As backlash to a new anti-LGBT bill in North Carolina rises, a handful of rock stars — Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and former Beatle Ringo Starr — have decided to cancel their shows and boycott the state.
But a couple of acts — Against Me!, the punk-rock band whose founder and lead singer, Laura Jane Grace, is transgender, and Brandi Carlile, a country singer who is openly gay — have opted to go through with their concerts as planned. The best practices for high-profile allies, it turns out, do not necessarily apply for artists who, by virtue of being a part of the LGBT community (and being smaller draws), can do more by showing up than backing out.
House Bill 2, passed into law in North Carolina on March 23, is colloquially known as the “bathroom law” and requires transgender people to use bathrooms that align with their sex marker at birth, not their gender identity. The bill — official title: Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act — overrides local non-discrimination ordinances already in place in North Carolina to protect the rights of LGBT individuals. The law was introduced, passed, and signed in a single day during a special session, just a month after the passage of an ordinance in Charlotte that required schools and businesses to — you’ll never guess — make transgender bathroom accommodations and prohibit discrimination against LGBT people.
It marked the beginning of a dark week for the LGBT community: Just seven days later, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed House Bill 1523 into law, which protects people, religious organizations, and some businesses who object to recognizing the gender identity of transgender people and/or refuse service based on their religious opposition to same-sex marriage.
Plenty of businesses and high-profile entertainers have decided to boycott North Carolina, in a move not dissimilar to the one recently deployed by a number of major Hollywood players and the NFL in response to another anti-gay bill. Just as the Walt Disney Co. and its Marvel Studios film unit threatened to ditch Georgia and take millions of dollars in revenue with them unless Gov. Nathan Deal (R) struck down the “religious liberty bill,” so too are a musicians and corporations ghosting North Carolina in the wake of HB2’s passage.
On Wednesday, Grace told BuzzFeed that her punk-rock band would not be cancelling their May 15 concert in protest but rather would turn the show into a “form of protest.” Concertgoers can expect Grace to “definitely be speaking about trans rights on stage.”
It was suggested to me in an interview that we might cancel our May 15th show in Durham, NC because of the states HB2 bill. Hell no! (1/2)
— Laura Jane Grace (@LauraJaneGrace) March 30, 2016
I'm even more eager to play North Carolina 'cause of the bill! Let me know if there's any activist groups that can come table the show (2/2)
— Laura Jane Grace (@LauraJaneGrace) March 30, 2016
Transgender people in North Carolina can’t boycott their home, Grace argued. “They live here. They pay taxes. They are prisoners to it.”
“I’m going to create an event around the show as a form of protest to say that despite whatever stupid laws they enact, trans people are not going to be scared. They are not going to go away,” Grace told BuzzFeed. “An attack by a transgender person against another person in a bathroom has never been documented. There are more incidents of straight senators having issues in bathrooms than transgender people.”
Grace supported the boycott of allies like Bruce Springsteen, who posted a statement to fans on his website explaining why he and the E Street Band were canceling their Sunday show in Greensboro. The law, Springsteen wrote, is “an attempt by people who cannot stand the progress our country has made in recognizing the human rights of all of our citizens to overturn that progress.” Inspired by the efforts of others in North Carolina to battle the law, “I feel that this is a time for me and the band to show solidarity for those freedom fighters.”
“Some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry — which is happening as I write — is one of them,” he wrote. “It is the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.”
E Street guitarist Steven Van Zandt echoed Springsteen’s message at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions, calling the bill part of “vile and evil discrimination.” Though it was a “tough decision” to cancel the show, he said, “You have to hurt them economically to have them do the right thing morally, unfortunately.”
Springsteen was joined by Ringo Starr, who was slated to perform in Cary, N.C. on June 18. In a statement on Facebook, Starr said he would be cancelling the show because “we need to take a stand against this hatred.” Bryan Adams canceled his April 14 concert in Mississippi over its anti-LGBT law — euphemistically coded, like the one in Georgia, as a “religious liberty bill” — which allows businesses that cite religious grounds to discriminate against LGBT individuals and comes into effect on July 1. (That law, by the way, is not just anti-LGBT but also anti-any-unmarried-person-who-has-sex, as it lists the belief “that sex is only proper within a marriage” as a protected belief.)
Businesses are in on the boycotts, too: PayPal canceled plans to open a new global operations center in Charlotte and Deutsche Bank put plans for an expansion at its software application development center in Cary on ice, costing the state 400-plus and 250 jobs, respectively. The NBA has hinted that it could move its 2017 All-Star game out of Charlotte, where it is currently slated to be held, and the NCAA is allegedly reconsidering whether or not it should hold any of next year’s March Madness tournament in Greensboro.
In a sort of Lysistrata-style move, the porn site xHamster is blocking North Carolina users from accessing the site. In a statement to the Huffington Post, an xHamster spokesperson said that North Carolinians could expect to see a petition to repeal the law in place of the usual homepage. “Judging by the stats of what you North Carolinians watch, we feel this punishment is a severe one. We will not standby and pump revenue into a system that promotes this type of garbage. We respect all sexualities and embrace them.”
Grace expressed her gratitude for Springsteen’s decision to BuzzFeed, pointing out that he and other artists who canceled their shows in protest are cisgender: “For them to say, ‘I think this bill is messed up and I’m not going to go here and be part of the state,’ that seems like the effort of an ally, which is really commendable.”
Grace’s comments align with those of country singer Brandi Carlile, who plans to still perform this summer in Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Asheville, and Greensboro. Carlile posted a message to Instagram on Monday, expressing both her gratitude for Springteen’s rallying cry — “Bruce is not LGBTQ himself — but is bravely defending those of us that are… Bruce is an artist, but on behalf of NC LGBTQ citizens, also is poignantly depriving NC of the big business his event would bring- well done.” — and her reasoning behind continuing with her tour dates in the state. “I’m a small artist, and I’m gay, many of my fans are gay as well,” she wrote. “To cancel my shows in NC would further oppress my fans who are hurt by this legislation, who worked hard to suppress it, and who need a place where they can come together.”
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North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) is up for reelection; he hopes to win a second term this November. As criticism to HB2 intensified, he issued an executive order which theoretically clarified some elements of the bill but, in practice, does very little. It emphasizes that North Carolina law “allows a private business or nonprofit to set their own restroom, locker room or shower policies” but, in order “to protect expectations of privacy in restrooms, locker rooms and shower facilities in public buildings, including our schools, the State of North Carolina maintains these facilities on the basis of biological sex.” The only notable development is that McCrory said he would support the reinstatement of the right to sue for discrimination in state court, a right HB2 eliminated.
McCrory is running against state Attorney General Roy Cooper (D), who refuses to defend HB2 in court and has called for its repeal.