The retail chain Target held its annual shareholder meeting Wednesday -- and it was the first time Target's management and CEO have come face-to-face with shareholders since the company entered the culture wars in April. That month, it issued a corporate decree that it would "respect" its customers by letting everyone use the restrooms and changing rooms of their self-perceived gender identity.
"If you think that their bathroom policy is wrong, or offensive, you're just not welcome at Target, it sounds like," the program director said.
Turns out the executives didn't have anything to say -- to shareholders, and by extension, to customers, about the decisions that have affected so many families.
You could almost hear the crickets, suggested attorney Justin Danhof, who attended the meeting in his role as director of the Free Enterprise Project, a free-market shareholder activism program by the National Center for Public Policy Research.
"The CEO of Target, Brian Cornell, is very adept at saying words that mean nothing," Danhof told LifeZette after the meeting. "He engaged in quite a bit of that, and I was baffled at their approach -- I wasn't the only shareholder to ask about their bathroom policy. When corporate executives say lines like 'we support diversity,' and 'we support inclusion' over and over again, they take away the meaning of the words. They're such vacuous, empty statements -- that was his response to our questions."
Danhof says he asked two pointed questions. His first was about Cornell's comments during a recent CNBC interview in which he compared the struggles of transgender individuals to those of black advertising models in the 1960s. They, too, weren't accepted at first, he claimed.
"That is so offensive -- to compare these ridiculous bathroom ideologies to the struggles of the civil rights movement," said Danhof. "So you brand those who disagree with your policy as racist -- that's the moral equivalency they see? I asked him point blank, 'Do you view millions of Americans as bigots?' Again, he wouldn't answer directly."
Cornell mentioned that 15 out of every 18 stores have family restrooms already, said Danhof -- and Target is working to build family restrooms for the remaining stores.
Danhof applied what would seem to be natural logic to these statements, remarking, "Well, if everyone's so safe, why the rush to build these family bathrooms? And frankly, if you have them and are planning on building them in the remaining stores, why all this fuss about bathrooms in the first place? It's a solution in search of a problem."
Danhof said the most shocking part of the meeting was the Target executives' claim that there had been no impact on their business since the bathroom brouhaha began.
"Company executives also made the bold claim that its absurd stance on bathrooms hasn't impacted the company's financial performance in any way -- that's a whopper!" said Danhof. "Target's stock price was $83.98 the day of the announcement. On Monday, it was $68.81 -- an 18 percent drop in seven weeks. They're claiming literally 'zero' correlation. Honestly, they're almost to the point of fiduciary negligence. It struck me as bizarre that they flat out denied the correlation."
Danhof also asked the executives if, in the light of all that has transpired, they had any regrets about the restroom situation. Currently their stock is on a downward trajectory, and a customer petition begun in April by the American Family Association has garnered 1.3 million signatures of people pledging not to patronize the retail giant.
"Cornell wouldn't answer, so to me that meant 'No regret,'" said Danhof. "He issued his platitudes again about diversity and inclusion, and then it was, 'Thanks and have a nice day.'"
Danhof said Cornell was very forthcoming when asked about other topics such as community initiative and a partnership with CVS, and was perfectly willing to answer topics on other issues.
"This was all he should have been prepared for," said Danhof of questions regarding Target's bathroom policies. "In the end I was appalled. I have been to many shareholder meetings -- dozens and dozens a year -- and I left with a bad taste in my mouth."
Another of Danhof's takeaways was a stinging appraisal of Target's view of millions of average Americans who spend their hard-earned money at their stores.
"If you think their bathroom policy is wrong, or offensive, you're just not welcome at Target, it sounds like," he said. "They don't want you as a customer, or as an investor. You're not a 'Target person,' and you may as well shop elsewhere. That wasn't said outright, but that is the underlying feeling I had during the meeting. You folks with common sense -- you're not really welcome at Target anymore."