Target has become the central battleground of a vitriolic national debate over transgender rights in the US.
Nearly 700,000 people have signed a pledge to boycott the retailer after it announced last week that it would welcome transgender customers to use any bathroom or fitting room that matches their gender identity.
Some critics are visiting Target stores across the country and demanding access to bathrooms of the opposite sex to support claims that “perverts” can now gain access to children and women as a result of the policy.
Greg Locke, a pastor at Global Vision Bible Church in Tennessee, posted a video outside a Target store saying he got permission to use the women’s restroom when he questioned store management.
In the video, which has been viewed more than 14 million times, he says the policy opens the door for “perverts and pedophiles,” The Tennessean reports.
Another nontransgender man filmed himself going into Target and asking an employee if he could use the women’s restroom because that’s where he “feels comfortable.” The employee gives him permission and says if any women express concerns “They can come and we will speak to that.”
In a third incident, a man brought his daughter to Target and confronted store management about the policy, saying it made his daughter uncomfortable, then posted about it on Facebook. The post has been “liked” more than 135,000 times.
A conservative blogger in Florida and a group of protesters tried to stage a similar stunt at their local Target, but were rebuffed by store security, the Daily Commercial reports. They ended up holding a protest outside the store.
“A man, dressed as a man, who does not claim to be a woman, and does not claim to identify as a woman, may use the restroom designated for women if he feels more comfortable there,” Red State’s Caleb Howe writes. “If women have a problem with it, their complaints will be handled by security or management. Unbelievable.”
Some critics are even threatening violence over the new policy. Orlando-based lawyer Anita Staver says she will be taking her gun inside the restrooms at Target stores from now on, Orlando Weekly reports.
— Anita Staver (@AnitaStaver) April 22, 2016
Target has responded to the rash of protests and store demonstrations, saying it remains committed to its bathroom policy.
“We certainly respect that there are a wide variety of perspectives and opinions,” Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder told Business Insider. “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.”
The chain’s policy was a response to recent debates in state legislatures across the country around the appropriateness of transgender bathrooms.
The governor of North Carolina signed a bill in late March forcing people to use the bathroom that corresponds with the sex listed on their birth certificate.
In Minnesota, where Target is headquartered, a Republican state senator proposed a bill that would limit access to restrooms and dressing rooms based on “biological sex.”
“We welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity,” the retailer said in a statement announcing the policy. “Everyone deserves to feel like they belong. And you’ll always be accepted, respected and welcomed at Target.”
While Target’s move ignited a lot of criticism, it also won Target a fair amount of praise on social media.
“You have, again, shown that your stores are inclusive and meant to be a safe haven, and I intend to repay your loyalty with my own,” one customer wrote on Target’s Facebook page.
Another customer wrote, “I want to tell you that I will forever be a Target shopper.” A third said, “Thank you for always being a place I have felt welcomed.”