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North Carolina reels from business backlash to anti-LGBT law

Raleighs convention center has lost $2.4m of bookings and big names in music are staying away from the state despite the governors attempt to backpedal

Since North Carolinas anti-LGBT so-called bathroom bill was signed into law, the Greater Raleigh Convention Center has lost six firm bookings worth an estimated $2.4m, according to its president and CEO, Denny Edwards. Another 16 bookings worth an estimated $44m are also in jeopardy.

Theres going to be some long-term effect, said Edwards, and theres a concern within North Carolina about the greater impact and how much damage this is doing to the wider economy. For Raleighs conference business, he says, its really causing chaos.

The law signed by Governor Pat McCrory banned anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and required that, in public buildings and schools, transgender people use bathrooms corresponding to their gender as assigned at birth. The response was immediate and extreme, with businesses boycotting the state and entertainers cancelling planned performances.

On Tuesday, McCrory backpedalled slightly, calling for changes to the law and signing an order that gave state employees non-discrimination protections. But thus far, theres little sign that McCrorys tweak has changed the backlash to the law.

The events in North Carolina, where the internet commerce giant PayPal has already cancelled investment plans, illustrate how delicate the political dance has become for elected officials.

McCrory, widely perceived as centrist, probably anticipated that his support of HB2 would help him among evangelical voters in his re-election battle with the states Democratic attorney general, Roy Cooper, in November; instead, he has failed to please evangelicals and alienated centrists. But nor has appearing to soften his stance won over protesters.

While the bathroom law is controversial in itself, many express concern that the loss of the right to sue in state court for transgender discrimination is equally repugnant.

The backlash continues because people understand the executive orders havent changed and have not addressed the problems with the legislation, Sarah Preston of the North Carolina ACLU told the Guardian. She called it a poor effort to save face.

Deutsche Bank, which employs 900 people in Cary, announced this week its plans to hire a further 250 staff by 2017 were now on hold, while entertainers, including Ringo Starr, have been added to the list of boldface names cancelling plans to visit.

At the same time, Democratic governors in other southern states are looking to get out ahead of the south-focused values crisis.

In Louisiana, Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, signed an executive order on Wednesday barring discrimination against gay Louisianans, countering anti-LGBT orders introduced by his Republican predecessor Bobby Jindal. Edwards called that rule bad for business, tourism and the Louisiana economy.

Edwards says not only are conference holders wary of coming; they are hearing attendees do not want to come to North Carolina, and that sponsors are resistant. States such as New York and Washington have implemented bans on state employees travelling to North Carolina on state business.

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Two women kiss in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. Photograph: Katie Bailey for the Guardian

We try to stay out of politics but unfortunately tourism is an easy target, he said. Our city has always remained very open and welcoming and diverse. Were not changing how we do business. Were doing as much as we can. Our restrooms are family/gender neutral. Were doing as much as we can legally but were really very concerned. Were taking a big hit.

Opposition to HB2 is not monolithic. While entertainers like Bruce Springsteen and Bryan Adams have been applauded for boycotting the state, others including Cyndi Lauper, have decided its better to engage directly. The singer will go ahead with her 4 June show in Raleigh and donate the proceeds to Equality North Carolina, a group seeking to repeal HB2.

If we truly want an inclusive society, we all have to include ourselves in the effort to make that happen, she said in a statement. This is the best way I know how to include myself and urge you to join me in the best way you know how.

Other upcoming events now in the political cross-hairs include Moogfest, dedicated to the keyboard pioneer Bob Moog, held in Durham in mid-May. The festival is due to include Gary Numan, Grimes, Miike Snow, the Black Madonna and transgender CEO Martine Rothblatt.

Moogfests Adam Katz said in a statement that while organisers are adamantly opposed to the law, the festival will proceed as an inclusive environment where all people come together to explore big ideas for the future. We value diversity, self-expression and experimentation above all else.

The liberation of LGBTQ+ people is wired into the original components of electronic music culture and personally embodied in the deep, lifelong friendship between our godmother (and trans icon), Wendy Carlos and our godfather, Bob Moog, Black Madonna said. She plans to join thousands of other people in #ILLGOWITHYOU protest.

Computer philosopher and virtual reality entrepreneur Jaron Lanier, a scheduled speaker at Moogfest, says he polled trans friends when the issue came up. My conclusion was this: boycott is probably more effective for major institutions; for individuals, engagement is more effective. Theres no perfect answer. The best we can do is be as compassionate and focused as we can.

The question of engagement or inclusion is not limited to North Carolina. In Mississippi, where a religious liberty bill signed into law now makes the state the least protective of LGBT rights, Sharon Stone cancelled plans to film a movie in the state, while Nissan, which has some 6,000 employees in the state, opted instead to boast the companys diversity credentials.

In Tennessee and South Carolina, where religious freedom laws are also under consideration, country music stars including Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Billy Ray Cyrus and his pop star daughter Miley Cyrus are speaking out for LGBT rights.

But the country music industry, centred in Nashville, has yet to actively participate in the protest a stance that contrasts with technology firms like Apple and Facebook, and finance firms, who are leading the corporate opposition.

What is the option? Are we supposed to accept this kind of thing? says Lanier. We have to serve all our customers or we have nothing. Theres no option to buy into segregation and be at a tech company. Theres not much of a choice. We cant redesign our approach to the world to fit in with peoples segregation schemes.

Record labels are in a complicated position, says University of Louisville gender studies professor Diane Pecknold. While its possible for Hollywood movie studios to refuse to film in certain states, Nashville is a brand.

The record labels cant threaten to pull out the way a film company can. They cant pull their headquarters but they occasionally have to ask legislators for favours. But they do risk being harmed by consumer boycotts by not speaking out. At the same time, Pecknold points out, the Country Music Association, which relies heavily on tourism revenue, has said it supports inclusion.

Its a complication, perhaps, of the libertarian leanings of country music that while an artist like Toby Keith is in favour of LGBT rights, hes also playing the National Rifle Association convention this year. Its consistent with a libertarian position and longstanding philosophical thread of individuality in country music, says Pecknold. Artists protests and cultural resistance have long been a civil rights strategy so that kind of protest will proceed. Were hoping, of course, theyll be successful.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/15/north-carolina-lgbt-law-business-backlash

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