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Human Rights Campaign-Target Negotiations Collapse Over Contribution to Local GLBT Organizations

By Lavender September 10, 2010

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OutFront Minnesota and Project 515 Reportedly Would Have Been Recipients

On August 16, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) announced that after two weeks of discussions and two tentative agreements with Target Corporation, the nation’s second-largest retailer would not take corrective actions to make amends for its $150,000 contribution to MN Forward, which backs antigay Republican Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer.

In recent weeks, Emmer’s campaign has run inflammatory ads attacking same-sex marriage and candidates in favor of it.

HRC also stressed Emmer’s association with the region’s most vehemently antigay radio host, Bradlee Dean, whose The Sons of Liberty radio program airs on AM 1280 The Patriot.

HRC President Joe Solmonese stated, “All fair-minded Americans will now rightly question Target’s commitment to equality. If their initial contribution was a slap in the face, their refusal to make it right is a punch in the gut, and that’s not something that we will soon forget. However, with full marriage equality hanging in the balance in Minnesota, regardless of Target, it’s important that we as a community send a message that we will work tirelessly to elect proequality candidates.”

Solmonese added that he believed Target and Best Buy, another Minnesota corporate donor to MN Forward, would continue to have model employment policies for GLBT workers, but they needed to demonstrate support for GLBT rights is still inherent in their corporate identity.

As Solmonese explained, “The nation’s LGBT community has shown these two companies enormous customer loyalty. Now, it’s time for that faithfulness to be returned.”

Unfortunately, as firm as Solmonese’s words were, HRC couldn’t crack Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel and his board.

But HRC has been hush-hush about details involving the two failed tentative agreements.

As HRC Deputy Press Secretary Paul Guequierre recounted, “We asked for comparable donations to groups in Minnesota that would support pro-marriage-equality candidates. We put a whole host of organizations in front of them, so that they could make up their own mind. On two occasions, it looked like they were going to pull the trigger, but they pulled back at the end. HRC is not releasing the names of the organizations that were discussed in the negotiations with Target.”

A source close to Solmonese revealed that the negotiations involved two local GLBT organizations, OutFront Minnesota and Project 515, in hopes of obtaining an amount comparable to what was given to MN Forward, and that HRC was involved in the discussions.

According to the source, “We don’t really want to say publicly what the organizations were that HRC wanted money for. We haven’t made the names of the organizations public, nor have we planned to out of deference to those organizations.”

OutFront Executive Director Monica Meyer stated, “HRC has been in negotiations with Target, but OutFront has not. After we sent an open letter to Mr. Steinhafel, we communicated with Target through reporters, as we each responded to the other’s comments and views. We would appreciate meeting with Target representatives at some point, but have not been offered one yet.”

Project 515 did not respond to Lavender’s inquiry about whether it was part of any talks.

When I asked Target spokesperson Jessica Carlson what the closed-door meetings entailed, she replied with an e-mail reiteration of Target’s response to HRC’s August 16 statement: “Given the current political and emotionally charged environment, we have concluded that it is best to wait before taking further external action regarding our MN Forward contribution.”

When I asked Carlson to provide the names of any Target board members who may have been involved in the negotiations, she e-mailed, “We cannot make a board member available for an interview.”

Target board members include the following:

• Roxanne S. Austin, former President and CEO of DirecTV

• Calvin Darden, Chair of Atlanta Beltline and former UPS executive

• Mary N. Dillon, McDonalds executive

• James A. Johnson, Director at Goldman Sachs and former Chair of Fannie Mae

• Richard M. Kovacevich, former Wells Fargo CEO

• Mary E. Minnick, Lion Capital partner

• Anne Mulcahy, Chair/CEO of Xerox and Director at Citigroup

• Derica W. Rice, CFO of Eli Lily & Co.

• Stephen Sanger, General Mills Chairman

• John Stumpf, Wells Fargo CEO and President

• Solomon D. Trujillo, CEO of Telstra Corp.

Clearly, HRC and less-moneyed GLBT organizations are up against awesome corporate power.

Target and Best Buy eluded HRC by gaining 100 percent ratings in its most recent Corporate Equality Index.

Guequierre observes that Target and Best Buy’s right-wing contributions are “cause for reflection on the criteria used for future editions of the Corporate Equality Index [CEI]. While considering all of this, it’s important to keep in mind that the CEI has made a tremendous impact on the real lives of LGBT people, in large part because it has been a predictable and transparent road map for companies to institute fair workplace policies. Instead of making capricious decisions about scoring criteria, we believe that a more careful consideration of the facts is a smarter way to go.”

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