So, North Carolina passed a law, HB2, that, among other things, declares that people should use the bathrooms that match the "sex" on their birth certificates, regardless of their gender. It's a terrible, no-good, very bad bill.
Meanwhile in Mississippi, the state legislature passed a sweeping "religious liberty" bill that basically allows conservative Christians to do whatever they want and then claim they're protected by nature of their faith. These religious freedom bills are currently trending in conservative circles, and they are bad news bears.
Let's be clear here: Such bills are unacceptable, and the lawmakers who voted yes on them, and the governors who signed off on them, are bigots.
Let's also be clear about something else: North Carolina and Mississippi, as entities, are not bigoted. They're filled with a wide variety of people, some of whom are bigots who vote other bigots into office, some of whom are the very groups affected by the laws those bigots pass, some of whom are passionate advocates, some of whom are neutral and confused, and want to learn more.
This is why I am infuriated by repeated calls to boycott both these states from people who claim that this is some kind of grand gesture that will really show those bigots, yes siree. This is patently wrong, and it's also extremely harmful to the very populations that these brave protesters, led by irritating groups like the HRC, claim to be helping.
If you want to help a population that is being oppressed by its government, totally withdrawing all support and connections with the outside world is not the way to do it: Imagine if we saw Wendy Davis filibustering in an anti-abortion Texas and promptly pulled all our support out of Texas on the grounds that the legislature was behaving unconscionably. Instead, when people descended upon the state house to make a stand, we sent supplies, cheered them on from afar, traveled in from out of state, and spoke out against oppression by buying in to an effort to fight it.
Here's the thing about boycotts that many people don't seem to understand: When used effectively, they can be a powerful tool, but when applied indiscriminately, they can actually be extremely harmful.
In the case of these two great states, here's who's not being hurt: The governors. The legislature. The corporations that don't really care about oppressive tactics — in fact, let's take a moment to appreciate the fact that the companies making bombastic claims about withdrawing from these states are still turning around and quietly making donations to the politicians who support legislation like this. BUSTED.
Here's who is hurt:
Sure, maybe you ding a few businesses owned and run by people who supported the law, and you don't give tax dollars to a legislature that passes bigoted and unconstitutional legislation. But really? That's not who's going to bear the brunt of your boycott.
Small businesses will feel it, including those who are radically inclusive and work to protect their LBGQTAI employees and customers, like, oh, independent bookstores, who are getting absolutely hammered right now.
Organizations within North Carolina that are fighting for equality and losing out because people aren't aware of their work will be the ones to suffer from the boycott, like, say, this brewery, which is cooking up a special beer to be sold across the state, proceeds going to fight this law.
The working class will take a hit, thanks to all the jobs that are being lost as a result of slowed business and corporate pullouts. Many of those people, incidentally, are not bigots, despite what stereotypes about the working class might lead you to believe, but people who have lost their jobs because of misguided boycotts who are bigots are probably going to view LGBQTAI people even more unfavorably because now they have something else to blame them for.
Oh, and, mostly importantly: LGBQTAI people.
You know what sucks? Being marginalized and isolated and alone in a landscape where everyone hates you and it feels like there is nowhere safe to go. Feeling like no one is there in solidarity with you, and being acutely aware that everyone from outside your state assumes that everyone in your state is a rampaging asshole.
You know what really sucks? Being a young person surrounded by bigoted laws and hostility who doesn't get to meet LGBQTAI musicians, authors, and other entertainers and performers who have decided to boycott your state because they think they're "making a statement."
I see a growing list of performers pulling out of shows and tours in the region, and it breaks my heart, especially when it comes to young adults who really need to see these figures in their lives, especially right now. They need defiant, in-your-face real adults who show up to say, "Look, this is survivable, and we are gonna fight it, together." They need people like Joseph Fink, who pointedly explained why Night Vale will keep its promises to North Carolina.
They need people like Laura Jane Grace and Against Me!, who will be showing up to play venues in North Carolina even though she won't be able to use the bathrooms. They don't need the parade of "allies" who are making big publicity stunts out of their refusal to enter the state.
These states need a buycott. They need you to show up for the people who are doing it right: For the businesses posting inclusive posters on their windows. For the North Carolina Democrats who walked off the floor rather than participate in a sham vote. For the LGBQTAI-owned and run businesses, companies, and organizations that can't afford to move out of state, that don't want to leave the state, that are proud of who they are. For the LGBQTAI kids who need to be reassured that we are building a better world. For the trans women who are struggling to access transition care because they can't afford it, who are unable to correct their birth certificates to satisfy the state. For the LGBQTAI adults who need to know that we are standing with them.
North Carolina and Mississippi are not this. They are not defined by this, unless we allow this to define them. Don't abandon the South, and don't treat this as a product of regressive social attitudes that are only present in Southern states, because that kind of generalisation is itself bigoted, in addition to being wrong.
Boycotting them isn't heroic. Boycotting is the equivalent of locking a cancer patient in a closet and then taking her chemo and radiation away.
Photo: GoToVan/Creative Commons