Brian Cornell, the chairman and CEO of Target, took several questions from disgruntled audience members at the annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday concerning the retail giant’s stance on transgender bathroom and fitting room access.
Justin Danhof, who heads the Free Enterprise Project and was in attendance at the meeting, asked Mr. Cornell whether he believes those who oppose the company’s stance are bigots.
“Didn’t answer the question,” Mr. Danhof said of the business executive’s response. “He gave a vacuous statement on, ‘We believe in diversity, we believe in inclusion, and everyone should feel safe in our stores.’”
“‘Support inclusivity, support inclusion’ – it means nothing. It’s meaningless,” he said. “Especially in response to questions asked very pointedly about do you think these people are bigots. And my impression is that of course he does.”
Several other audience members questioned the company’s position permitting access to intimate facilities on the basis of gender identity, which sparked a nationwide boycott. More than 1.3 million people signed a petition pledging not to shop at the store in response to the policy.
Company executives said the boycott has had nothing to do with its plummeting stock price, which is down 18 percent in the seven weeks since the effort was announced.
“In response to another question I asked, you know, has there been any financial effect to the company, they said there has been zero correlation, zero effect,” Mr. Danhof said.
Two other shareholders at the meeting asked Mr. Cornell about the transgender bathroom policy. Mr. Danhof said neither respondent was given a direct answer.
Executives said the company did not regret reiterating its policy in the wake of a heated national debate about the rights of transgender people to use the facilities of the opposite sex.
More than 100 blue-chip businesses have condemned a law in North Carolina regulating intimate public facilities on the basis of biological sex, which has provoked a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice.
“They are dug-in,” Mr. Danhof said of Target. “I’ve been to dozens and dozens of shareholder meetings … and ever since the meeting ended this morning, I’ve been searching my memory bank to come up with a meeting where I left feeling the way that I did today.”
“I felt like I was called a bigot, essentially, and I felt that, if you are one of the millions of Americans who think that this policy is offensive, Target doesn’t want you as a customer, they don’t want you as an investor, they don’t want anything to do with you,” he said. “That’s how I felt leaving this meeting, and I don’t know if I’ve ever felt that leaving a shareholder meeting.”
A Target spokesperson said Mr. Cornell’s remarks at the meeting were “consistent with what we, as a company, have said over the past several weeks.”