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Anti-HB2 Concerts Makes Some Noise for Equality

by Nicole Fisher

September 19, 2016

With Governor Pat McCrory flailing to save his political future, and the city of Charlotte summarily dismissing his latest bad faith "compromise," the next sound you hear may be the death rattle of North Carolina House Bill 2, a hastily-passed, toxic combination of bigotry, transphobia and worker oppression that seems to be racking up opposition by the minute.

Even McCrory now acknowledges—albeit for the wrong reasons—how disastrous a piece of legislation HB2 has been for the state. That was the impetus this past weekend for the governor and state GOP leaders to say they would consider repealing HB2—but only if  Charlotte agreed to get rid of its city ordinance codifying equality for the LBGTQ community. On Monday, speaking for Charlotte and Americans everywhere opposed to discriminatory legislation, Mayor Jennifer  Roberts said, in essence—'no, thanks, you broke it, you fix it.'

While the massive losses to the state’s pocketbook seems to be the only language that the governor understands, the fallout for North Carolina extends far beyond money. The arts community in particular has voiced concern and disapproval at HB2, and been at the forefront at calling for its repeal.  

"I was just furious at McCrory and the GOP legislature for passing this hateful, hurtful law," says Mike Allen, founder of Stand Against HB2, a grassroots concert series showcasing North Carolina musicians united in protest against the divisive law. The series rolls into the Neighborhood Theatre on Saturday, Sept.  24, running from noon to midnight and featuring 17 local and regional bands, solo artists and speakers (full roster and schedule here).

A Raleigh-based copywriter with ties to the Tarheel music scene, Allen said he did not want to join musicians like Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam and Nick Jonas in boycotting his home state, but instead chose inclusion, launching Stand Against HB2. Since its initial May 15 concert at the Haw River Ballroom in Saxapawhaw, the series has toured a fluid roster of musicians throughout the state, donating all proceeds to Equality North Carolina, a nonprofit advocating equal rights for LGBTQ North Carolinians, and QORDS, a summer camp that builds queer community through music.

Allen and the Tarheel musical collective contributing to these concerts have transformed their anger at the bill into hope, love and a celebration of community. More powerful than a polemic, Stand Against HB2 is a party, a human rights road show. Instead of dividing North Carolinians along partisan lines, it is bringing neighbors together through music, education and an openhearted embrace of our better angels.

Charlotte Viewpoint spoke with promoter and principal organizer Allen, plus several musicians and speakers involved in this historic concert series.   

First, let's address the law. How would you respond to someone who believes that HB2 insures the safety of women and children, that it will stop a man from putting on a dress so he can go into a women's rest room or locker room to assault someone or to expose himself?

Mike Allen: There are already laws in place to protect women and children from the activities you mention. The fact is, heterosexual men have been doing these kinds of acts since the beginning of time. However, there have been no cases of a transgender person assaulting anyone or exposing him/herself in a restroom ever. Quite the opposite—Mike Allen, founder of Stand Against HB2transgender individuals are more likely to be assaulted than non-transgender people. This law forces transgender women to use the men's restroom and transgender men to use the women's restroom, thus putting them in danger, not the other way around. It is a solution for a non-existent problem.

Jay Garrigan (Singer/songwriter with several Charlotte bands including The Eyebrows): There have not been any public safety issues with ordinances allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice.

Candis Cox (Transgender activist, educator and speaker): I agree that we need to insure that people do not attempt to take advantage of anyone in any way shape or form regardless of gender. However, it is absurd to say that HB2 protects people more than what we already have written into law. Stalking and sexual predatory behavior is already illegal at the federal level. If HB2 was truly about protection, then there would have been measures written into the legislation that address how we would enforce it, and what the penalty would be for a violation. The Governor and the legislature have presented neither of those.

How did you get involved in Stand Against HB2 and what drew you to the concert series and the cause?

Mike Allen: I have organized benefit concerts in this area for several years, and when HB2 became law, area musicians asked me  to organize the first Stand Against show. The idea for the benefit came from Jon Heames (Crush), Rod Abernethy (composer for film, television and games) and Caitlin Cary (Whiskeytown).

Jon Lindsay (Raleigh and Charlotte based singer/songwriter): I've been actively involved in LGTBQ rights since the passage of this ridiculous bill. When Mike organized the first concert at Haw River Ballroom, my band was more than happy to join the lineup. After the wild success of that first concert, some of us urged Mike to take the show around the state. It came together pretty quickly. All the credit goes to Mike.

