Lady Gaga bargains with Target on gay rights

If Rachel Maddow chose Glenn Beck as her doubles tennis partner, it would probably make you sit up and go, “Wha…?” Like that time when Elton John sang at Rush Limbaugh‘s wedding. Or that other time when Lady Gaga gave Target the exclusive rights to the deluxe edition of her forthcoming “gay anthem” album, Born This Way.

Right? Because Target has a nasty history of making political contributions to anti-gay candidates and causes. And Lady Gaga has a lovely history of supporting the LGBT community. So when Target announced their partnership with Gaga — and offered up three new songs and five remixes on their version of her new album — lots of little monsters went wild. And not in a good way.

The last thing I read before I went to sleep last night was a blog post from Pink News headlined “Target agrees to stop funding anti-gay groups following Lady Gaga deal.” They reported that Target has earmarked almost half a million dollars to donate to LGBT causes in 2011, and they pulled a few choice quotes from Gaga’s recent interview with Billboard, including this one:

That discussion was one of the most intense conversations I’ve ever had in a business meeting. Part of my deal with Target is that they have to start affiliating themselves with LGBT charity groups and begin to reform and make amends for the mistakes they’ve made in the past … our relationship is hinged upon their reform in the company to support the gay community and to redeem the mistakes they’ve made supporting those [anti-gay] groups.

I dreamed of sugar-plum Gagas trouncing corporate greed with her sword of social justice. And then I woke up and thought I should probably check out that interview in Billboard myself. In it, Target’s vice president of communications, Dustee Jenkins, paints a slightly different story. Target is, of course, ecstatic to be partnering with Lady Gaga, but also:

Jenkins says she “didn’t think” Gaga’s feedback had resulted in direct policy change, but that she was one of many voices Target had considered in order to better understand issues concerning the LGBT community.

Billboard made the transcript of the interview available, and it’s really worth a read. Editorial director Bill Werde asks some tough, insistent questions about the company’s history with the LGBT community. For example, when Jenkins mentions that Target gives back five percent of its profits — almost $3 million per week, totaling over $150 million per year — Werde contextualizes the money promised to LGBT charities and wonders if maybe $500,000 isn’t a little stingy.

Target reps are insistent that Gaga didn’t effect an actual policy change in terms of their charitable giving. They’d already started a new “policy committee” to oversee the company’s political contributions. (Like, say, the $150,000 they donated to Minnesota Forward — a pro-business PAC that used the money to fund anti-gay gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer — in 2010.) And they’d already met with (and promised funds to) LGBT charities like Out and Equal Workplace, Twin Cities Pride and Project 515. But they were also quick to say, “We very much appreciated the conversation and the dialogue with [Lady Gaga] and her team all along the way. They’ve been a wonderful partner in this and they certainly shared their feedback.”

One thing Target did not promise, however, is that they would stop funding anti-gay candidates or causes. They are simply determined to be more “thoughtful.”

The buzz on the Internet today has, unsurprisingly, been polarizing. On one side is an ecstatic contingent of little monsters who are celebrating the way Gaga single-handedly smashed Target’s anti-gay agenda. And on the other side is a dejected contingent of little monsters who think Gaga sold them out to the mighty dollar. The truth, like always, is probably neither black nor white. Lady Gaga has been an unwavering advocate of LGBT rights; I have never once doubted her sincerity. And Target is an enormous company that hedges its bets like a survival instinct.

Lady Gaga’s final words to Billboard were “It’s so important to me, please, to clear up any misconceptions or
concerns. Whatever you can do to
assure my fans and the gay community that I have their back, please do.”

The real question is, will you forgive Target long enough to drop 15 bucks on Gaga’s deluxe album?