Should Gays and Lesbians Boycott Target?

07/30/2010 11:21 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A video featuring an amazingly well intentioned straight ally from Minnesota has been widely shared this week on social media sites.

She respectfully purchased over $200 worth of merchandise from her local target store, then returned it to customer service while she explained to the store manager why she plans to boycott Target.

At issue, $150,000.00 campaign contribution to a group campaigning for anti-gay Republican Minnesota Governor candidate Tom Emmer. Watch:

Isn't she just amazing? I grew up in Iowa, and she reminds me of the most caring and loving Midwest mom's I know. I want to give her a hug and say, "thank you!" If only our community had more straight allies willing to put themselves out there like this. If only we all had parents this dedicated to equality. We would be equal.

However, despite my personal feelings about this act of courage, I have to question the effectiveness of this strategy at this particular moment in history?

First, I acknowledge boycotts are a legitimate form of civil disobedience that do work in some cases. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was strategically brilliant, for example. It was so well organized that civil rights activists were able to cripple the Montgomery public transportation system. Will a gay and lesbian boycott on Target have a similar effect? Not likely.

According to Reuters:

Target's profit rose to $671 million, or 90 cents per share in the first quarter ended May 1 from $522 million, or 69 cents a share, a year earlier.

While a YouTube video with an awesome mom circulating the internet will temporarily impact consumer sentiment for a specific market group, I highly doubt our community will put a dent in Target's massive profit margin.

The progressive community loves to throw the word "boycott" around. While the BP oil gusher was still gushing, I heard several calls to boycott BP. Yet, BP stations I see today are always full of cars sucking down oil.

Effective boycotts take massive organization, huge coalitions, and steadfast dedication to the cause. How many of you have actually performed a similar act at a Target near you? How many of you live in communities where you have choices. In small town America there are not always options. Are any of you really dedicated to boycotting Target or other corporations who let us down?

Rather than boycott companies, I prefer to spend consciously by taking an affirmative approach to consumer politics. I like to reward and focus on good behavior, rather than focus my energy punishing bad behavior. For example, I am on the Board of Directors for the Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA). It is the country's largest LGBT chamber of commerce. By becoming a member of GSBA, our members sign onto a code of ethics that demonstrates their commitment to the LGBT community. I support GSBA member businesses whenever possible and use the annual GSBA Guide to find those businesses. For example, the gym I used to lose 47 lbs this year, Mode of Fitness, is a GSBA member. I remain a loyal customer, because I know they are loyal to my community.

I also am deeply passionate about the environment and organic food. I shop for groceries at Madison Market Co-op. Madison Market promotes and supports locally produced organic non-gmo products. They are also very gay friendly. Not only do I purchase my food there, but I buy household items I would normally get at Target, like dish cleaner, paper towels, etc. Madison Market's strong ethical standards allow me to shop consciously, without taking the negative position of a formal boycott.

My dollar goes a long way towards keeping these businesses open and flourishing. Whenever I get the opportunity, I thank progressive companies for being responsible and welcoming to the gay community. (Consider this blog post with free advertising, my formal thank you Mode of Fitness and Madison Market.) This has a particularly meaningful impact on small business.

Was this mom and grandmother justified for being upset at Target? Absolutely! I find Emmer's politics reprehensible. I find it even more disturbing that major corporations are going to have a heavy hand in our nation's political process. Thank you very much, Citizen's United. This particular boycott call has even attracted the attention of Target's CEO.

Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel sent a letter to employees earlier this week saying the company is focused on issues impacting the retailers bottom line.

He wrote that the company's support of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender workers is "unwavering."

It is certainly welcome news that Target will continue it's strong record of support for their LGBT employees. They have a far better record than some of their competitors.

But is that enough for you? Do you think the LGBT community should boycott Target? Should the Democratic party lead the charge? Are you prepared to boycott every company that makes a campaign contribution to a candidate or issue you don't like? I once joked with a group of anti-gay protesters that they should boycott all computers and stop traveling, because every major airline and every computer company in the country is gay friendly. They said, "I don't think I want to go that far." So how about you, are you willing to go that far, or do you think that taking the affirmative spending approach is more effective? I am eager to hear your response. Let me know in the comments below.

Note: The opinions expressed in this post are entirely mine and are not representative of an endorsed opinion by GSBA.