Target Corp. said on Tuesday that transgender employees and customers could use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity, becoming the first big retailer to weigh in on an issue at the center of a heated national debate.

The move came after North Carolina last month 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. Lawmakers in some other states have also floated similar laws.

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The law in North Carolina does not affect private-sector businesses, which are free to set their own policies, Gov. Pat McCrory said in issuing an executive order related to the measure earlier this month.

Backers of the legislation in the Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature say it is meant to protect privacy rights and keep children and women safe from sexual predators.

PayPal Holdings and Deutsche Bank are among the companies that halted projects in North Carolina following the bill's passage. A number of entertainers, including Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr, also canceled engagements in the state in protest at the law.

"In our stores, we demonstrate our commitment to an inclusive experience in many ways," Target, which has 49 stores in North Carolina, said in a statement on its website. "Most relevant for the conversations currently under way, we welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity."

Earlier on Tuesday, the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, a leading group of North Carolina business leaders, called for the state law to be repealed because of mounting economic losses.

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Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder said the retailer had already adopted an inclusive stance toward transgender people, but that given the questions it had received on the issue, "we felt it was important to state our position."

In September, Target threw its support behind the Equality Act, a bill introduced in the U.S. Congress last year that would amend existing civil rights law to protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.