North Carolina’s controversial HB2 law has led several musicians to boycott the state. But others have chosen to use their concerts as a platform against the law—a strategy encouraged by advocacy groups and welcomed by transgender musicians.
When Bruce Springsteen canceled his concert to protest North Carolina’s controversial “bathroom law,” many music fans and advocacy groups applauded the gesture, but some saw a missed opportunity.
As an alternative, a pair of activists launched North Carolina Needs You, which encourages musicians to hold shows in the state and use them as platforms to speak out against the measure, known as HB2.
The initiative was born when Grayson Haver Currin, a prominent North Carolina music journalist and onetime codirector of the state’s Hopscotch Music Festival, came up with the strategy after Springsteen canceled. Currin and his wife, Tina, created the campaign out of concern that, in the long run, artist boycotts would do more harm than good.
“Systematic cultural boycotts overlook or undermine these attempts, ostracizing those who are pushing for a more just state rather than aligning with or getting behind them,” Currin wrote in an op-ed on Pitchfork, a site he contributes to. “The truth is that we cannot heal ourselves.”
Almost immediately, the band Duran Duran, which had struggled with whether to cancel its show, collaborated on Currin’s initiative and decided to perform, using the show to draw attention to the cause by bringing critics of the law onstage and by donating money to political nonprofits working to fight the law.
The website also found quick support from those nonprofits, including Equality NC, Progress NC Action, and the state chapters of the NAACP and the ACLU.
The Currins’ strategy convinced a number of acts that would have left the state—including Beyoncé, Mumford & Sons, and Animal Collective—to stick around, knowing that their money would go to nonprofits that could influence the 2016 election and that their message could have an impact on event attendees.
The Hopscotch Music Festival has adopted a similar strategy: The event is adding LGBT acts to the lineup, including Lavender Country (believed to be the first openly gay country band) and rapper Big Freedia.
What Transgender Musicians Think
The artists choosing to stay have received positive notices from music-industry peers who are directly affected by the law.
The band Against Me!—whose lead singer, Laura Jane Grace, publicly came out as transgender in 2012—announced that it would keep its May 15 show in Durham on the schedule specifically to protest the law. The band is encouraging attendees to use gender-neutral bathrooms at the concert venue.
“This is all kind of happening in the moment,” Grace told BuzzFeed. “I’m doing what I can do, and I’ll make the most of going to North Carolina.”
On Sunday, Grace kept her promise, playing to a sold-out crowd, and in an act of protest on the stage, she burned her birth certificate, proclaiming, “Goodbye, gender!”
The moment was captured on Twitter:
— Kathryn (@kwymer6) May 16, 2016
Anhoni, an Oscar-nominated musician who came to prominence as the lead singer of Antony and the Johnsons, commended Springsteen for canceling his concert in the state but also praised Against Me! and Cyndi Lauper for performing.
“Bruce Springsteen, by doing that, made a big impact on people, a lot of middle Americans who love Bruce Springsteen,” Anhoni told Entertainment Weekly. “He definitely broadened the conversation by getting involved. It was very generous of him. And someone like Laura, by staying and performing, she’s making a very similar kind of point coming from a different point of view. They’re all doing a good job.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with details on the Against Me! concert, which took place after the story was initially published.