Target's recent decision to sell t-shirts to benefit the Family Equality Council, a gay rights group, has generated predictable criticism from increasingly irrelevant (but consistently shrill) anti-gay marriage opponents.
Target, headquartered in Minneapolis, has faced criticism from Minnesota for Marriage, an activist group supporting a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. But two years ago, the company donated to a conservative group that supported Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmers, an opponent of gay marriage. What changed?
Target realized that tolerance was good for business.
Look at JC Penney. In January, the retail giant announced Ellen DeGeneres would be its new spokesperson. One Million Moms, an anti-gay group, called on JC Penney customers to boycott the stores because DeGeneres is a lesbian. JC Penney firmly stood behind DeGeneres. The company also began including pictures of gay couples in its advertisements. The decision became an integral part of the company's turnaround strategy. JC Penney gained a real competitive advantage over its retail rival, Kohl's. According to Business Insider, every time One Million Moms protested JC Penney's support of gay couples (such as its adorable Father's Day ad), the positive perception of the company increased.
But is this a good thing? Yes and no. If a company can do well by doing good, that's awesome. Featuring gay families in ads will help increase awareness and tolerance of different kinds of families.
However, support for basic human dignity should never be dependent on profitability. Do you see any major companies vocally supporting the transgender community? We should applaud companies for being on the right side of history. We should also recognize that the companies are not driving social change as much as they reflect change that has already occurred due to the efforts of courageous people who were willing to voice an unpopular opinion.