House Bill 2 (HB2), a broad law that bans North Carolina’s local LGBT nondiscrimination policies and prevents transgender people from using bathrooms and locker rooms that don’t correspond with the gender on their birth certificates, was hurriedly passed last week in a specially convened session. The “appalling, unconstitutional” law, in the words of a recent New York Times editorial, renders the state “a pioneer in bigotry.” It was passed by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed by Governor Pat McCrory within just 12 hours.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal is vetoing a similar bill, which would’ve allowed businesses to deny services to LGBT people in the name of preserving religious freedom; AMC Networks, Coca-Cola, Home Depot, the NFL, the NCAA and other organizations spoke out against that legislation. Though the North Carolina bill has already been signed into law by Governor McCrory, companies are speaking out in that state too: American Airlines (which employs 14,000 people in the state), Google, Apple, Dow Chemical, PayPal, Red Hat and Biogen are among them.
With High Point Market on the horizon next month, designers and firms are also taking action—and the High Point Market Authority reports that some would-be attendees are threatening a boycott. In a statement issued yesterday afternoon, HPMA called attention to the economic impact of the law, writing, “We feel an obligation to inform the public and our government leaders in Raleigh of the significant economic damage that HB2 is having on the High Point Market and on the North Carolina economy. Based on the reaction in just the last few days, hundreds and perhaps thousands of our customers will not attend” next month’s market. For its part, HPMA says, “[We] embrace all of our attendees and believe that the diversity of the 75,000 people who attend Market is one of our greatest assets and strengths.”
“I think it’s despicable,” Mitchell Gold, cofounder and CEO of Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams tells EAL. Gold is also cofounder and chairman of FaithInAmerica.org, an organization that works to improve the treatment of LGBT people by religious organizations. “More respect is given to a six-lane highway than to LGBT people in this state,” says Gold. Given the new legislation, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, which opens four to six retail stores a year, is holding off on plans to open Charlotte and Raleigh stores.
Gold has heard of customers potentially canceling their trips to High Point Market; he urges them to attend but to take a proactive approach: “Stay in hotels and fly on airlines that have spoken out against this legislation and who support nondiscrimination legislation. Talk to companies that [you] do business with and find out if those companies support politicians who voted for this. Do they give money to the Republican Party in the state? Have they called and spoken to their legislators?” In light of High Point Market Authority’s economic impact announcement, a put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is approach is one of the most tactical. “Don't buy from companies that support this discrimination,” says Gold. “I don’t vote for them, and we don’t support them financially.”
Steve Mittman, owner of Edward Ferrell + Lewis Mittman, voiced solidarity with the LGBT community, writing in a statement, “EF+LM has been producing furniture in North Carolina since 1985 with honesty, integrity and diversity [at] the center of our core values. We deplore any effort to exclude or discriminate against any person on the basis of gender or sexual orientation.” And Currey and Company has also spoken out, releasing a statement: "This legislation is contrary to our core values, which reflect inclusion and diversity as strengths, not weaknesses... Currey and Company has been conducting business in North Carolina for many years and knows that the spirit of this law is not reflective of the wonderful people with which we have had the pleasure of working. We are looking forward to this year’s High Point Market, and as always, we endeavor to create a warm, inviting environment in our showroom for all to enjoy."
Spreading the news is key, according to Andrew Joseph of Andrew Joseph PR, who yesterday debuted a grassroots social media campaign. “Many in the industry have talked about a boycott. I even haphazardly posted something on my own social media,” says Joseph. “But I realized that a boycott is not feasible and or fiscally realistic and, after all, doesn’t that hurt our industry friends and partners that were not part of this nefarious legislation?” Companies from various industries have rallied around the cause, and Joseph decided to pull together a design-centric campaign: “My attempt is simple and grassroots: Let the design community speak out for themselves with simple social media activism,” using a photo plus the tagline “Design Don’t Discriminate,” along with the hashtag #DesignAgainstHB2. “There is always power in numbers,” says Joseph.
Industry leaders are rallying around the cause too. “It’s critical for the design community to stand together against prejudice and discrimination! We need to unite as one, for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all! Not just for some,” Robin Baron, president of ASID New York Metro, tells EAL. “We stand together for all humanity.”