Deutsche Bank is the latest organisation to withdraw support from the state of North Carolina in the name of equality. The financial institution has suspended its plans for expansion in the town of Cary, which would have resulted in 250 new jobs, in response to local laws which entitle business owners and religious groups to refuse service to LGBT customers.
“We take our commitment to building inclusive work environments seriously,” says co-CEO John Cryan. “We’re proud of our operations and employees in Cary and regret that as a result of this legislation we are unwilling to include North Carolina in our US expansion plans for now. We very much hope that we can re-visit our plans to grow this location in the near future.”
House Bill 2, or the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, has been nicknamed “the bathroom law” as it also restricts the use of public multiple-occupancy restrooms to the “biological sex” stated on an individual’s birth certificate. This means that trans women can only use a women’s bathroom, and trans men can only use the men’s room, if they have legally changed their sex on their birth certificate — something which is far from easy for many trans people.
While North Carolina has previously passed general anti-discrimination laws, there are still no specific protections in place for LGBT people. In addition to restricting use of public spaces, HB2 would also disempower LGBT workers when it comes to suing their employers for infringing their rights.
One of the highest profile figures to condemn this law is rock star Bruce Springsteen, who cancelled a show in Greensboro, North Carolina in protest.
“Right now, there are many groups, businesses, and individuals in North Carolina working to oppose and overcome these negative developments… I feel that this is a time for me and the band to show solidarity for those freedom fighters,” Springsteen wrote in a statement on Facebook. “As a result, and with deepest apologies to our dedicated fans in Greensboro, we have canceled our show scheduled for Sunday, April 10th. Some things are more important than a rock show, and this fight against prejudice and bigotry — which is happening as I write — is one of them. It is the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.”
Other entertainment institutions have followed suit; Hollywood studio Lionsgate and filmmaker Rob Reiner have announced they will cease all filming in North Carolina until HB2 is repealed.
Even porn site XHamster.com has blocked users in North Carolina as a form of punishment. There is certainly a case to be made that straight, cisgender consumers should not be allowed to objectify LGBT people while simultaneously denying them equal rights; according to website spokesman Mike Kulich, North Carolina is the source of 400,000 unique searches for the term “transsexual.”
“These laws are discriminatory which XHamster.com does not tolerate. Judging by the stars of what you North Carolinans watch, we feel this punishment is a severe one,” says Kulich, adding: “I think that porn has the power to do what Bruce Springsteen can’t.”
“Repeated entanglements over LGBT rights in the South have proved that governors may not sympathise with LGBT rights but they do respond to economic pressure,” writes The Daily Beast’s Samantha Allen, who remarks that a large proportion of corporate leaders “remain hesitant to pull out of North Carolina,” resulting in “a game of economic chicken.”
The question of commerce’s role in influencing LGBT policies at a regional level was at the centre of last month’s Economist Pride & Prejudice event, and there were no clear-cut answers. Activist Omar Sharif Jr. asserted that businesses have a moral responsibility to withdraw from countries or states with oppressive anti-LGBT laws. Meanwhile, human rights campaigners Moad Goba and Bisi Alimi believed that in order to change hearts and minds, corporations have to stay put, hire diverse talent, and lead by example.