Target sues San Diego pro-gay marriage groupAround the City Thursday, March 31st, 2011
Target Corp. has sued a San Diego activist group to stop it from canvassing outside their California stores. The corporation wants to bar the activists from every outlet in the state, alleging they harass customers by cornering them near store entrances to discuss gay marriage, solicit donations and collect signatures on petitions for their cause.
This latest legal battle, between Target and Canvass For A Cause (CFAC), could further strain the retailer’s relations with the LGBT community. However, Target insists it remains committed to the LGBT community, and this lawsuit has nothing to do with the political agenda of CFAC.
Target attorney David McDowell told Judge Jeffrey Barton during a court hearing last Friday the case is about Target’s right to enforce its rules on its land.
“The question is Target’s property right and its right to exclude,” McDowell said.
Barton asked McDowell why he had not presented testimony from customers complaining about the alleged harassment. McDowell said that Target could get such testimony, but did not think it was necessary. He also stated that the company had taken out similar actions against other groups, irrespective of their affiliation.
In a statement to the press, Target defends their actions: “Our legal action was in no way related to the cause of the organization and was done so to be consistent with our long-standing policy of providing a distraction-free shopping experience by not permitting solicitors at our stores.”
“I have encountered these canvassers outside of Target myself …,” David Jaime wrote on CFAC’s Facebook page. “As I was walking out, I was asked if I support gay marriage. I did not have time to talk about it, and I told the canvasser, ‘I am in a hurry, and don’t want to talk about it right now.’ The canvasser, who was dressed in a suit and presented a very professional appearance and demeanor, said, ‘No problem, have a nice day.’”
San Diego LGBT Weekly was at a Poway store earlier this month, and can confirm there were no ill-feelings from CFAC when shoppers said “no” to signing a petition in support of gay marriage. There was no aggressive or angry behavior in any way – not from the canvassers or shoppers alike.
Bryan Pease, legal counsel for the CFAC wrote in a statement, “canvassers employed by CFAC are trained to never follow people or get in anyone’s way, not only because doing so is illegal and wrong, but because it would be counter-productive to their efforts as a community outreach organization.”
In court, Pease argued that sidewalks and areas outside stores such as Target have been considered by courts to be public domain for free speech. He maintains Target is taking action because it does not agree with the group’s message about gay marriage.
“In their declaration, they literally picked on the issue of gay marriage. They said they are concerned that perhaps people might associate Target with being in support of gay marriage, and that talking about gay marriage in front of their stores might offend some of their patrons,” CFAC Executive Director Tres Watson told Michele Tafoya on WCCO radio, a CBS affiliate in Target’s home state of Minnesota. “Therefore, we should not have the right to practice free speech.”
CFAC was “founded by a group of pissed off activists that wanted to make a difference,” its website states. With the slogan “Strictly Progressive, Occasionally Queer,” the group has worked on projects ranging from marriage equality, DADT, to cannabis law reform.
“Target in the court filings made us out to be these militant homosexual activists aggressively blocking shoppers,” Watson said, adding, “We’re doing the most democratic thing possible, which is engaging people to have conversations about the political process in places where they are at.”
CFAC is not canvassing exclusively at Target, Watson said. They are also at work at malls and other retail chains throughout San Diego.
Target was seen as an ally of the LGBT community before it made a $150,000 donation to a business group backing a Minnesota Republican candidate opposed to gay marriage. He lost last year’s governor’s race to Democrat Mark Dayton.
Target later said it was sorry for the hurt feelings and tried to repair its public relations damage by creating a committee to help it better scrutinize decisions regarding financial donations.
The company also negotiated a deal with Lady Gaga to sell a special edition of her upcoming album in a partnership Gaga said was tied to their “reform,” supporting the gay community and making up for past mistakes. The singer cancelled the deal a few weeks ago.
Judge Barton said he would issue a ruling this week.
San Diego LGBT Weekly editors Jonathan Young and Ruth Fine contributed to this story.
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