Monday, December 12, 2016

San Francisco Symphony Takes a Stand on Discrimination in North Carolina

The full title of the bill informally known as “HB2,” which was passed into law by the North Carolina state legislature this past March, is “An Act to Provide for Single-sex Multiple Occupancy Bathroom and Changing Facilities in Schools and Public Agencies and to Create Statewide Consistency in Regulation of Employment and Public Accommodations.” This is a relatively long-winded way of stating that the use of such facilities is determined by birth certificate, rather than any more general and subjective criteria for gender identity. Those who supported the bill call it “common sense;” but the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans) community sees it as the epitome of the very kind of discrimination they have been opposing for decades.

An impressive amount of support has rallied behind that community, at least outside the state of North Carolina. The NBA, NCAA, and NFL, as well as ESPN, have all spoken out against it. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver took his case directly to the state’s governor; and, when it was clear that no changes to the law were in its future, Silver officially pulled the 2017 NBA All-Star Game out of Charlotte. Along similar lines, many film production companies have cancelled plans to shoot films in North Carolina, and documentary producer Michael Moore even announced that his next movie, Where to Invade Next, would not be licensed to theaters in North Carolina. Cancellations of performances have cut across all the different genres of music. The act of cancellation may be one of the few things that Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, and Itzhak Perlman all have in common.

Today the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) officially joined those voices of opposition. This coming April SFS has scheduled a tour to the East Coast, which will include two performances at Carnegie Hall on April 7 and 8. This was to be preceded by two concerts at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill on April 5 and 6, but those two planned performances have now been cancelled. Executive Director Brent Assink made the case for the cancellation as follows:
This decision is not a reflection of our regard for Carolina Performing Arts, which is a valued artistic partner, but a response to the North Carolina state legislature’s decision to enact HB2.  We would have loved to perform at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a community that in many ways is consonant with our own San Francisco Bay Area.  But we also feel we must join our city, our state, the NBA, NCAA, and the many artists, organizations, and businesses who have chosen to not visit or contribute economically to North Carolina until legislation denying protection for the LGBT community has been overturned. The San Francisco Symphony, its Board of Governors, and Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas wholeheartedly support this decision, as they support all those striving for equality and inclusiveness in their community and beyond.
Ironically, the university has never enforced HB2 as a matter of policy; but this amounts to their being an enclave of civil rights in a state that has escalated discrimination from a personal matter to a state law. While the response from outside the state has been one of economic boycott, the impact has yet to make much difference. Perhaps the legislators of North Carolina have decided that, if South Africa could hang tough on apartheid in the face of such boycotts for many decades, they can follow the same model. If they do so, they can always fall back on the argument that they are acting on the will of those who voted them into office. Sadly, those voters probably do not care very much if SFS decides not to visit the state; but, for what it is worth, they probably feel the same way about Springsteen.

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