A year later, Wall Street Journal revisits 'Target's pricey social lesson' on transgender bathrooms

As I mentioned earlier this week, I'm in Dallas-Fort Worth enjoying some Texas Rangers baseball games with family and friends.

Of course, "enjoying" may not be the best verb since my team keeps blowing late-inning leads.

But I digress.

I'm staying at my parents' house, and somehow, the subject of Target stores came up in conversation. My mom mentioned that she hasn't shopped at Target since the retailer made a splash last year by touting its transgender-friendly toilets.

"I just don't think little girls should have to be afraid to go to the restroom and worry about who might be in there," she said.

In writing about the controversy last year, I admitted that I had no plans to boycott Target:

Maybe you've heard that a #BoycottTarget online petition has gained nearly 1 million signatures. I'm not one of them, mind you. I think boycotts are silly and have no intention to stop shopping at Target (although I'll take this opportunity to call on management to hire more cashiers). I'll also keep eating at Chick-fil-A (as often as possible!). And I'll maintain my PayPal account, even though I hardly ever use it.
However, from a journalistic perspective, I am interested in news coverage of the Target boycott.

At the time I called boycotts "silly," I didn't realize my mother would be participating. But seriously, the number of people I know — most of them conservative Christians — who have responded similarly to Target's LGBT activism has surprised me.

Perhaps there's a news story there?

Indeed.

This update piece is on the front page of today's Wall Street Journal:

The lede from the WSJ:

In April last year, Target Corp. published a blog post welcoming transgender employees and shoppers to use restrooms and fitting rooms corresponding with their gender identities. “Everyone deserves to feel like they belong,” read the post, which turned half of Target’s red bullseye logo into a gay-pride rainbow.
Other retailers have similar policies. But for Target, the posting of what was its long-held practice quickly became an expensive and distracting lesson about the perils of combining the web’s megaphone with touchy social issues.
Target Chief Executive Brian Cornell hadn’t approved the April 19 post, which responded to a move by North Carolina to legislate bathroom use, said people familiar with the episode and its aftermath at Target. He didn’t see an email notifying executives of the post, and was surprised to learn about it.
The next day, a conservative Christian nonprofit, American Family Association, called for a boycott of Target, saying the policy “is exactly how sexual predators get access to their victims.” Protesters picketed stores from Clovis, Calif., to Mount Dora, Fla.
At Target’s Minneapolis headquarters, executives scrambled to control the damage, according to the people familiar with the aftermath, perplexed that they were pilloried for a policy common to retailers. Sales started to decline and have now in every quarter since.

Here at GetReligion last year, I complained about news organizations failing to quote actual Target customers upset by the policy:

Today's WSJ story is insightful and compelling in a number of ways. For example, one of my fellow GetReligionistas quipped:

Not that this is a faith journalism issue at all, but perhaps the most significant aspect of the story, IMO, is how many Target shoppers are switching to Amazon.com. They're taking over!

Also, the piece points out that a number of retailers — including Wal-Mart, from which my mother brought home a carload full of groceries yesterday — have policies similar to Target's. However, they have refrained from publicizing those policies.

But I'm particularly pleased that the WSJ quotes former Target shoppers — voices who were missing from most media reports last year — and gives them an opportunity to explain their thinking:

“Target picked a side and pretty much said to the rest of us that we don’t matter,” said Mary McCandless, a shopper in Winston-Salem, N.C. “They should have just left it as, ‘don’t ask, don’t show, don’t tell.’ ”

And later in the story:

Target said in August it would spend $20 million to add private bathrooms to the stores that didn’t have them, an investment executives viewed as a compromise.
Those moves didn’t assuage shopper Tim Maxwell of Mansfield, Texas, who said he and his wife canceled their Target credit card. “It made me realize that even I can now go into the women’s bathroom with my daughter,” said Mr. Maxwell, 49, a project manager. “They opened the floodgates.”
The Maxwells have taken their business to Amazon. “The ironic part,” Mr. Maxwell said, “is that we are now realizing that we never really needed to go to Target to begin with.”

How does religion figure in the WSJ report? It does not, at least overtly.

Does that mean that I spotted holy ghosts? Not necessarily.

I mean, I could see where the paper might have explained the religious beliefs underlying why some customers reacted negatively to the policy. But in the case of this particular story, the absence of such details did not strike me as a major problem.

Overall, I found the front-page report thorough and revealing. Kudos to the WSJ.

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