last gay survivor of the Nazi Holocaust. The Dallas Voice reports that, in fact, 88 year old Gad Beck of Berlin, himself a gay holocaust survivor, is alive and well.

Woman Pleads Guilty in Transgender McDonald’s Beating

The Associated Press reports that 19-year-old Teonna Brown pleaded guilty in August to one count of first degree assault and one count of a hate crime. Brown was captured on videotape brutally beating 22-year-old transgender woman Chrissy Polis at a Baltimore area McDonald’s. Brown will be sentenced in September. Prosecutors are seeking a five year prison term.

Court Hears Challenge to Gay Juror Dismissals

The Associated Press reports that the U.S. 9th Circuit of Appeals heard arguments in August in a case that could decide whether lawyers can dismiss potential jurors because they are gay. The suit arose after a LA prosecutor’s decision last year to strike a lesbian from a case against a gay federal inmate. The LA Times reports that a favorable ruling could extend discrimination protections to sexual orientation along with race creed and gender.

Romney Signs New Pledge Banning Gay Marriage

The Boston Globe reports that Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has signed a new pledge, sponsored by the National Organization for Marriage, committing candidates to support a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Candidates Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum also signed the pledge. Former Minnesota Governor and fellow candidate Tim Pawlenty did not sign the pledge, but re-affirmed his opposition to same-sex marriage.

New HIV Cases Stay Steady in US Over Decade

The Boston Globe reports that the rate of new HIV infections has stayed the same over the last decade. The findings were released by federal officials in August. About 50,000 people a year are infected with HIV in the United States. Critics call the numbers a failure of federal HIV/AIDS policy. Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief of AIDS research at the National Institutes of Health called the number an “unacceptably high level” and warned “we’re likely to face an era of rising infection rate.”

Suquamish Tribe Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

The Seattle Times reports that the Suquamish Indian tribe in the state of Washington has passed an ordinance legalizing same sex marriage on its tribal land. The tribal council unanimously approved the ordinance. The change allows two unmarried people, regardless of gender, to marry as long as they are at least 18 and one is a member of the Suquamish Tribe. According to the Times, the Coquille Tribe in Coos Bay Oregon is the only other tribe to have legalized same-sex marriage.

Swear Jar: Michele Bachmann

Can we please stop calling Michele Bachmann an evil bitch? Deep breath. Stay with me.

I am not a fan of Michele Bachmann. I want her to fail. Miserably. Like, if one day I was exiting off I-35W and she was standing on the corner of 35th Street with a cardboard sign that said “Will Hate for Food,” I’d smile. Sure, I’d probably roll down the window and give her a dollar, but after she took it I’d tell her it was a gay dollar. A gay dollar that was shoved into my gay g-string while I was gay stripping at the gay bar. Then I’d blast “It’s Raining Men” on the stereo and drive off, still smiling. That’s how much I hope Michele Bachmann fails. Oh and, don’t worry. She didn’t have to end up homeless. She qualified for unemployment benefits, but turned them down, because, of course, they’re just a socialist ploy by gangster government to turn everyone gay.

Where was I? Oh, yes, the evil bitch. The words, not Michele Bachmann. Remember, I’m trying to get people to stop calling Michele Bachmann an evil bitch. Frankly, every time I hear someone call Michele Bachmann that, I cringe. For the record, there is also a small part of me way back in my primitive lizard brain that laughs maniacally when I hear that. Coincidentally, I think they call that the Michele Bachmann brain region. Primitive lizard brain.

Okay, back to the evil bitch. First, let’s take a look at the word evil. Evil is a dumb word. It’s a fairytale word used by children and people like Michele Bachmann, herself, who live in a simple world of moral dualism, where everything is either good or bad. It’s us versus them. It may make for great movies, but it makes for horrible social policy. Think Crusades, Holocaust, etc.

As for bitch, it’s a relative no-brainer. Calling a woman a bitch is too easy. And sexist. And doesn’t really say much for you or the bitch.

When it comes right down to it, calling Michele Bachmann an evil bitch pretty much puts you on par with Michele Bachmann. If Michele Bachmann were running against Michele Bachmann, she’d probably call her an evil bitch.

More importantly, when we call Michele Bachmann an evil bitch, we miss an opportunity to go after her actual record. And what a record it is. Just Google “dumb things Michele Bachmann says.”

The next time you feel the urge to scream out, “Michele Bachmann’s an evil bitch,” relent. Actually, donate $5 to the HRC or OutFront Minnesota instead. That is, unless you see a crazy-eyed homeless lady with a bad blowout at the I-35W 35th Street exit.

Next issue: Can we please stop calling Marcus Bachmann gay?

