Petition to boycott Target over transgender policy gains steam in Houston

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Target's transgender bathroom rule sparking nationwide boycott, Miya Shay reports. (KTRK)

They were front and center during Houston's contentious Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) battle last year. Now, emboldened by HERO's defeat, Republican activists Jared Woodfill and Dr. Steven Hotze are urging Houstonians to join a nationwide boycott against Target.

"We're sending a clear message to people to reject Target not just in city of Houston, but in the state, and across this country," said Woodfill as the duo stood in front of the Target on San Felipe Tuesday afternoon.

Woodfill and Hotze's main beef is Target's recent announcement that would allow customers and employees to use the bathrooms of their gender identity. Conservative groups across the country have vowed to boycott the retailer, and now the Houston duo is joining in. Still, even as they announced their plans at the news conference, a few counter protesters tried to drown them out with audible "boos."

"There are more people out here supporting Target then those two people standing here talking about being hateful," said Karen Martinez, who came to the announcement because she has several close friends who are transgender.

Lou Weaver, a local transgender activist and a liaison for the civil rights group Equality Texas, says the Target policy makes sense. He points out that as a transgender man, nobody would want to see him in a woman's bathroom.

"I was born a woman, they told my mom and dad I was a girl," said Weaver. "I haven't been allowed in a female bathroom in 20 years, because people would look at me and say: 'Oh my gosh, why is he in here?"

But Hotze and Woodfill say this is just the start. Next, they plan to lobby the Texas Legislature, to pass a bill that would ban non-discrimination laws in Texas. They hope the law would mirror the controversial legislation passed in North Carolina, known as HB2.

"We're asking you to join us and contacting our legislators to pass legislation that's very similar to North Carolina right now," said Woodfill.

Earlier, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick indicated on his Facebook page he would be supportive of such legislation. However, whether such a bill could get through the Texas Legislature next year is anyone's guess.

"There is an educational process we are doing," says Weaver. He says Equality Texas and other groups are well aware that they will be fighting such legislation next year. "We need to educate everyone every day, who transgender people are."

Nationally, the petition is being driven by the American Family Association, a conservative organization that has a long history of involvement in American cultural battles.

Target announced last week it would "welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting-room facility that corresponds with their gender identity."

On AFA's website, President Tim Wildmon said the boycott has resonated with consumers.

"Target's harmful policy poses a danger to women and children. Predators and voyeurs would take advantage of the policy to prey on those who are vulnerable. It's clear now that many customers agree. Target shoppers are leaving their allegiance to the store behind - and by the thousands every hour. No store can withstand that sort of loss."

Last year, Target announced it was moving away from gender-specific signs in its stores. For example, removing the use of pink or blue to guide parents in the children's sections.

"Inclusivity is a core belief at Target," the Minneapolis retailer said in a statement. "It's something we celebrate."

Wildmon said the ball is in Target's court.

"As I have said, there is a common-sense and reasonable solution - a unisex option, which would cost Target money but would not alienate shoppers."

AFA said it is concerned about sexual predators taking advantage of well-meaning policies, a sentiment expressed by many who support North Carolina's House Bill 2.

"We want to make it very clear that AFA does not believe the transgender community poses this danger to the wider public," Wildmon writes. "Rather, this misguided and reckless policy provides a possible gateway for predators who are out there."
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