Last week, I was one of over 260 children's book writers and illustrators to sign this letter of support for LGBT+ readers in North Carolina, in the wake of the Republican-controlled legislature ramming through the so-called "bathroom bill," HB2, which discriminates horribly against trans people and others in the LGBT+ community. I live in North Carolina, and was horrified at the legislature's actions. I'm a cis straight woman, but many of my friends and loved ones are part of the LGBT+ community. My friends and family will tell you that I'm generally a pretty quiet, shy person, but the thought of anyone trying to endanger and humiliate the people I love makes me want to invest in hockey sticks and start kneecapping people.
That's not productive, though. What is productive is pressure on the North Carolina legislature from companies and regular citizens, both in and outside of North Carolina. This can come in the form of open letters, like the one above, donations to nonprofits that are fighting HB2 and similar measures in other states, like the Campaign for Southern Equality, and boycotting.
I want to talk about boycotting, about when and how it works, and the North Carolina context, because I see a lot of people online saying, "Those Southern bigots are getting exactly what they deserve for voting in Gov. McCrory and his bunch in the first place." The truth of our situation in North Carolina is more complex, and in order to understand how to boycott in a way that makes the most impact, you need to understand that situation.
As a North Carolinian and a librarian who watches people struggle to find work every day, it hurts to call for people to boycott our state. It's bittersweet to see large corporations standing up to our leaders by withdrawing economic development deals. Many people in my city string together two to three part-time, low-paying jobs to make ends meet, while wealthy people buy up property for investment and rent it back to us at exorbitant rates. We need jobs, and not just jobs, but industry. We need tourists, especially in hospitality industry-fueled cities like Asheville, where I live. But I still support the boycott, because boycotting can be effective. When it's done right, it accomplishes two things:
1) It sends a message to government leaders that they are out of step with modern values. It puts economic pressure on them. In short, it hits them where it hurts.
2) It sends a message to the people who will suffer under bills like HB2 that we are in solidarity with them, that we will make sacrifices to push for them to regain their liberties.
Boycotting is a noble, non-violent tradition, and as much as it hurts, I applaud the people and companies choosing to take their business elsewhere. What sometimes gets lost in the boycotting conversation, though, is the fact that there are many LGBT+ people, allies, and organizations in North Carolina actively fighting against HB2, and those people need your support.
Earlier this week, Sherman Alexie cancelled an appearance at Malaprop's Bookstore and several local schools in Asheville, NC, causing the general manager of the independent bookstore to pen this letter, published on Shelf Awareness, "Malaprops to Authors: Please Don't Boycott Us." It reads, in part,
For 34 years, we have promoted free speech, human rights and tolerance. We often suffer because of our stance: we've been the target of protests in front of our store, we've had our book choices challenged, and we've received threatening letters and phone calls from people who want us to cancel events because the views of the author are controversial. Not only do we hold these events, we protect the visiting author's right to free speech with our words and sometimes our bodies.
. . . We have hosted meetings in our store about HB2, and posted signs on our bathrooms to let everyone know they are safe to use whichever bathroom they wish. Our city council and mayor are currently considering an official statement and policy to act against state law, despite the consequences. We and our city will do what we can to repeal HB2. . .
. . . If more authors boycott NC because of HB2, we will be financially stricken. We sympathize with their stance, but we hope that authors will choose another way to protest. By protesting in this manner, targeting bookstores, they are directly hurting their fiercest allies. Please don't abandon us; we need your support now more than ever.
Malaprop's has been a part of my reading life since I moved to Asheville, NC for college in 2001, and they have supported me enthusiastically in my career as an author. For as long as I can remember, they've had an excellent LGBT+ section in their store and supported the vibrant LGBT+ community in the surrounding area. They stocked my YA novel featuring a lesbian space romance when Barnes & Noble quietly passed it over. They are an ally, a rallying point, one of the good guys.
So, if authors choose to boycott places like Malaprop's, we have to look back at those two criteria that boycotts are intended to accomplish. Is the outcome that it hits legislators where it hurts? And is it sending a message of support to the LGBT+ community?
The answer to the first question is complicated. What many people don't understand about North Carolina is that it is not the stereotypical monolithic South, and it is become less so every year. You might remember that in 2008, North Carolina went blue for Obama. This was shocking for the Republican establishment, and they set about gerrymandering and engaging in massive voter suppression efforts like the new voter I.D law to make sure they could maintain their gradually slipping control over the state. Take a look at this spectacularly gerrymandered congressional district map Republicans drew up in 2010, which allowed them to take over the NC legislature in 2012.