The conservative American Family Association is urging its members to boycott Target Corp for the retailer's decision to allow transgender employees and customers to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity.

The group accused Target of exposing women and girls to voyeurs and sexual predators with its restroom and dressing room policy, and said it had gathered 172,494 signatures on a boycott petition by mid-morning on Friday. 

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Target's policy "means a man can simply say he feels like a woman today and enter the women's restroom ... this is exactly how sexual predators get access to their victims," AFA said on its website.

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Earlier this week, Minneapolis-based Target became the first big retailer to weigh in on the bathroom policy issue, which is at the center of a heated national debate pitting social conservatives against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their supporters.

The retailer said on Friday it stood by that policy.

"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," company spokeswoman Molly Snyder said.

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Last month, North Carolina became the first U.S. state to require transgender people to use restrooms and changing rooms in schools and other public facilities that match their sex at birth rather than their gender identity. 

Companies including PayPal Holdings and Deutsche Bank have halted projects in North Carolina over the issue and urged the state to repeal the legislation.