Orlando Parker(Singer, model, and community activist): I saw my buddy Matt Hirschy's name attached to the concert series. Matt just happens to be the Director of Advancement at Equality North Carolina. This prompted me to look further into the concerts and the agenda behind them. Once I realized that I could use one of my biggest assets—my singing voice—to be of service, I was in. I approached Mike Allen with the idea of opening the show with the National Anthem. I felt that it was meaningful to have me singing that particular song at this event because I am gay, I am black, I am an American and I am proud.

Danny Johnson (Multi-instrumentalist with Jack the Radio): We've been lucky enough to work with Mike Allen since the first Stand Against HB2 show. Watching him undertake such a daunting task has been really inspirational. This series of shows proves that while one artist might be hard pressed to make a substantial difference, a coalition of artists coming together can draw local, state, and national press to the issues around inequity in North Carolina. We're proud to be part of that coalition.

Have you or your friends or your family been affected by HB2?

Jay Garrigan: I’ve seen the pain HB2 causes. I’ve tried to address my own transphobia by actively meeting and discussing this law with transgender individuals. I highly recommend that people make personal connections to better understand how they think and feel about HB2. Meeting people who are different from you is one of the greatest things you can do to expand your knowledge of the world. The world is a really big place, and I've always found it silly when one group of people tries to impose their views on others. It’s always short-lived, and it runs deep with hate. When this type of hate becomes acceptable, it’s only a matter of time before they come after you, too.

Mike Allen: At the time the law passed, I didn't have a personal connection to anyone affected by it. But through the course of the show, I've met wonderful transgender people such as Candis Cox and Lara Americo whose lives have been dramatically affected.

Danny Johnson: We live in a diverse community, so most of us at one point or another have known people whose gender doesn't align with the body they were born in. Friends, colleagues, students—regardless of the connection, we know that HB2 adds one more hurdle to equality for folks who are already facing challenges.

Jon Lindsay, musical activistJon Lindsay: I have a lot of friends in the LGBTQ community of North Carolina, many of whom I consider as close as blood family. Beyond the LGBTQ community, HB2 has negatively affected all people of North Carolina. It has tarnished the reputation of our great state,  resulting in some folks writing the entire place off as a bigoted backwater. That drives me nuts. The real heart and soul of North Carolina is anything but this kind of backward intolerance. 

How important is it for artists to speak up about causes like opposition to HB2, and why is it important to you?

Candis Cox: It's extremely important. I see it as a moral imperative. Artists often cross genres and appeal to different segments of society. Politicians, in contrast, are often isolated in their support from their like-minded constituents, whereas an artist can be liked and loved by people who come from every walk of life. Artists and musicians can be extremely influential with their fans. If nothing else, artists should use their voices to educate, because the best decision we all can make is an educated one.

Danny Johnson: Artists in the music community aren't any different than millions of like-minded citizens across the state, but we're lucky enough to have more access to press, stages, and microphones. Theodore Roosevelt said, "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are." A lot of artists in the state took that sentiment to heart when HB2 rolled out.

Orlando Parker:I think everyone, including artists, should use their platform, whatever that may be, for the advancement of the human race. Anyone with a voice should be speaking out. We artists are using our talents to raise money, which is necessary in fighting HB2 in court. Funds are also needed to continue raising awareness and educating people. HB2 is much broader than the "bathroom bill" it has been reduced to by the media. It's an attack on minorities, under-paid workers and religion as well.


What do you hope Stand Against HB2 will accomplish?

Mike Allen: I hope it raises money for Equality North Carolina and QORDS, but I also hope it raises awareness of the evil embodied in this bill—far beyond the bathroom part. Many people still can't see past that. It is a law that does so much harm at the local and municipal level. It legalizes discrimination and strips away citizens' rights to sue for wrongful termination or discrimination in state courts.

Jon Lindsay: I hope it uplifts everyone targeted by the legislation. This law is also designed to keep municipalities from raising the minimum wage, and doesn't even include veterans as a protected group of the population.

Candis Cox: I hope it shows people that when we're faced with adversity here in North Carolina, we step up, take ownership of the problem and rectify it. Stand Against HB2 is helping us identify our allies and supporters, and it's defining what it means to be a positive beacon of hope. It's one thing to say, "I think that HB2 is wrong. It should be repealed. We need to elect Roy Cooper." It's another thing to say, "I'm going to use my resources to uplift the people of North Carolina and show that we are a great state and a great people." We have positivity. We have love. Let's use those resources to empower, not only trans or LGBTQ people, but all of our communities.

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Tags: North Carolina, HB2, musicians, discrimination, QORDS, Equality North Carolina, Neighborhood Theatre, Stand Against HB2

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