Target Buckles Under Pressure, Retailer To Install Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

Retail giant Target has earmarked $20 million to make sure there will be gender-neutral bathrooms in all its branches by 2017.

The decision came about after intensifying complaints and protest from its customers over the store's policy to give transgenders the freedom to choose which bathrooms they will enter.

According to Fox News, most of Target's 1,800 stores already have unisex bathrooms. By November this year, it will start construction of gender-neutral restrooms i 277 stores, and 20 more branches in March 2017.

Cathy Smith, the retail chain's financial officer, said that Target always takes into consideration customer feedback when making store policies. However, she clarified that their overall profits have not taken a hit due to the discontented customers.

Target actually started the controversy when it posted on its own website that transgender employees or customers can go to any bathroom depending on the identity they belong to. The company said that this is part of their campaign to promote diversity.

The announcement was made in the wake of the North Carolina law that requires transgenders to use the bathrooms that are consistent with the sex stated on their birth certificates, rather than the gender they identity as. For now, the law is limited to government institutions and schools amid rising protests.

The North Carolina law, however, gives leeway to the private sector to construct bathrooms for all sexes as they see fit.

The campaign by LGBTQ groups for government and businesses to roll out gender-neutral bathrooms in all states has intensified across the US.

By a vote of 47-2, lawmakers in New York City passed a bill in June that requires single-occupant toilets to be gender-neutral. If signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, it's going to take effect in the city by Jan. 1, 2017.

The bill also proposes a new sign to be placed outside the door of the bathroom, but the exact wording or symbol used in the signage is still up for future deliberations.

Back in April, Santee Education Complex installed the first ever gender-neutral bathrooms in the Los Angeles. Instead of unifying students, however, it created a controversy that sparked protest actions from parents and even a full-blown fight between the high-school students and the demonstrating parents.

But Target buckling under pressure from outraged store patrons and community activists may not be surprising considering the amount of opposition the retailer faced.

Walker Wildmon, representing American Family Association, told CNN that their planned boycott will continue until Target can see the error of its ways. The group, which supposedly espouses family values, claimed that it already gathered 1.4 million online signatures.

The group however counts as a victory the announcement made by the retail store to install gender-neutral bathrooms.

"We're confident that our boycott has played a significant role in Target's financial results that came out today," he said.

Wildmon quickly added that the announcement "doesn't completely answer our concerns."

Indeed, Target CEO Brian Cornell has said that their policy of allowing transgenders to enter the bathroom of their choice has not changed.

Huffington Post described the announcement to install gender-neutral bathrooms as the company's own way to assuage frayed nerves and calm down the protests. In fact, it said that the announcement only served to bolster the company's support for transgender.

In terms of ranking, Target is not even top three in the list of dominant retail stores in the US. Wal-Mart is still the number one with $350 billion in US revenues in 2014, followed by The Kroger Co. ($103bn) and Costco ($79bn).

But the decision to give its support to transgenders is significant because Target has now paved the way for other stores to follow, such as Barnes & Noble, Starbucks, Lord & Taylor, and Saks Fifth Avenue.

[Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images]