When North Carolina passed a bill that basically allowed discrimination against the LGBT community, the response by corporate stakeholders was swift and determined. A lot of large corporations have holdings in the state and they let it be known that they were displeased with this bigotry and they said so. One — PayPal — put their money where their umbrage is by announcing that they were cancelling plans to expand their facilities in the state.
Other states took notice. When the Georgia legislature passed a similar law and the boardrooms reacted negatively, Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed the bill. He did it while noting “[o]ur people work side by side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion we adhere to. We are working to make life better for our families and our communities.” Emphasis on “work.” If big companies pull out of the state because of intolerance, that’s bad for business, and business beats Jesus every time.
Now that Mississippi has passed and signed into law an even more broad bill enshrining “religious liberty,” will there be a move by corporations to put the squeeze on the state? Probably not. It’s not that the fire has gone out to defend the rights of the LGBT community, or, for that matter, the straight folks who have a little on the side. It’s because when it comes to Mississippi, there’s not a whole lot to boycott.
The economy in Mississippi is different from those many other states that have recently addressed legislation impacting the LGBT community. The state, which has one of the lowest GDPs in the country, is not home to any Fortune 500 companies, lacks a significant tech sector, and has no major pro sports teams.
With relatively nascent LGBT movement, Mississippi was not ripe for the kind of backlash the country has seen recently in Georgia and North Carolina, where Atlanta and Charlotte house major national corporations, more established LGBT communities, and cosmopolitan attitudes. Mississippi has no major metropolitan area.
Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, the executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, a LGBT advocacy group that does work in Mississippi and North Carolina, told TPM that Mississippi lacks the “nexus where the corporate world meets the political world meets the cultural world” that exists in states like Georgia and North Carolina.
“We just see a very different economic climate there and a very different network of relationships between the corporate sector, the political sector, and advocates,” she said of Mississippi. She said it’s challenging for LGBT people to work their way up the corporate ladder in Mississippi, which she said “creates one further level of impediment, one further reason why a major employer wouldn’t be able to sort of very nimbly pivot in a moment like this and speak out politically.”
So the legislature of Mississippi, with no corporate cudgel hanging over their heads, didn’t have any problem enshrining religious bigotry into law because there would be no backlash, at least from anyone that mattered.
The problem with that is that there are probably just as many LGBT people per capita in Mississippi as there are, on average, in states like North Carolina or Georgia, or anywhere else in America. Not all queer folk live in Key West or San Francisco. They may gravitate to gay meccas, but I know first-hand that there are LGBT communities in small towns and rural America, quietly living their lives and working side by side with straight people. They may not be out to their co-workers and neighbors because that’s just not who they are. Their private lives are just that: private. They may not want to call attention to themselves not because they’re ashamed but because they just don’t feel like it’s anyone else’s business, or they just may not want to make a big deal about it. They would rather have their ordinary lives remain just that: ordinary.
This is one reason I’m not entirely comfortable with boycotts. I think they tend to do more for the boycotters than the boycottees. It makes them feel good that they’re sticking it to the homophobes or the racists or the ignorant, but it also removes any kind of leverage they might have in swaying the local politicians or communities to change their ways. You can’t change someone’s mind if you’re not there to make your case for inclusiveness.