Evangelist Franklin Graham is calling for a boycott of Target, blaming a recent incident in one of its stores on the retailer’s two-year-old policy allowing transgender shoppers and workers to use the restroom of their choice rather than the one corresponding to their birth sex.
Police in Chicago issued a warning after a man exposed himself in front of a child in a Target store March 25.
“Why is anyone shocked?” Graham said on Facebook April 4. “Target prides itself in its policy that allows biological men to use women’s restrooms.”
Graham, head of both the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the charitable organization Samaritan’s Purse, urged his followers to join a boycott of Target launched in 2006 by the American Family Association.
The AFA says 1.5 million names are on an online boycott petition, but skeptics say the number is a misrepresentation, because the petition does not limit the number of times an individual can sign.
The 1,800-store chain headquartered in Minneapolis announced a new policy during a national debate over a so-called “bathroom bill” in North Carolina in in April 2016.
“Inclusivity is a core belief at Target,” the company said in a statement. “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.”
“In our stores, we demonstrate our commitment to an inclusive experience in many ways,” Target said. “Most relevant for the conversations currently underway, we welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.”
The Tupelo, Miss.,-based AFA, a fundamentalist Christian public policy organization founded in 1977 with a long history of corporate boycotts, reacted swiftly.
“Everybody knows it’s wrong for men to use the same bathrooms and fitting rooms with little girls,” AFA President Tim Wildmon told Todd Starnes of Fox News in 2016. “Target has decided they don’t care about the vast majority. They only care about the tiny, tiny minority.”
Conservatives claim the boycott led to major financial troubles for the company, but doubters point to other factors including increased competition from online sellers like Amazon. Macy’s, J.C. Penney, Sears and Kmart all announced major store closures in 2017.
Target “looked to be on the brink of disaster just a year ago,” the financial news site InvestorPlace.com reported April 9, “but over the past few months, Target stock has been making significant upward progress.”
CNBC reported that Target has advanced 10 percent so far this year and has risen 34 percent over the past 12 months.
Toys R Us, the toy superstore that closed in March, said it simply “could not compete” with deep discounts offered by Amazon, Walmart and Target when the ailing chain was at its weakest point.
The Chicago Tribune reported March 31 that police said a woman was watching her child in a restroom at Target when a man entered insisting that he needed to use the restroom. He pushed his way into a stall where the child was and exposed himself before fleeing the scene.
Target said the man was drunk when he pushed the girl out of the stall, went to the bathroom and left.
“At Target, the safety and security of our guests is critically important to us,” Target spokesperson Danielle Schumann told Chicago NBC affiliate WMAQ. “Immediately after a guest notified us of this incident, we called law enforcement and provided them with video footage from our store entrance to help with their investigation.”
Wildmon said in 2006 that the American Family Association “does not believe the transgender community poses this danger to the wider public,” but the bathroom policy “provides a possible gateway for predators who are out there.”
“Nearly everyone has a mother, wife, daughter or friend who is put in jeopardy by this policy,” Wildmon said. “Predators and voyeurs would take advantage of the policy to prey on those who are vulnerable.”
The organization tracks incidents as examples of “what Target’s policy could lead to,” but a Google search reveals the chain does not have a monopoly on sex offenders.
A former Christian school teacher in Arkansas was arrested in March for allegedly filming a boy in a restroom stall at a J.C. Penney.
A North Carolina man was arrested Feb. 8 on charges of felony obscene exhibitions and misdemeanor sexual battery against a woman shopping at T.J. Maxx.
A Florida man was arrested last October for allegedly sexually assaulting a 2-year-old child in a bathroom at Chick-fil-A.
Graham termed the incident at the Chicago Target as “very sad” but “so preventable.”
“The American Family Association is calling for a boycott of Target stores — you can sign it at www.afa.net/target,” he wrote. “Call the Target headquarters at 612-304-6073 and let them know that you think they should change their decision and make their restrooms safe again. And you can voice your concerns on the Target Facebook page.”
Last fall, the 8,000-store pharmacy chain Walgreens announced a bathroom policy similar to Target’s after a customer went to the ACLU complaining that she was prohibited from using a women’s restroom at a store because she “dressed like a man.”
“All individuals have a right to use restroom facilities that correspond to the individual’s gender identity, regardless of the individual’s sex assigned at birth,” the company said in a directive.