It hurts, but canceling concerts over HB2 makes sense

Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato have canceled N.C. concerts over HB 2.
Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato have canceled N.C. concerts over HB 2. Getty Images

My colleague Theoden Janes makes a strong and thoughtful argument today against performers who cancel concerts in North Carolina because of HB 2. You should read it.

It’s risky to shorthand someone else’s thoughts, but Theoden’s point boils down to this: Canceling a concert punishes your fans without accomplishing your objective. N.C. lawmakers and Gov. Pat McCrory are digging in, not backing down, in response. So why not give your fans the performance they pay for, and donate proceeds to the LGBT cause you care about?

He’s right. Canceling a concert punishes the wrong people, including the workers and businesses who benefit from the event.

Except for this: It’s working.

Yes, N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory and his fellow Republicans in Raleigh seem to be digging in against HB 2 backlash. McCrory’s campaign ripped Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato for canceling Charlotte and Raleigh concerts this week, same as Republicans did when Bruce Springsteen canceled his Greensboro concert earlier this month. Same for PayPal and its 400 Charlotte jobs that are no longer.

But look behind the tweets and the bluster, and Republicans in Raleigh are anything but defiant. They’re squirming. They’re looking for a way out. The governor already tried one escape with an executive order that fell flat because it didn’t change HB 2. Now lawmakers are seriously mulling putting HB 2 to a referendum.

Why? Because businesses are unhappy. Because business recruiters are nervous. Because conventions are taking millions of dollars out of the state. And yes, because big-name performers are canceling concerts.

No, things don’t change because one concert is canceled. They change because a big-name performer or business decides not to do something in North Carolina, then another big name, then a bunch of smaller names, until other performers and businesses and conventions start thinking about what side of this movement they want to be seen on.

All of which doesn’t change this about boycotts: The wrong people are punished. Fans don’t get to see their favorite artists. People lose work because a convention goes elsewhere. Some even lose jobs because a company decides not to do business here.

But ultimately, if boycotts work, some larger positives eventually happen. The largest: LGBT people are protected from discrimination. But also, if lawmakers retreat from policy that already has businesses skittish about North Carolina, that’s better for our state in the long term.

Does that mean we should be gleeful at the thought of, say, the NBA moving the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte? Not at all. Moving the game would be bad for Charlotte and its NBA fans, of which I am one. It would be bad for Charlotte businesses, including my employer.

But it makes at least some sense. The cynic would say that the NBA is thinking about its image more than the LGBT community of North Carolina, and that may be true. But the NBA also sees an opportunity to make a difference in North Carolina (unlike in, say, China, where a boycott really would accomplish nothing.)

Same for the performer who cancels a concert. It’s a protest that makes more of a statement than donating proceeds to LGBT causes. For some, it’s simply the right thing to do.

And it’s working.

Peter St. Onge