Yes, PayPal withdrew 400 planned jobs from the Tar Heel State in response to HB 2, which banned local LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances and required transgender people to use public bathrooms matching their birth certificates, but most major companies have simply signed a strongly worded letter to Gov. Pat McCrory asking for the law to be repealed.
After Mississippi’s HB 1523 was passed, many of these same companies sent a similar letter to Gov. Phil Bryant, urging him to repeal the law without detailing any specific consequences for leaving it in place.
But an emerging crew of entertainers isn’t content with this wait-and-see approach. By taking swift and decisive steps, they’re proving how little pro-LGBT press releases mean without concrete actions to back them up.
As soon as HB 2 was passed, for instance, actor and filmmaker Rob Reiner promised that he would “not film another production in North Carolina” until the law is repealed. CEOs take note: Reiner took action immediately and listed a punishment along with a specific condition.
Then, last week, Bruce Springsteen canceled a North Carolina show, highlighting the law’s horrifying anti-transgender provision in his statement. By contrast, the multi-company letter coordinated by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Equality North Carolina does not specifically address this first-in-the-nation attack on transgender rights.
The Boss called his announcement “the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.”
Canadian singer Bryan Adams followed in Springsteen’s footsteps shortly thereafter, nixing a scheduled Mississippi concert to protest the state’s sweeping anti-LGBT law. On Facebook, he explained that he “cannot in good conscience perform in a state where certain people are being denied their civil rights due to their sexual orientation.”
And this past weekend, comedian and Community star Joel McHale went ahead with a North Carolina performance but wore an “LGBTQ” shirt and donated all of his proceeds to a local LGBT center. In video taken from the show, McHale asks, “What the fuck is wrong with your government here, you guys?”
It’s not just individual celebrities who are taking decisive steps, either. Lionsgate canceled Charlotte shooting plans and A+E Studios has promised “not [to] consider North Carolina for any new productions” once shooting ends on a new show they are filming around Wilmington. Even porn giant xHamster is now banning all North Carolina IP addresses in order to put pressure on the state to change course.
Outside of the entertainment world, however, condemnation of the anti-LGBT laws may have been sudden and widespread but punitive actions have been fewer and further between.
The NBA could have summarily pulled the 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte. It didn’t. Instead, the league sent out a statement calling HB 2 discriminatory but also cautiously noting that they “do not yet know what impact it will have” on the All-Star plans.
The NCAA is set to host Division I basketball tournament games in North Carolina over the next two years but, instead of relocating the games, the association pledged to “continue to monitor current events.”
The NFL is moving ahead with a May team owners meeting in Charlotte, justifying their decision based on the city council’s support of LGBT rights.
In sum, the major leagues are talking a big game but that’s about it. Their equivocating statements prompted Outsports’ Jim Buzinski to write that “sports leagues shouldn’t say another word about their ‘support’ unless it’s accompanied by action.” Or, as any good coach will tell you, talk is cheap.
Major corporations haven’t been much bolder, largely threatening to “reconsider” or “reevaluate” business in the offending states. Over one hundred businesses have signed on to the HRC letters but the more time passes, the emptier their words become. So far, only a select few businesses have gone beyond mere criticism of HB 2 and HB 1523.
The High Point Market Authority, which has been estimated to have an annual economic impact of $5.38 billion in North Carolina, warned last month that they could lose “hundreds and perhaps thousands of customers” at their annual spring furniture market. And Google Ventures CEO Bill Maris indicated in early April that he would not greenlight investments in any North Carolina startups “until the voters there fix this.”
Springsteen set a high bar for courage that few in the business world have been able to match.
This isn’t the first time that the entertainment industry has taken point in anti-LGBT legislative tussles. In March, Disney—and by extension Marvel—promised to end film production in Georgia if Gov. Nathan Deal did not veto a so-called “religious freedom” law that passed the state legislature.
“[W]e will plan to take our business elsewhere should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law,” the company wrote in a definitive statement.
The NFL, on the other hand, vaguely hinted that they might not host the Super Bowl in Georgia but their official statement was embarrassingly circumlocutory.
“Whether the laws and regulations of a state and local community are consistent with [NFL non-discrimination] policies would be one of many factors NFL owners may use to evaluate potential Super Bowl host sites,” said league spokesman Brian McCarthy.
In March of 2015, when Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed an anti-LGBT “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” a few companies like the business review website Angie’s List, which axed a $40 million expansion, made powerful moves.
But in what should by now be a familiar pattern, many corporate leaders chastised the governor without deploying any economic sanctions. The discrepancy prompted Fast Company to make a list of the “companies that are actually boycotting Indiana, not just tweeting about it.”
Among the only key players who actually acted before the Indiana legislature revised the discriminatory law were musicians and actors. The indie rock group Wilco pulled the plug on a show in Indianapolis. Parks and Recreation star Nick Offerman announced he would donate his proceeds from an Indiana University show to the HRC and canceled a subsequent performance in the state.
Repeated entanglements over LGBT rights in the South have proved that governors may not sympathize with LGBT rights but they do respond to economic pressure. So long as corporate leaders remain hesitant to pull out of North Carolina, they will be locked in a game of economic chicken with a state government that does not seem eager to reverse HB 2.
Gov. McCrory’s re-election campaign has claimed that many businesses support the anti-transgender law and one state representative, Ken Goodman, seems more than willing to see if anyone will make good on their threats.
“April Market is not a vacation,” he tweeted in response to the High Point story. “It is critical for buyers. They’ll come.”
It has been illegal for many transgender people to use the right public restrooms in North Carolina for nearly three weeks. Anti-LGBT discrimination has been not just legal, but endorsed by the state of Mississippi, for almost two. At this point, signing a letter is no longer a proportional response to bigotry.
As Bruce himself once sang, “Walk tall, or baby, don’t walk at all.”