Boycotting “Religious Liberty” States Could Hurt Vulnerable Communities

Religious liberty bills seem to be popping up in multiple states across the American South. The backers of these bills insist that the “Religious Liberties” of those that identify with the Christian faith are being trampled on; now it is time that their champions in public office to put an end to the  discrimination against Christians in the United States. How will they put an end to this unprecedented bout of bigotry? By simply allowing businesses who have “sincerely held religious beliefs” to deny services and accommodations to members of the LGBT community. The LGBT community has been enemy number one for the Religious Right for some time now, and with the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States in the rear view mirror, the Christian Right is looking ahead to make sure the LGBT community is halted in their attempt to be treated as more than second class citizens.

Severe Pushback

iStock_000082523805_LargeThankfully, there has been a surge of resistance to these bills and the politicians proposing them. The greatest resistance has come from big name companies, entertainers, and movie studios threatening to boycott the states if the measures were to pass. The state of Georgia was one of the first states to propose a religious liberty bill this year. Georgia has quickly become a hot spot for movie production, as Atlanta’s metropolitan landscape makes a great backdrop for modern films. It also helps that the cost of production is relatively low compared to Hollywood. These advantages attracted studios like Disney, Marvel, ESPN, etc. to the state. Blockbuster films and shows like The Hunger Games and The Walking Dead have been filmed in Georgia for years now, bringing billions of dollars in much needed revenue to the Peach State. Unfortunately, when these studios got wind of the religious liberty bill, they quickly threatened to cease all future filming in the state as a form of protest. Georgia’s governor Nathan Deal (R) issued a statement saying that there is no place for discrimination in the state of Georgia and that he would veto any bill he deemed discriminatory. The bill eventually passed the state’s house and senate, but, as promised, Governor Deal vetoed the bill. Whatever his reasons, the right choice was to veto this bill, so I applaud him for that. Unfortunately, the governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory (R), allowed his religious liberty bill to pass and promptly signed it into law despite severe pressure to veto it. The law in North Carolina allows business owners to deny service to customers in relation to their religious beliefs, forbids transgender citizens from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity, and a provision in the bill that was recently removed would have prevented those in the LGBT community from suing employers if they experienced homophobic discrimination in the work place.

The Boycotts Roll In

Various celebrities have taken a stand to North Carolina’s law by vowing not to perform or make public appearances in the state. Some of these celebrities include: Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, Bryan Adams, Jimmy Buffet, Sharon Stone, and Michael Moore. While taking a stance against bigotry is very commendable and should be encouraged, it should also be done with a dose of caution. Most of these entertainers had upcoming concerts and shows in the state, and canceling these shows may have unintended consequences.

Who Are These Boycotts Hurting?

Photo credit: IMDB
Photo credit: IMDB

To gain some perspective, I interviewed an up-and-coming Atlanta based actor, Mario Avani and asked him, as an actor who has made multiple appearances on The Walking Dead, what he felt about the the religious liberty law and the potential boycotts against the state. In his statement, he said: “While it’s important that the film industry threatened to leave the state if the bill was passed, because it effectively might have influenced the resulting failure to pass, I don’t believe the industry would have actually left the state. In other words, I think it was a bluff. Maybe that’s all that was needed though, was Hollywood putting its figurative foot down and proclaiming the absurdity of such a bill. I’m just glad we didn’t reach the other side to see if the industry would have actually been affected or not.” The film industry moving to Georgia has been a godsend for the state, as the current unemployment rate is 6.3%. I also think it would be fair to say that Mario, a member of the LGBT community, would have been negatively affected economically if said bill had passed and boycotts of the state did indeed start, especially more so than Govenor Deal, who makes about $140,000 annually. Gays and lesbians being an integral faction of the film industry is not just a stereotype. The LGBT community dominates in hair, makeup, and acting, and when big studios leave, those jobs are removed as well.

Back to North Carolina. Unlike Georgia, the boycotts were not just a bluff and are actually happening. This means local makeup artists, ushers, custodial staff, and businesses that depend on the tourism and traffic that only big name acts bring in will no longer get that business. As the list of entertainers that are boycotting the state grows, the disparity will only grow. Unfortunately, it is the low and middle income workers who will suffer the most, not North Carolina’s politicians, who will get paid regardless of what happens. Thankfully, artists like Cyndi Lauper have not overlooked the discrimination going on in the state, but have devised an alternative to boycotting the state. Lauper still plans on holding her concert in the state and plans on using her platform to raise awareness about the bill and who it disenfranchises in hopes to build a coalition to have the law repealed.

What We Need To Do Is Lend Our Support

Cyndi Lauper is setting a great example by not leaving the LGBT community out to dry. She is engaging the community by making an appearance despite the new law. These are increasingly tough times for the LGBT community, especially the trans community. What the community needs most now is boots-on-the-ground support by their progressive allies. The last thing they need is jobs moving from the state and their allies to be absent during their desperate time of need.

Kevin Davis

Kevin Davis is the head writer and editor for SecularVoices, co-founder of Young Skeptics, and author of Understanding an Atheist. He is known for local and national secular activism and has spoken at conferences and events such as Reason Rally 2016 and the Ark Encounter Protest and Rally.

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