On February 22, Charlotte, N.C., passed an ordinance expanding North Carolina’s anti-discrimination laws so that LGBT people would also be granted protection in places of “public accommodation”—which, among other things, would allow transgender people to use the bathrooms of the gender they identify as. This ordinance was to go in effect on April 1.
But in response, at a special session on March 23, North Carolina’s General Assembly proposed and passed House Bill 2, otherwise known as HB2 and myopically referred to as the “The Bathroom Bill”. Republican Governor Pat McCrory signed it into law that same night.
In less than 12 hours, the General Assembly’s special session—held without transparency or serious public input—left the state with a bill that assaults the freedom of communities to govern themselves, and one that is proving to damage the state’s economy including High Point Market held twice a year in the spring and the fall.
HB2 runs much deeper than allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice but that is the language the governor and his cronies want you to focus on. HB2 eliminates decades-old rights of workers to sue their employer if fired for a discriminatory reason. If a 50-year-old women gets fired because they want someone younger, there is no recourse. North Carolina will now be known as one of only two states in the entire country (Mississippi being the other) without any state law protecting private sector employees from workplace discrimination based on race, religion, color, national origin, age, or sex.
Outraged by this nefarious legislation, I half-heartedly posted a statement on my personal Facebook page that stated, “Does this mean I can boycott High Point Market?” Within minutes the you-know-what hit the fan. Comments ranged from “A boycott is the only solution” to “Why punish companies that don’t support this legislation when they are fiscally tied to showing at High Point Market?” Therein lies the divide—to boycott or not—or another solution that I have assigned myself: to attend and make a stand on the ground.
Before the design community came out in droves in various stances against HB2, I saw where other business leaders with vested interests in the state such as American Airlines, Lowe’s, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and even bastions of machismo ESPN and the NBA took a decisive stand against the discriminatory legislation. So I asked myself what I can do and I came up with a simple solution that anyone could follow. Take a photo of yourself or use the sign stating “Design Don’t Discriminate” with the hashtag #designagainstHB2. Within days, it was all over social media.
But soon after, companies like Currey and Company and Edward Ferrell + Lewis Mittman made their voices heard. Other remarkable business leaders like Mitchell Gold, who runs a factory in Taylorsville, N.C., have shown tremendous leadership by granting interviews and taking stands with very loud voices. Organizations like ASID, IFDA, and IDS have added to the chorus against HB2.
More recently, Architectural Digest Editor-in-Chief Margaret Russell and Publisher and Chief Revenue Officer Giluio Capura announced that the magazine is canceling its annual cocktail party at this year’s High Point Market. I had the distinct pleasure of running into Russell this past Monday at the Kips Bay Decorator Showhouse President’s Dinner where I thanked her for her leadership in North Carolina and she simply said, “There was no other choice. It was the right thing to do.”
The High Point Market is the largest economic event in North Carolina each year with an annual impact of $5.3 billion. Whether designers boycotted or attended and took a stand as I did, the important thing is let your voice be heard. Excluding any group is not good for business. In the end, I am proud to be in a profession and community that believes in inclusiveness and human dignity and knows that design takes precedence over discrimination.
Andrew Joseph is the founder of Andrew Joseph PR based in New York City. He can be reached at (212) 724-6728 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.