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Target CEO’s civil rights comparison rebuffed

MINNEAPOLIS (BP) — As the number of people pledging to boycott Target over the retailer’s transgender restroom use policy surpassed 1.2 million, African American leaders with Southern Baptist ties rebuffed Target CEO Brian Cornell’s suggestion that the push for transgender rights is parallel to the American civil rights movement.

Cornell appeared on CNBC May 11, the same day the American Family Association delivered to Target’s corporate headquarters in Minneapolis the signatures of 1 million people who have pledged to boycott Target stores. Target’s CEO said his company is “constantly listening” to customer feedback, but he was unwavering in his support of an April 19 announcement from the retailer stating, “We welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.”

At one point, Cornell seemed to imply a parallel between the quest for African American civil rights in the mid-20th century and the quest for open restroom access by transgendered people today.

“We’ve had a long history of embracing diversity and inclusion,” Cornell said in response to a question about the AFA boycott. “A couple of weeks ago, one of our team members sent me a note reminding me that if we went back to the 1960s, our company was one of the very first to use African American models in their advertising. And back then it wasn’t well received. We had a lot of tough feedback. But sitting here today we know we made the right decision.”

Target “took a stance” on transgender restroom use, Cornell said, and will “continue to embrace our belief of diversity, inclusion and just how important that is to our company. But we’re also going to make sure our focus on safety is unwavering.”

Cornell said more than 1,400 Target stores already have family restrooms and all stores will be equipped with family restrooms “over the next few months.”

Dwight McKissic, pastor of the predominantly African American Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, told Baptist Press Cornell’s comparison between black civil rights and transgender restroom access is “illogical” and “racist.”

In 2012, McKissic, along with then-Maryland pastor Eric Redmond, submitted a resolution to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Resolutions Committee which led to the convention’s adoption of a resolution “on ‘same-sex marriage’ and civil rights rhetoric.” The SBC resolution called it “regrettable that homosexual rights activists and those who are promoting the recognition of ‘same-sex marriage’ have misappropriated the rhetoric of the Civil Rights Movement.”

The resolution “den[ied] that the effort to legalize ‘same-sex marriage’ qualifies as a civil rights issue” and “encourage[d] Southern Baptists everywhere to fight for the civil rights of all people where such rights are consistent with the righteousness of God.”

In his comments to BP, McKissic extended some arguments in the resolution to transgenderism. Racial identity, he said, “is not a matter of choice or feeling” while identifying outwardly with a gender different than one’s birth gender is “a matter of choice” — even if the underlying feelings of dissatisfaction with one’s gender are involuntary.

“The transgender person is telling God that He (God) made a mistake,” McKissic said in written comments. “… The African American is telling God no such thing. Therefore, to compare the African American struggle with the transgender issue is racist because it connects the skin of the African American person with the sinful choice to be a transgender person. That is a slap in the face to African Americans and a grossly unfair comparison.”

Redmond, who also is African American, now serves as assistant professor of Bible at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. He told BP in written comments he agrees that race and gender identity are vastly different categories.

“To compare Target’s practices toward African Americans during a period of a climate of hate toward something innate (e.g., race) to Target’s contemporary practices toward a lifestyle choice — a choice to self-identify against what is innate — is a false comparison,” Redmond said.

“The important comparison is not the progressive nature of Target’s policies, for one day Target may allow employees to serve food without washing their hands in an effort to be progressive on public sanitation,” Redmond said. “… It will be to our shame and to the detriment of all members of society, including those self-identifying as transgendered, to ignore what is innately human, and its significance for members of a citizenry to live ethically toward one another.”

Rolland Slade, pastor of Meridian Baptist Church in El Cajon, Calif., told BP he appreciates Target “being the first in terms of using [black] models for advertisement,” but he doesn’t “see using models for advertisement” as equivalent to “the possibility of a child going into a restroom and encountering someone and being harmed.”

Slade, who is African American, acknowledged that some people suffer from the medical condition of gender dysphoria, where they feel a subjective sense of incongruity with their biological gender. “But there’s still an issue of folks being uncomfortable if you have that dysphoria and choose to enter that opposite restroom. There are still going to be people who react negatively, and it could cause an issue or a disturbance or something could happen to someone.”

AFA said in a news release that some of its leaders “briefly met with Target’s senior management” when they delivered the boycott signatures. AFA President Tim Wildmon said he expects to deliver a second million signatures “in the near future.”

“American Family Association is appreciative that Target representatives were willing to accept the signatures of more than one million Americans and meet with us about our deep distress over Target’s unsafe bathroom policy, which permits anyone who identifies with another gender to enter the restroom or fitting room of the opposite sex,” Wildmon said. “As we have stated time and again, our worries do not stem from the transgender community, but rather, from those predators and voyeurs with evil intentions who would take advantage of the policy to potentially harm women and children.

“However,” Wildmon continued, “Target leadership made no commitment to change its policy. Therefore, AFA’s #BoycottTarget campaign will continue as strong as it began.”