ELLIOT: An off-Target policy meets reality

Mike Blake—Reuters
File photo.

“Target yields in restroom debate,” read a Wall Street Journal headline on Aug. 18. The retailer had announced in April that employees and guests could “use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.” The policy was a response to North Carolina’s House Bill 2. Now just four months later, it will spend $20 million to add single-occupancy restrooms to stores nationwide that don’t already have them.That’s $20 million Target would rather not spend. The company released earnings Wednesday, and for the first time in two years its same-store sales declined. Second quarter revenue fell 7.2 percent compared to the same period last year, missing Wall Street targets. The company warned investors that larger drops could be coming.Is there any relation to the bathroom policy?The American Family Association certainly thinks so. AFA called for a boycott of Target after the policy went into effect and says 1.4 million people have since signed the petition to stop shopping at the retailer. Abraham Hamilton, a public policy analyst with AFA, says the timing can’t be ignored.”Target is doing pretty bad, and our boycott definitely had an impact on them,” Hamilton said. Target disagrees, claiming the boycott had no material impact on sales. But Target’s closest competitor, Wal-Mart, is doing fine. Sales are up, and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. revised upward its profit outlook for the year.Target admitted the policy was unpopular. “It’s clear that some of our guests like and some dislike our inclusive bathroom policy,” said Cathy Smith, Target’s chief understatement officer.As it stands, Target can change the policy as it sees fit, and customers can respond accordingly. North Carolinians should remember that without H.B. 2, this would not be possible — at least not in Charlotte, anyway.While far from a perfect bill, the best thing H.B. 2 did was override the Charlotte city council’s diktat to every business, association, and charity in the city that they use its preferred bathroom and shower room policy. If Charlotte’s policy had gone into effect, Target would have been forced to adopt the council’s extreme interpretation of “inclusiveness.”For while Target’s policy opened its bathroom and changing rooms specifically to transgender persons who espouse a “gender identity” different than their sex, Charlotte’s ordinance eliminated any discrimination based on sex anywhere in an organization with public accommodations. Under its ordinance, a non-transgender pedophile would not have to pretend he was identifying as a female to shower with the girls — he could simply, and legally, walk on in.But since H.B. 2 allows organizations to set their own policies, customers — including families, transgender persons, sexual assault victims, and anyone else — may accept Target’s policy, go to Wal-Mart, or shop wherever they choose. Likewise, if customers think Wal-Mart should change its bathroom policy, they could have switched to Target in protest.The real losers in this scenario are the employees of Target, who became pawns in their executives’ political correctness game. You can bet that Target Corp. CEO Brian Cornell’s salary didn’t fall 7.2 percent along with revenue, but it’s likely that the rank-and-file workers will see fewer hours and raises as a result of the financial woes.To be sure, no one is forced to work at Target. But it’s all so unnecessary. Proof of that is Target’s preferred solution: single-occupancy bathrooms. That’s the same approach favored by the AFA and the same approach encouraged by politicians who backed H.B. 2.In Target’s case, it is still expecting transgender persons to use their preferred bathroom, with accommodations for anyone uncomfortable with that policy. That’s like the Empire State Building replacing all but one of its elevator shafts with stairwells out of deference to the few who are afraid of elevators. But at least it’s an acknowledgement that its customers have legitimate concerns. That’s true whether or not the boycott was financially significant.