Shelf Awareness is carrying an open letter from the general manager of a bookstore in North Carolina to authors planning to boycott the state over a discriminatory piece of legislation the state just passed.
The law, HB2, effectively nullifies local ordnances prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s referred to as “the bathroom bill” because it also prevents people from using the restroom of the gender with which they identify if they haven’t taken surgical and legal steps to have it corrected.
As a result, a number of individuals and organizations have announced plans to boycott North Carolina. PayPal canceled plans to open a call center in Charlotte that would have brought 400 new jobs to the state. Bruce Springsteen has canceled an upcoming show there. 269 children’s book authors have posted an open letter (PDF) pledging to boycott the state except for its schools and libraries.
It’s that letter that the general manager of Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café is addressing in Shelf Awareness. Linda-Marie Barrett writes that Malaprop’s has long done all it can to promote free speech, human rights, and tolerance, and it hurts them that authors such as Sherman Alexie have decided to cancel events there. She also complains that the authors’ open letter made exceptions for schools and libraries but left independent bookstores out.
We, as an independent bookstore, share those guiding principles and fundamental beliefs of equality, inclusion and fair treatment. We work hard every day to make sure that books are available to readers and to guard against censorship and intolerance in whatever form it appears.
Boycotting bookstores, she insists, would “directly [hurt] their fiercest allies.”
This puts me in mind of the similar controversy that sprung up in my home state of Indiana last year, when our state legislature passed a religious protection bill that could also have restricted GLBT customers’ freedom. Various businesses including Gen Con and SalesForce announced plans to boycott if it wasn’t repealed. Fortunately for all concerned, within just a few weeks the legislature amended the bill to make it much less obnoxious. It remains to be seen if something similar will happen in North Carolina.
This may not be a popular point of view, given how difficult life has gotten for independent bookstores lately, but bookstores don’t really have as good a case to make for skirting a boycott as nonprofit institutions like schools and libraries. An event at a bookstore will bring in more money, including some from out of state, which will in turn help to support the state via taxes.
If you want to force a change with a public boycott, it’s always going to hurt friends and allies who have the misfortune to be invested in that state—but if everyone made those exceptions for their own allies, the boycott would have a lot fewer teeth. Bruce Springsteen knows he’s going to disappoint a whole lot of fans who’ve been wanting to see him—but if he did the show anyway “for the fans,” it would nonetheless bring more money to the state.
I hope North Carolina comes around as Indiana eventually did. In the meanwhile, businesses who don’t want to be affected by boycotts will have that much more incentive to work to get the law changed. Asking people not to boycott you because you’re one of the good guys isn’t going to help—even if you demonstrably are one of the good guys.