An online petition by the American Family Association calling for a boycott of Target reached more than 650,000 signatures early Tuesday morning and was growing by the minute. It was created in response to a statement on Target's website last week stating that individuals could use the retail giant's bathrooms and fitting rooms that correspond with their gender identities.
"We believe that everyone - every team member, every guest, and every community - deserves to be protected from discrimination, and treated equally," the statement read. "Consistent with this belief, Target supports the federal Equality Act, which provides protections to LGBT individuals, and opposes action that enables discrimination."
The association created the petition last Wednesday, the day after Target's announcement. It raises concerns thatTarget's policy could facilitate sexual abuse, particularly against minors. Among its grievances:
'This means a man can simply say he 'feels like a woman today' and enter the women's restroom . . . even if young girls or women are already in there.
"Target's policy is exactly how sexual predators get access to their victims. And with Target publicly boasting that men can enter women's bathrooms, where do you think predators are going to go?
"Clearly, Target's dangerous new policy poses a danger to wives and daughters."
It also suggests that the retail chain should include a "unisex bathroom" for "transgendered customers."
"Target should keep separate facilities for men and women, but for the trans community and for those who simply like using the bathroom alone, a single occupancy unisex option should be provided," the statement reads.
In response a blog from Media Matters for America said, "The claim that sexual predators will exploit non-discrimination laws to sneak into women's restrooms is a lie, plain and simple." The group describes itself as a "progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media." "It's a lie that is unsupported by even a shred of evidence and contradicted by years of experience in states that already have non-discrimination laws on the books," the post continues.
The American Family Association is a religious non-profit organization founded in Mississippi in 1977 by a First United Methodist pastor named Donald E. Wildman, though its original name was National Federation for Decency. According to its mission statement, the Tupelo, Miss.-based organization seeks to "restrain evil by exposing the works of darkness," "convince individuals of sin and challenge them to seek Christ's grace and forgiveness" and "motivate people to take a stand on cultural and moral issues at the local, state and national levels."
The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled the AFA as an "extremist organization" and labels its ideology as "Anti-LGBT."
One blog post on the AFA website is titled, "Target to Allow Deviants in Dressing Rooms." Its opening line is, "The title of this column sounds too bizarre to be true, but true it is."
Target's announcement came on the heels of the controversial "bathroom bill" that North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, R, signed into law in late March. Many protested the law, including President Obama, PayPal and porn giant Xhamster. Several musical artists including Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr and Ani DiFranco have canceled concerts in North Carolina in protest. But Against Me!, a punk band fronted by a trans woman, has decided not to cancel its planned show in the state.
Supporters of the Target protest have taken to Twitter to express their views, tagging their tweets with #TargetBoycott.
"Why do you insist on overly accommodating a group that is so small and forgetting the rest of us?" tweeted one user. "I'm not shopping at Target anymore. I'll give another store my business that doesn't allow men in women's restrooms," tweeted another. "Can't take my kids to Target anymore," one user tweeted.
"@Target Not sharing restroom/fitting room with any man. Not a bigoted stance, a sensible safety stance. Lost another mom. #targetboycott"
"Make separate gender neutral bathrooms. Open bathrooms make me feel at risk of rape. Sad since I loved @Target. #targetboycott"
"To protect my children, I too #targetboycott. Make 3rd bathroom or make private bathrooms instead but don't allow predators easy access"
Others users have begun using the hashtag to post opposing views. "If religious bigots united to do good, imagine what they could accomplish," one user tweeted.
"#targetbathroom We won't protest target not paying their workers a living wage but imaginary crimes in bathrooms. #targetboycott"
"I definitely support the #targetboycott. It's really comforting to know that I won't have to shop in a place with AFA members/supporters"
Several videos have appeared on YouTube and become popular on Facebook featuring men visiting Targets and asking employees about the store's bathroom policy while filming the conversation (seemingly secretly).
"You understand, as a guy who has a wife and some daughters, that's concerning to me," says a man in a candid YouTube video, after an employee states the policy.
"I definitely understand your concern, and we're hoping to get more information on it, or what that entails. But as of right now, that's the policy that's been sent down," a female voice says.
"This is the best response we've ever had this quick," AFA President Tim Wildmon told USA Today, adding that the stores will "lose a lot of customers who won't come back."
Target is holding steady in its position.
In response to the petition, Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder told NPR, "We certainly respect that there are a wide variety of perspectives and opinions. As a company that firmly stands behind what it means to offer our team an inclusive place to work - and our guests an inclusive place to shop - we continue to believe that this is the right thing for Target."