North Carolina recently passed a piece of anti-LGBT legislation, which has since been derided across the US. Increasingly, prominent individuals and companies are boycotting the state, employing a tactic used to overturn similar legislation in Indiana. Will the boycott North Carolina campaign work?
Spotlight on Indiana
Over the past decade, the US LGBT rights movement has earned significant gains. After years of campaigning, the Supreme Court legalised same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015. Conservatives in state legislatures have responded with a spate of ‘religious freedom bills.’ These are basically designed to allow people to discriminate against LGBT individuals on the grounds of religion.
One of the first states to enact such legislation was Indiana. In 2015, the Indiana state legislature green-lighted the ‘Religious Freedom Restoration Act,’ giving companies the right to discriminate against the LGBT community on religious grounds. Businesses boycotted Indiana, which the Advocate suggests deprived the state of at least $60 million. Indiana Governor Mike Pence buckled under the pressure, amending the legislation so that it prevented LGBT discrimination.
North Carolina follows
But conservatives haven’t given up. Just recently, the Republican-dominated North Carolina legislature passed House Bill Two (HB2), which the state’s GOP Governor, Pat McCrory, signed into law the same night it reached his desk. Otherwise known as the ‘Bathroom Bill,’ not only does this law permit discrimination on religious grounds, it forces transgender people to only use the public bathrooms of their biological gender, rather than the gender they identify with.
The backlash was enormous. Not only has a legal challenge been launched against HB2, numerous companies and individuals have said they will either pull, reconsider or avoid launching projects in North Carolina. For example, payments firm Paypal scrapped its plans to build a $3.6 million global operations centre in Charlotte, the state’s largest economy. Charlotte’s decision to pass a city ordinance extending anti-discrimination protections to LGBT people prompted the passing of HB2.
Digging in their heels
NBC writes that North Carolina’s economy is already starting to suffer as a result of HB2. The real question is, will pressure from the national business community force the Tar Heel State to revoke this toxic piece of legislation? As we have seen in Indiana, economic boycotts can work. This strategy also proved effective in Georgia, which recently tried passing similar legislation. Following a boycott threat from companies such as Disney, the state’s Governor Nathan Deal, a Republican, vetoed the bill before it became law.
In contrast, North Carolina officials have dug their heels in and defended HB2. McCrory’s office issued a statement which said: “[There] is a well-coordinated, national campaign to smear our state’s reputation after we passed a common-sense law to ensure no government can take away our basic expectations of privacy in bathrooms, locker rooms and showers.” Other Republicans in North Carolina have responded in similar ways, indicating that they are unlikely to repeal HB2 anytime soon.
Playing to the base
Why did boycotts prove effective in Indiana and Georgia, but not North Carolina? I believe that this is because 2016 is a Presidential election year, the reason Bernie Sanders is currently fighting for his political life in New York. Whenever a big election rolls around, politicians strive to reassure voters that they share the same values. North Carolina’s congressional districts are heavily-gerrymandered in favour of the Republican Party, so it makes sense that the state’s Republican-dominated legislature would attempt to appeal to their base voters by passing HB2.
Georgia’s congressional districts are also heavily-gerrymandered in favour of the Republicans. Despite the fact that Georgia is gradually becoming a swing state in national elections, according to Real Clear Politics Nathan Deal won re-election in 2014 with a comfortable share of the vote. Georgia doesn’t hold another Gubernatorial election until 2018. Deal probably felt safe to act on his pro-business sentiments, which are shared by many Republicans and veto anti-LGBT legislation, in order to protect his state’s economy.
Pat McCrory faces re-election in 2016; it’s in his best interests to play to his Party’s base. Not only will this help him survive any challenges he may face in Republican Gubernatorial Primaries, but it may allow him boost turnout in the general Gubernatorial election. The News and Observer predicts that the North Carolina Gubernatorial race will be one of the most competitive in the country. Therefore, McCrory needs to persuade his supporters to come out and vote; this is especially important in a Presidential election year, which traditionally sees higher Democratic turnout.
Come out and vote
This is an Presidential election year, so the boycott North Carolina campaign may not prove as effective as other efforts to repeal anti-LGBT laws. Pat McCrory and other North Carolina Republicans need to fire up their base, so they are unlikely to repeal HB2 and incur the wrath of GOP voters. If North Carolinians disagree with HB2, they need to vote for politicians who oppose anti-LGBT laws this election cycle, to ensure this toxic piece of legislation is taken off the books.