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How will Target’s anti-gay politics play in Canada?

US retailer that repeatedly funded homophobes wants your business

In the US, retail giant Target is the subject of a massive boycott over the company’s political donations, which more than once have gone to anti-gay politicians.

Now Target has bought the leases of 220 Zellers sites across Canada, the company announced Jan 13.

The Minneapolis-based chain, the United States’ second-largest discount retailer — behind Walmart, expects to open 100 to 150 stores throughout Canada in 2013 and 2014. The deal was reportedly worth $1.8 billion CAD. So will Canadians be okay with having businesses in their communities associated with anti-gay political agendas?

Twenty-eight-year-old Minnesotan Jacob Reitan has been fighting Target for months. His mother helped launch the boycott against Target when she cut up her Target credit cards and posted a video of it on YouTube. The video attracted half a million viewers.

“I have not shopped there and will not shop there until they have a new CEO,” says Jacob Reitan.

Last summer, Target came under fire after it donated $150,000 to Minnesota Forward. The money was used to buy radio and television ads for Tom Emmer, the Republican candidate for the state’s governorship. In the ads he says, “I believe marriage is the union between one man and one woman.” In a televised debate last October, he said he was opposed to anti-gay-bullying legislation.

Emmer, a Minnesota House of Representatives member, has many anti-gay associates. In 2008, he contributed $250 to Christian punk-rock ministry You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International. In early 2010, Bradlee Dean, president of that group, stated on his radio show, Sons of Liberty, that Muslim countries that execute gays “seem to be more moral than even the American Christians… They know homosexuality is an abomination.”

Emmer isn’t the first anti-gay American politician Target has supported. Target money has also financed Rep John Kline, who joined Pat Robertson in attempting to block gay marriage, and Rep Erik Paulsen, who voted against repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Progressive Voice of Minnesota, an independent radio station in Target’s home state, is among the chief proponents of the boycott.

“A lot of people refuse to go back,” says Janet Robert, owner of Progressive Voice, adding that the Target boycott movement remains strong.

The Target boycott struck a chord for another reason, says Reitan. Target was able to make large campaign donations last year because of a January 2010 US Supreme Court decision that struck down caps on corporate campaign contributions.

“Target was the first company to take advantage of the right that allows corporations to spend unlimitedly in political campaigns. Hopefully that video was an example for other corporations, in saying that, just because you can spend unlimitedly it doesn’t mean you should, especially on behalf of a homophobe,” says Reitan.

Robert agrees.

“If the CEO wants to give out of his own personal income, which he has done, and hire staff… which he has done… that’s fine. But when he takes company profits which are not his own and donates them to political campaigns, that is dangerous to democracy,” says Robert.

Target spokesperson Amy Riley insists the company financed candidates because they are pro-business, not because they’re anti-gay. After public pressure, CEO Gregg Steinhafel apologized, saying the company “will more closely scrutinize” political donations in the future.

“What we have done is paused, taken the time to think and come up with another process. [As for political donations in Canada], when we go to Canada, we’ll take a look at the laws there. We want to be a good corporate citizen,” says Riley.

In addition to political donations, Target gives money to a variety of community groups. In Minnesota, it donates to public school programs, food pantries and the annual Twin Cities Gay Pride Festival. In last week’s statement, Target said it would continue to give the same amount of money to community-building in Canada.