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Queeries: To Boycott North Carolina or Not? That Is the Question

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2012-05-16-AMENDMENT1.jpgQuestion: I know there's a lot of anger in the wake of the passage of Amendment 1 in North Carolina. For instance, one of my friends on Facebook posted this: "Gay people: Get out of the South. Boycott it. Don't give the people of those states another dime of your hard-earned tax dollars. Let those brain-dead, backwards, fat-ass f**k-tards steep in the stench of their simple, illiterate culture, pray to a God who wouldn't claim them, and die their chicken-fried diabetic deaths without the benefit of tasteful funeral flower arrangements." Aside from the severity of the name-calling, I think he (and others) are right in calling for a boycott of the Tar Heel State. Do you agree?

Answer: As a North Carolinian, believe me, I share the same sense of disappointment and anger at the passage of this mean-spirited and bigot-inspired amendment. And we are certainly not alone. Soon after the vote the "Visit North Carolina" Facebook wall was inundated with such extreme vitriol (from members of our community) that the page's administrators asked posters to "refrain from using profane or disrespectful language." But as I've said before, hateful language, no matter who speaks it, gets us nowhere, fast. As for the boycott idea, yes, there are lots of raised voices calling for such a move, but I'm not persuaded, and I don't think you should be, either.

One of the loudest of those voices is former actress Roseanne Barr, now running for President of the United States (yep, you read that right) as a member of the Green Party. Barr first called for Hollywood's production companies to boycott the entire state, later deciding to narrow it to the 93 counties that voted in favor of the amendment. Others less famous than she have also supported a boycott, advocating, "Hit them where it hurts: in the wallet."

Boycotts most decidedly have a place in the history of social change, notably during the civil-rights era of the 1960s. These nonviolent and targeted campaigns (think Woolworth's in Greensboro, N.C.) were certainly effective (both the literal and metaphoric lunch counters were finally integrated). The broader they are, though, the weaker they can be (think Arizona in the wake of its new immigration law). So the first argument against a boycott is that it's not likely to be terribly effective.

And why single out North Carolina, which is only one of 31 states that now have constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage? After all, this is a national problem (remember that itty-bitty law called the Defense of Marriage Act that prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages?). Most importantly, how would such a movement help to change the hearts and minds of the Tar Heels who voted in favor of Amendment 1? It wouldn't. It would only harden them.

What would be the effect on our community and our supporters? For starters, a boycott would punish the 39 percent of the voters in North Carolina who voted against its passage, not to mention LGBT-owned businesses, too. I asked Mark Kleinschmidt, the openly gay mayor of Chapel Hill, for his point of view, and he emailed: "After taking the hit we, the NC LGBT community, took May 8th, the last thing we need is to be abandoned by the rest of the country." He also rightfully pointed out that the major tourist destinations in the state -- the Outer Banks; the Triangle of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill; Charlotte; and Asheville -- all resoundingly defeated the amendment. So, we're going to punish those communities? I don't think so.

But that doesn't mean you can't put your money where your mouth is -- or at least take your cash away from those who use it against us. That means looking carefully at the money trail here: You won't find the equivalent of a local Woolworth's to boycott as payback for this one. Instead, you'll find a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma -- or at least groups inside organizations inside PACS. In fact, Vote for Marriage NC, the leading force behind the pro-amendment movement, got much of its money from other groups, including the National Organization for Marriage, the Christian Action League, the NC Values Coalition, the First Baptist Church, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Raleigh. Those big bucks from the National Organization for Marriage (an anti-gay group that won't disclose its donor lists but that has been closely linked to both the Mormon Church and the Roman Catholic Church, specifically the Knights of Columbus) made up almost 30 percent of donations to Vote for Marriage NC. (Vote for Marriage NC also got a whopping quarter-million dollars from Phil Drake, president of Drake Software, so you may want to think twice before you buy his tax program.)

On the other side, money spent to fight the good fight against Amendment 1 came from an extremely wide range of individuals, making it truly a grassroots campaign. Support also came from the Human Rights Campaign, which is always grateful for donations that allow them to do their important work.

Finally, when you do exercise your right to shop, remember that there's no way of knowing how a business owner voted, or where his or her donations went. You can, however, make your presence as an out LGBT person known -- telling the owner or manager that you're spending your hard-earned "gay dollars" in that establishment. As Stuart Campbell, executive director of Equality NC, told me, "Rather than boycott North Carolina, we need people to stay engaged in the fight for equality in North Carolina."

Steven Petrow is the author of Steven Petrow's Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners and can be found online at gaymanners.com. Got a question? Email him at ask@gaymanners.com, or contact him on Facebook and Twitter.