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Retail giant Target tells investors company will stay neutral on anti-gay marriage amendment

Minneapolis-based retailer Target told investors on Wednesday that the company will not be taking sides on the anti–gay marriage amendment slated for the 2012 ballot. The shareholders meeting in Pittsburgh, the first held since a nationwide boycott targeted the stores last fall over its corporate contributions to Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, drew protesters critical of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and members of the LGBT community. Target’s announcement comes as Twin Cities LGBT Pride festivities get under way — an event for which Target is a major sponsor.

The Minnesota Legislature passed an amendment last month that would let voters decide whether to codify a ban on same-sex marriage in the Minnesota Constitution. State voters will decide that issue in 2012, though same-sex marriage is currently illegal in Minnesota.

“Our position at this particular time is that we are going to be neutral on that particular issue, as we would be on other social issues that have polarizing points of view,” CEO Gregg Steinhafel told shareholders. “We’re a retail store, we welcome everybody,” he added. “We have a broad team-member base, every shape and size and color. And so we are a very inclusive organization… We’re going to continue to monitor, we’re going to continue to assess, and see how that develops.”

Target took heat last fall when campaign finance reports showed Target giving $150,000 to MN Forward, an independent expenditure committee that produced ads in support of Emmer who has been a staunch opponent of rights for LGBT Minnesotans. The revelation sparked a nationwide boycott.

And at Wednesdays’ shareholders meeting the issue came up again and again. Nearly a dozen shareholders grilled Steinhafel on Target’s political giving, according to the Pioneer Press.

Target made some changes to its corporate political expenditures in February but, as the Minnesota Independent reported at the time, it was not enough to dissuade those critical of Target’s donation to Emmer.

Thomas Waters, advocacy chair of the Delta Foundation, an LGBT group in Pennsylvania, also attended the protest and noted that it’s incorrect to label Target as homophobic.

“One problem with that boycott effort was that Target got painted as being ‘homophobic.’ This isn’t really accurate,” he said. “Target, the corporation, has had business values of respecting everyone and being pro-gay in the sense of being welcoming and supporting of the LGBT community. That was still true, even while, as a corporation, they were giving vast sums of money, which was knowingly going to anti-gay politicians.”

He said that corporate giving to politicians that oppose rights for LGBT people was not in line with Target’s typical policies on inclusion.

“They acted in a way that was not aligned with their corporate values. That doesn’t make them homophobes, but it does call into question their value system,” he said. “Is their support for the LGBT community real? More likely, it is real, but there is a problem in the way the corporation acts and makes decisions regarding how they will use profits.”

Target has in the past been a major sponsor of Twin Cities LGBT Pride, where Target temporary tattoos and tchotchkes are ubiquitous. And the retailer will again be one of the prime sponsors of the monthlong series of events.

But on a larger scale, protesters at Wednesday’s shareholder meeting are concerned about unbridled corporate spending in political campaigns.

Mike Dean, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota, a group that works for more transparency in politics, attended the demonstration at the shareholders meeting in Pittsburgh.

“Target should stick to business and stop meddling in our democracy,” he said. “Target Corporation has failed to learn from the controversy last year by continuing to make corporate political donations.”

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