Target Sues Gay Rights Activists in San Diego

The company says gay rights activists canvassing outside its California stores are harmful to its business and it doesn't allow any solicitors on its property; the activists claim that they are exercising free speech.

Minneapolis-based Target Corporation has sued San Diego-based gay rights organization Canvass for a Cause in an attempt to stop the group from canvassing outside of its California stores.

An electronic copy of the lawsuit-which was filed in Superior Court of California in San Diego-could not be obtained through the court. An attorney representing Target in the case was not available on Friday morning. A San Diego news outlet that covers gay and lesbian issues, however, made available some of the court filings.

Those documents indicate that Target is attempting to enforce what it describes as a “blanket no-solicitation policy” through which it bars solicitors from its private property “regardless of the message or activities of the solicitor.”

“At Target, we support inclusivity and diversity in every aspect of our business. Target believes in equality, does not discriminate, and is not anti-LGBT,” the company wrote in an e-mailed statement to Twin Cities Business. “We are committed to creating an environment where team members and guests feel welcome, valued, and respected.”

“To provide a distraction-free shopping environment for our guests, Target's long-standing policy is that we do not permit solicitation or petitioning at our stores regardless of the cause or issue being represented,” the company continued. “Our legal action in California against Canvass for a Cause is in no way related to the cause of the organization.”

According to court documents, the company has previously won similar actions against a variety of solicitors-including at least 11 charities and three church-affiliated organizations.

Target claims to have tried for many months to stop Canvass for a Cause without resorting to legal action-and the retailer claims that if the court does not halt the activists' activity, “Target will continue to suffer irreparable harm.”

The company says that its stores typically have only two doorways, meaning customers cannot avoid confronting the solicitors. The organization's canvassers have been “particularly aggressive towards Target's guests” and the stores receive complaints daily.

Canvass for a Cause, meanwhile, states that its activists engage in face-to-face conversations with the public to educate them about gay rights. Its activists are trained not to obstruct shoppers “not only because doing so is illegal and wrong, but because it would be counter-productive to their efforts.”

The group says it carries out peaceful activity and Target has singled it out due to its stance on a controversial issue.

Target previously came under fire from gay rights activists following a political donation to MN Forward, a group that backed then-Republican Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who opposes gay marriage. The company's CEO Gregg Steinhafel apologized for the effect of the donation and later revised its donation policy.

The issue also made headlines recently when pop singer Lady Gaga reportedly ended a distribution deal for her new album because of the retailer's controversial donation.

Target is Minnesota's second-largest public company based on revenue, which totaled $65.4 billion in 2009. The company reported revenue of $67.4 billion in 2010.