April 12, 2016
As North Carolina’s controversial HB2 legislation goes into effect, booksellers and other small businesses are already coping with the fallout
by Simon Reichley
Several weeks ago, the North Carolina state legislature held an emergency session in order to strike down a Charlotte ordinance intended to allow transgender individuals to use the public restroom of their identified gender. HB2 or The Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, overrules the Charlotte ordinance by establishing a class of people who are protected by the state against discrimination in the workplace or elsewhere. It furthermore prohibits any local authority within the state from expanding on these core protections. LGBTQ people are not included in the bill’s coverage.
The backlash has been severe and swift. Protesters across the state have rallied in support of North Carolina’s LGBTQ community, the Obama administration may withhold billions of dollars in federal funding, PayPal has cancelled planned expansion into Charlotte, and Bruce Springsteen nixed a concert in Greensboro in response to the bill.
In the book world, Sherman Alexie announced on Twitter that he had cancelled his scheduled NC appearances in protest. Malaprops Bookstore in Asheville, NC, where Alexie was to read in May, has responded to the news with an open letter to all authors considering a boycott of the state. Other bookstores such as Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill and Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh are worried that similar cancellations could cause serious financial damage. As Linda-Marie Barrett, general manager of Malaprops, said in her letter, the store had been planning on selling 300-500 copies of Alexie’s new book, Thunder Boy, Jr. That’s a substantial amount of business for a small shop, and as Barrett says, more boycotts could prove crippling:
If more authors boycott NC because of HB2, we will be financially stricken. We sympathize with their stance, but we hope that authors will choose another way to protest. By protesting in this manner, targeting bookstores, they are directly hurting their fiercest allies. Please don’t abandon us; we need your support now more than ever.
Other shops are looking to stave off a wave of cancellations and boycotts by using in store events as opportunities for protest:
“Tom Campbell [owner of The Regulator Bookshop in Durham] has given the matter a lot of thought and in a letter to PW he wrote, ‘It would be sad indeed if one of the effects of this legislation was to diminish the number and strength of voices speaking out here for openness, inclusion, fairness and nondiscrimination.’
Campbell proposed offering big-name authors a chance to designate their events with the store as ‘Liberty and Justice events.’ The store would donate a portion of the author’s and its proceeds to the North Carolina ACLU and the North Carolina Justice Center, which are fighting HB2. And he suggested that other stores follow suit.
‘So to authors (and rock stars) we say,’ Campbell stated in closing, ‘Don’t let the North Carolina legislature scare you away. Come on down here and get in their face! Help fire up the troops, here on the ground. Be a thorn in their side, not a silent, empty space.’ [From Publishers Weekly]
Simon Reichley is the Director of Operations and Rights Manager at Melville House.