The man to whom I was pastor, 1988 thereabouts, owned and operated an Amoco service station (long before it became BP Amoco). To his surprise he learned the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), to which he belonged, along with several mainline denominations, had called for a boycott of Amoco products and stations.
He was dumbfounded. He could not figure out why and the reasons, best I remember, were obscure, though naturally oil was in there somewhere. Here he was, working hard for his family and himself, and giving his customers the best work he could give, and a band of Christians came out of nowhere and mugged him. They were deliberately trying to hurt his business and his livelihood, and do it for issues over which he had little influence and absolutely no control.
A boycott is favored by the permanently aggrieved. This time the stunt is an incitement by the American Family Association, and one it frequently undertakes. Confronting any number of issues from poor commercial displays of Christmas spirit to free zone restrooms, the AFA intentionally tries to injure people, threatening their jobs and their livelihood by chasing customers out the door. That is what a boycott does. It is intentional punishment.
It is what the ELCA wanted to do to my parishioner. My parishioner was getting socked from the Christian Left. Retailer Target is getting socked from the Christian Right. Well, so long as everyone is socking everyone else, I guess it’s fair.
Yet somebody always gets hurt; somebody is supposed to get hurt, so the offending party will stop doing whatever it is it should not be doing. But like my parishioner, the people hurt are those with little influence and no control.
Meanwhile, the boycotters du jour rake in extra donations, thanks to lurid ginned-up press releases designed to frighten people from the offending business. This is so the valiant boycotters will have money to mail their press releases. If it works, they claim success. If it doesn’t, they still claim success, and head off to the next grand cause.
Let me stop for a moment. I look askance at gender neutral public restrooms, school locker rooms, and things of that entire sort. The move is just another capitulation. We have a population of generally commonsense people who, on average, generally think that the boy’s room is for boys and the girl’s room is for girls, and there’s an end of it.
Nonetheless, Target has a policy. It is to make everyone including the transgendered, the cisgendered, self-gendered, and engendered (I made up that one) feel welcomed and comfortable. For Target this means that if a man, trans or not, wishes to use the women’s restroom he may do so without let or bother. If female is his gender identity, even when dressed like a tomboy, he gets to do female things. Same deal for women identifying as men.
Target has messed with simple notions of propriety and privacy. Target says the policy respects a personal decision of “gender identity.” One may use fitting rooms and restrooms that come closest to matching one’s own selected gender identity.
Wacky is all I can think. It seems that otherwise entirely button-down corporate-style people in charge of retail sales have put Bonkersville in their GPS app and are headed for the bend just before the cliff. But is it worth a boycott?
Sensing a donations bonanza, AFA launched its boycott petition that had some 1.1 million signatures at last count. There is no little chortling over a coincidental drop in Target stock price. I suspect it is exactly that, coincidental. A year ago Target was at $59; on Tuesday last it was about $80, down a few dollars from days previous but nothing to disturb analysts. Charting for the year shows many downs on the way up to $80. It is a rule: for every share sold, one is purchased. If the boycott does affect stock price, AFA may have created a buyer’s market.
AFA says it is protecting women and children, foreseeing long lines of perverted men waiting for their turn in a stall with the women. There’s an article about it, listing “Sex Crimes at Target.” Somebody trolled the net for that list; none are very current, none involved gender identity, and the sorts of assaults reported reflect, sad to say, the same kinds of offenses Wal-Mart experiences.
I said AFA is trying to hurt people. Who? AFA will not hurt Target corporate officers. AFA is hardly hurting current stockholders. But if the boycott is even mildly successful in reducing sales and customers, the people hurt will be the store clerks suffering from reduced hours and employee layoffs, and their families will suffer as well. In any siege, the vulnerable get hurt first.
So, no, I will not be joining AFA’s boycott of Target. I rarely shop there in any case, but I just may kick that up a small notch and send AFA a copy of my receipt. And while I’m at it, I’ll tell Target what I think.
I don’t like Target’s restroom policy, but I’m not going to take it out on the clerk at the checkout line.
Russell E. Saltzman writes from Kansas City, Missouri, and is also a contributor at Aleteia. His latest book is Speaking of the Dead. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @RESaltzman. His previous First Things contributions are here.