Was Beyoncé Wrong to Perform in the Anti-LGBTQ state of North Carolina?
Obama may be planning to make the Stonewall Inn the nation’s first national gay landmark, but the fight for equality in the LGBTQ community is nowhere near over. We’ve watched in horror and disgust as Georgia, Kentucky, South Dakota, Mississippi, Alabama, and even more states have passed hateful legislation targeting the LGBTQ community. We’ve seen bathroom bills ignite heated debates over which humans have the right to pee comfortably and in peace. The overwhelming homophobia and transphobia that blindsided us initially has led to a necessary new discussion over how exactly we should handle this hateful legislation.
For many people, celebrities, and corporations, the answer is to boycott and protest the states to hit them where it hurts—their wallets. North Carolina’s House Bill 2 (HB2), which made it legal for businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people, forced people to use the bathroom that aligns with the gender they were assigned at birth, and banned cities from creating non-discrimination laws, was relentlessly criticized. IBM, Biogen, Dow, and PayPal sent out tweets condemning HB2. The state’s largest newspaper, the Charlotte Observer, openly condemned Governor Pat McCrory. Artists like Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas, Bruce Springsteen, and Pearl Jam have all cancelled their tour dates in North Carolina to protest HB2. These people and institutions have all garnered widespread acclaim and have been cited as strong allies to the LGBTQ community. Yet, for the all the good these protests and cancellations potentially bring, there’s still a lingering question of who exactly benefits from this strategy.
Which brings us to Tuesday, when Beyoncé performed in Raleigh, N.C. as part of her Formation World Tour. It seemed like a risky move not only because so many other artists had cancelled their own performances in N.C., but also because Queen Bey had yet to publicly comment on the controversy. It was only a day later, once she’d finished the performance and left the state, that she took to her website to release a statement on the hateful legislation that had been passed in North Carolina.
“As The Formation World Tour makes its stop in the Tar Heel state in the midst of such a controversial time, we think it is important for us to bring attention to those who are committed to being good and carrying on the message of equality in this core of controversy,” the statement reads. “Among the many organizations doing the good work to get this bill overturned, there is Equality NC, a local organization dedicated to securing equal rights and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) North Carolinians.” The rest of the post goes on to explain how people can help by “donating, volunteering, becoming an ambassador, attending an event, or simply spreading the word!”
The sentiment and her commitment to performing is not necessarily unique; Beyoncé is not the first musician to commit to performing there—she’s just one of the first straight LGBTQ allies to do it. Conversely, before Beyoncé released her statement, the transgender lead singer of Against Me, Laura Jane Grace, told fans in a series of tweets that she was more excited than ever to perform in N.C. on May 15th. Openly gay singer Brandi Carlile also committed to performing all of her scheduled concerts in N.C. For Grace, boycotting the state was never an option because transgender people in the state don’t have the option to boycott. “They live here. They pay taxes. They are prisoners to it,” she explained to Buzzfeed. “Despite whatever stupid laws they enact, trans people are not going to be scared. They are not going to go away.”
Working together with organizations that raise awareness and fight back against HB2 is, for Carlile, a crucial element to her scheduled N.C. concerts. She announced that all proceeds from her shows will be donated to the ACLU of North Carolina, and took to Facebook to explain her decision to continue on with all of her tour stops. When Against Me performs in N.C. in a few weeks, Grace also plans to use the opportunity to raise awareness, particularly talking about trans rights on stage. And in the weeks leading up to the show, Grace has called on fans to use gender-neutral restrooms at the venue as an “act of protest,” and is asking LGBTQ organizations to set up tables at the event to raise awareness.
It was suggested to me in an interview that we might cancel our May 15th show in Durham, NC because of the states HB2 bill. Hell no! (1/2)
— Laura Jane Grace (@LauraJaneGrace) March 30, 2016
I'm even more eager to play North Carolina 'cause of the bill! Let me know if there's any activist groups that can come table the show (2/2)
— Laura Jane Grace (@LauraJaneGrace) March 30, 2016
— Laura Jane Grace (@LauraJaneGrace) April 13, 2016
“I’m a small artist, and I’m gay, many of my fans are gay as well. To cancel my shows in N.C. would further oppress my fans who are hurt by this legislation, who worked hard to suppress it, and who need a place where they can come together,” Carlile explained. “That’s why we intend to be in Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Asheville, and Greensboro this summer. We’re going to come together, let our voices be heard, not stand down, and make a joyful noise in the face of this insult of a law.”
Of course Grace and Carlile’s decision to focus on the fans who don’t have the option to leave the state, rather than protesting or boycotting the event entirely, is certainly not the only moral path to take in this situation. Yet there are serious consequences to canceling shows in homophobic or transphobic states that’s worth taking into consideration. For every hit to a transphobic state’s economy, there is also the possibility of denying the LGBTQ community living in that state the inspiration or escape that they’re looking for in these concerts. When it comes to the hateful laws that have been passed in North Carolina and other states, it may be best to do what Beyoncé, Grace, and Carlile have done and advocate for issues, raise awareness of pro-LGBTQ organizations, and donate to the cause. Instead of boycotting the bad lemons that these states are handing us, why not try turning them into lemonade?
Stay tuned to Milk for more Beyoncé-filled political news.
Images via Beyoncé, Daniela Vesco, Equality NC, and The Independent.