Top Michele Quotes about ‘The Gay’

“[Same-sex marriage] is probably the biggest issue that will impact our state and our nation in the last, at least, thirty years. I am not understating that.”

“This is an earthquake issue. This will change our state forever. Because the immediate consequence, if gay marriage goes through, is that K-12 little children will be forced to learn that homosexuality is normal, natural and perhaps they should try it.”

“This is a very serious matter, because it is our children who are the prize for this community, they are specifically targeting our children.”

“This is not about hating homosexuals. I don’t. I love homosexuals.”

“It leads to the personal enslavement of individuals. Because if you’re involved in the gay and lesbian lifestyle, it’s bondage. Personal bondage, personal despair, and personal enslavement. And that’s why this is so dangerous.”

“In 5,000 years of recorded human history…neither in the east or in the west…has any society ever defined marriage as anything other than between men and women. Not one in 5,000 years of recorded human history. That’s an astounding fact and it isn’t until the last 12 years or so that we have seen for the first time in recorded human history marriage defined as anything other than between men and between women.”

Quotes taken directly from on Wednesday, August 17, 2011.

Target Boycott Appears To Be Working

When Target Corporation donated $150,000 to the right wing, antigay, MN Forward last year, they were blindsided by the firestorm from outraged shoppers who were more socially conscious than the Target Board seemed to have been aware. Randi Reitan, whose son Jacob is openly gay, tore up her Target credit card on camera, renounced her loyalty to Target, and unexpectedly became a YouTube sensation.

Better yet, her symbolic action spurred a national boycott of Target stores. MN Forward was an ardent backer of right wing gubernatorial candidate, Tom Emmer, who has been compared in both style and content, to the male version of US Representative Michele Bachmann, a politician with whom he shares similar views. He has also been a booster for hyperbolic heavy metal Christian shock jock, Bradlee Dean.

After created a critical video of Target’s donation and crafted a petition to address that, the independent Minnesota news service, The UpTake, filmed and posted the petition’s delivery to Target headquarters. Reitan says, “I thank The UpTake. They got the video out there to such a large audience immediately. I heard from so many who had watched ‘My Last Shopping Trip to Target’ and decided they were joining me in boycotting the store. It went viral very fast.”

That boycott, as reflected on Facebook, now has over 358,000 participants, debunking conventional wisdom that boycotts are ineffective. Part of its success has to do with fears expressed across the political spectrum about the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court in January of last year which radically expanded the ability of corporations and unions to make political donations. Target’s $150,000 seems miniscule in a political system drenched in money and the political favors that money buys, but it was seen as an arrogant act where a corporation could use their clout to unfair advantage in order to thwart the will of the people. It was also the first high profile post-Citizens United example of pointedly partisan corporate giving to a hurtful organization.

Though boycott success and failure rates are difficult to decipher, Matt McNeil, who hosts a popular Minnesota issues program on AM950, has been conducting his own personal Target boycott experiment. McNeil has been tracking how his own household has diverted thousands of dollars from Target. On June 8 he broadcast that his family expenses that would have definitively been Target purchases, so far this year, were at $12,664. McNeil shares, “Since then I’m up to about $14,000. Here I am, one guy, married with kids, from Minneapolis-St. Paul. It’ll soon be $15,000 they’ve lost from me. That’s one tenth of the donation given to MN Forward. And Target’s numbers are down. They’re not hitting industry standards for retail. They’re still making profits but they’re lower than the rest. My family’s $15,000 has to have an impact.”

The boycott has also succeeded from another angle. Last year, Minnesota Representative Ryan Winkler (DFL-Dist. 44B), who thankfully sponsored the state’s campaign disclosure law, was shown a fundraising sheet from MN Forward that revealed that group planned to raise $10 million from corporate donors for upcoming elections. Winkler said he received the sheet “from one of the employees of one of the companies on the list. They targeted Target for a one million dollar donation as well as other corporations.”

As Reitan interprets this, the original $150,000 “was just the first check Target had planned to write. The boycott stopped other checks, so it was successful on that front. The boycott also put other corporations on notice that people are watching who they support in elections. That was an important lesson taught by the boycott and another way to call the boycott successful.”

When I asked Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel’s office about the list Winkler received, his spokesperson, Jessica Carlson replied, “We have no additional information to share.”

A few weeks before, I had inquired with Steinhafel’s office about how he thought the boycott was affecting business. As a bit of background for the reader, I had also queried Steinhafel’s office in late February with the following questions: 1. When exactly did Target stop donating to antigay candidates for the 2010 fall election? 2. Have there been specific internal meetings with Target’s GLBT employees? 3. What was Target’s reasoning for donating to US Representatives John Klein and Erik Paulsen’s campaign? 4. I understand that there are new guidelines re: vetting of contributions, so who does this vetting, how are they chosen, and what are their vetting criteria? 5. How will this new policy committee be selected?” (Klein and Paulsen’s social issues stances are comparable to US Representative Michele Bachmann’s.)

