A version of this story ran in the May 2016 issue.
My mother has gifted me many things in life — unruly hair and lots of it, an affinity for shiny accessories, an appreciation for all things feline — but I am most grateful for the work she did to instill in me an appreciation for good music. Specifically, for the oeuvre of Bruce Springsteen.
Mom went to see Bruce in Dallas last month, texting me videos and photos from the show. I always regret not going to a concert with her, but I regret it a little more this time, in light of the fact that Springsteen, protesting North Carolina’s new anti-LGBT “religious liberty” law, canceled a tour stop in Greensboro.
He called the North Carolina law an “attempt by people who cannot stand the progress our country has made in recognizing the human rights of all of our citizens to overturn that progress.” He said he canceled to “show solidarity for those freedom fighters” on the ground working for equal rights.
If things keep going the way they are in Texas, Bruce will never see another Lone Star stage. That, of course, will be the very least of our worries, as we see Texans of color, pregnant women, parents, veterans, gay and lesbian folks, trans people and people of faith fired, not hired, and evicted without legal recourse.
The ball is rolling. Texas has set the stage for future anti-nondiscrimination laws with the toothless “pastor protection” bill passed in 2015, wherein legislators pandered to extreme conservative Christian groups who moaned that they didn’t want to be forced to endorse or perform the marriages of gay Texans. (They wouldn’t have had to, under existing law). And we’ve already seen the Christian right’s defeat of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, which would have protected veterans, women, LGBT folks, pregnant Texans and others from discrimination in employment and housing. Now, Attorney General Ken Paxton has begun mining staff from North Texas’ anti-gay legal outfit, First Liberty, and installing them in his office.
Signs point toward Texas prepping to do worse than North Carolina. One Texas lawmaker has already suggested a state constitutional amendment allowing religious exemptions from nondiscrimination laws for every kind of bigotry. So long as you say Jesus — or Whoever On High — told you to do it.
Boycotts, threatened or realized, from outside entities are an obvious response to this kind of thing. Hit them where it hurts, right? In their pocketbooks! But who is “them,” exactly? What about those who might otherwise have been employed by that large tech company that moves its local outpost, or that film studio that goes to a different location? Folks who, in addition to living under these oppressive laws, are also struggling to find work. Or, in a less pressing example, who might want to let off steam by seeing their favorite band.
For those of us who live in oft-mocked geographies, particularly the South — and I’m here to agree that Texas does its part to earn disdain, much of the time — this kind of liberal snobbery really stings.
We saw it when Bernie Sanders dismissed Hillary Clinton’s Southern primary victories as being less valuable than wins in Midwest and East and West Coast states. I see it every day when some lefty Twitter snarker with a San Francisco address tells me that Texas should just “secede already.”
It’s easy to boycott a place you visit never, a state you imagine to be full of bumpkins and hicks. It’s easy to say you don’t need votes from people you think are too stupid to know what’s best for them, anyway.
But what I want to know is: If Texas secedes, as so many of my fine coastal allies seem to enjoy imagining, where do I go? Where do I take my family, my cats, my dog, my photo albums? Will the enlightened liberals of Vermont and California offer me rent-free space in their homes, and can I bring my parents?
What we don’t have here in Texas is the world’s most progressive government. What we do have is a hell of a lot of space. Plenty of room for folks who want to do good in the world. Plenty of doors to knock on. Plenty of legislators to educate. Plenty of local elections to vote in. Plenty of folks who’d love to patronize businesses possessing inclusive, equality-minded values.
Y’all are welcome to join us here doing the work, anytime.