Carlson replied last month saying, “We have nothing additional to share with you beyond the information we provided earlier this year.” That earlier information, which Carlson sent to me Feb. 24 stated, “Thanks for reaching out. During and immediately following the 2010 election cycle, Target undertook a review of its political giving policies and practices. As part of this process Target has established a Policy Committee consisting of our most senior executives to guide decision-making related to financial support of political activities.” She named no names and gave no detailed answers.

In February and July I also made the following inquiries to Daniel Duty, the ranking co-sponsor of Target’s GLBT business council. I asked about his thoughts on the boycott, if he had any face to face discussions with Steinhafel about the donation fracas and/or GLBT issues, and about a so-called Creating Change workshop that Target, Best Buy, and General Mills representatives had with certain GLBT groups this past winter.

Duty never responded, but in July, Carlson did, with “I understand you’ve reached out to others within Target, including Daniel Duty. Please consider my response on behalf of the entire company. We have nothing additional to share beyond the information we provided earlier this year.”

While some GLBT organizations continue to receive support from corporations with antigay leanings, more GLBT individuals and allies are not necessarily supporting those corporations with their dollars. As Reitan says of the new Target landscape, “It made me a new kind of consumer. I have heard from many who feel the same way. I feel we now must look carefully at where we spend our money because the dollars we spend could end up helping a political candidate who we would not want to see win.”

Corporations Are People

Target Corporation has been bearing the brunt of scrutiny for their $150,000 donation to MN Forward, a political action committee supporting Republican Tom Emmer, who openly opposes same-sex marriage, while some Twin Cities non-profit organizations face criticism for their corporate contributors.

Looking into the issue further, many organizations recognized that corporations and their employee groups are important components to realizing their overall mission, even when there are conflicting political contributions.

Amy Brugh, Minnesota AIDS Project’s director of external relations, said the organization is able to look past political donations when considering donors.

“If a corporation makes a donation for an electoral purpose, we would set that aside,” Brugh said. Kathleen H. Corley, MAP’s interim executive director, agreed and said it is beneficial to recognize the contributor’s aim.

“We’re not going to impugn the gift because of the behavior of the corporation, ” Corley noted. “It is a gift made by a group with supportive intent.”

Contributions can come from Employee Resource Groups, composed of people in the workforce, or corporate giving departments, but many of the organizations agreed it doesn’t matter where the money comes from.

“From our perspective, it doesn’t make much difference which corporate arm is actually making a gift,” said Michael Cole-Schwartz, communications director of the Twin Cities Human Rights Campaign, via email. “It’s simply a company’s contribution at the end of the day.”

Employee groups can often raise awareness of an issue that is important to a corporation’s employees and “companies want to support their employees,” according to Dot Belstler, executive director of Twin Cities Pride. TC Pride has been criticized for donations they have accepted from Target, but Belstler pointed out the situation is more complicated than it may seem.

“It would be nice if it were black and white,” Belstler explained. “We try to weigh a lot of different things when we look at sponsorships. We have to go back to our mission.”

Whether it is working with the employee group or the corporation itself, the “bottom line is…who cares about your cause,” said Belstler. Belstler explained that the members of Target’s GLBT employee group, the GLBT Employee Business Council, are active in the Twin Cities community as the volunteers “on the ground.” She said the group helped Target re-examine how they make donations.

“We had two different times where Target executives came to Pride board meetings to talk about how they work, what happens there and how things are changing,” Belstler stated. “They are being more responsive to their employees.” Corporations and employee groups add valuable perspectives, as well as financial support, according to Ann Kaner-Roth, executive director of Project 515.

“One thing that Project 515 has been really intentional about is bringing as many different voices to the table as possible,” Kaner-Roth said. “It’s about bringing people into the discussion.” When asked whether or not contributor’s past donations matter in the vetting process Kaner-Roth responded, “I think that if a corporation is willing to support a mission, we want to have both that support and that voice at the table to move that mission forward. I don’t think we will succeed as a movement if we are not welcoming of all voices.”

According to Project 515’s website, the organization receives funding from the Target Foundation, which distributes grants from the corporation to the community, as well as many other diverse sources that Kaner-Roth described as “vital” to their cause. Kaner-Roth added, “All of our contributors believe in the mission of [Project] 515 and at the end of the day that really is the most important thing for us.”

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