“’Keep the men out of the ladies’ rooms!’” That’s 33-year-old North Carolinian Aaron Fitt impersonating the pearl-clutching right-wingers of his state. Their support of the month-old “bathroom bill” HB2, which virtually encourages discrimination against LGBT people, has cost NC music fans of all kinds, with high-profile acts like Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, Pearl Jam, Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas cancelling shows in the state since its inception.

Like the state legislature that created it, Fitt says, HB2 “stinks.” What does it entail? Outside of the stipulation that trans men and women must use bathrooms for the gender they were assigned at birth, it also overrides an anti-discrimination ordinance created in Charlotte, NC, which prevents discrimination against LGBT people. It is now legal in North Carolina for people to be fired from their jobs – or denied goods and services – just for being LGBT.


Since 2010 the state’s legislature has been Republican-dominated, despite high numbers of liberals in urban areas, and the enforcement of HB2 gives these Democrats “a helpless feeling”, Fitt says. That’s why the action taken by Springsteen and Pearl Jam makes him proud. “They stood up for what they believe in,” he explains. “Their politics have always been such a big part of their music anyway that I almost would’ve been surprised if they’d done something different.”

He was hoping to see Springsteen at his 23,500-capacity show in Greensboro, and “bucket-list band” Pearl Jam weeks later at their 20,000-capacity one. Lovato and Jonas were due to play two shows together, each to an audience of more than 18,000 people. The continued loss of concerts like these is likely to hurt the local economy in cancelled hotel rooms, unpatronised restaurants and shops – each time, it’s 20,000 people’s dollars that won’t get spent in North Carolina’s cities – but what’s the effect on the music fans? NME spoke to four local gig-goers to get their take on the situation.

Anna, 16, Apex, NC

What do you think of HB2?
“I think HB2 is a disgrace to the state of North Carolina. It makes me upset to be forced to say I’m from North Carolina.”

Has the cancellation of shows made you more aware of HB2? Are you talking about it more now because of these musicians?
“I was very well aware of HB2 before shows were cancelled. My mom and dad were going to see Bruce Springsteen, and my dad and I were going to see Demi Lovato at both of her North Carolina shows. My family has never been a supporter of Pat McCrory, this has just pushed us to dislike him more. I’m a very political person, so HB2 will always be a daily debate with me and my peers.”

Has it made you want to take action/protest? And do you think cancelling shows is the right way for musicians to protest HB2?
“I want to protest. I live fairly close to the Governors house so it’d be easy to do. I think the musicians are protesting the right way even if it upsets me. They can choose to perform their music wherever they please.”

Do you think there’s a chance musicians cancelling will result in the scrapping of HB2?
“I think when the state realizes how much money they are losing, they will scrap the law. But then again, I do not have much faith in our Governor.”


Aaron, 33, Durham, NC


What do you think of HB2?
I’m obviously strongly opposed to it. Where I live, here in Durham, I think most people are. There’s very much a divide in the state between the rural areas and the more urban areas and this part of the state is extremely progressive. Raleigh, Durham, all the cities, even Greensboro and Wilmington, the city councils have come out against this thing.

“The Republicans came in just in time for redistricting [the process by which new congressional and state legislative district boundaries are drawn] and now we’ve got no hope of winning the legislature back. It feels like these people don’t represent us in any way.”

Has the cancellation of shows made you more aware of HB2? Are you talking about it more now because of these musicians?
“As soon as this thing passed, everyone I know was in an uproar, we’re all just doing what we can. I think certainly Springsteen’s cancellation was a big deal, people have been talking about it non-stop really. But I have to imagine that that really did generate some extra awareness, and probably the people who didn’t know what the bill was about were probably the people who were inclined to support it. ‘Keep the men out of the ladies’ rooms!’ They think it’s that simple, they buy the Republican rhetoric, and so maybe if they took the time and read Bruce’s statement, which I thought was extremely thoughtful and well articulated, maybe it could change some minds. Even if it didn’t change anybody’s mind, I still think the bottom line is you’re putting a lot of economic pressure on the state, and I think the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce even – which is a pretty conservative organisation – even they asked for a repeal of the bill because it’s taken a big economic toll.”


#RepealHB2

A photo posted by Demi Lovato (@ddlovato) on


Were you surprised to see Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas making their statement?
“I thought it was great, and I’m not surprised – I feel like that generation is very open-minded and tolerant. Maybe they’re not as activist in nature as the Springsteens and the Pearl Jams, but when it comes to values I have to imagine they’re with us on this thing, and I think the fact that those elder statesmen have done it has made it easier for some other people to follow suit. They’re not an island so much.”

Have the cancellations made you want to take action/protest? And do you think cancelling shows is the right way for musicians to protest HB2?
“I was down in Wilmington the day that Bruce announced his cancellation and it just took social media by storm. The comment sections on the news sites. When somebody like that makes that kind of a principled stand, whether you support it or you don’t, it gets people talking.

“I also know some people, some fans, who are really disappointed and upset, I’ve got a really good friend, who’s also opposed to HB2 and he thinks that it’s… I don’t know if ‘betrayal’ of the fans is the right word, but he thinks it’s just millionaire prima donna rockstars making an empty gesture. I disagree with him on that, and most of my friends – we had a discussion about it – we all kind of disagreed with him about that, but there are people who think that.

“People who have planned for a long time around these shows. One of his gripes with the Pearl Jam show was how come they didn’t cancel earlier. ‘They probably knew two weeks ago, why’d they wait until the week of the show? I’d have made new plans to see them somewhere else.’ I can see other perspectives on this.”



Do you think there’s a chance musicians cancelling will result in the scrapping of HB2?
“I hope so, it’s kind of a cumulative pressure. We’re not going to change their minds. I know that we’re not going to change the legislature’s mind, or the governor’s, the only way they’re gonna back down is if the economic pressure is so big that they have no choice so I think this is the way to do that.

“Every time you have an event of 22,000 people and you cancel it – all the hotels and restaurants nearby are affected. It takes a major toll, and this is supposed to be a business-friendly governor. That’s what he ran on, he was the business-friendly mayor in Charlotte. I don’t think he really even cares that much about all this social stuff, I think he was bullied into this by the extreme right-wing legislature! I think he might get to a point where he kind of has to back down, he’s running for re-election this year and he’s losing popularity. And whether the legislature go along with him is another story, but if the governor starts to back down, maybe there’s hope.”

Would you be happy to go gig-free for the next few months if it meant HB2 was scrapped?
“I would. I’d be willing to travel to other places to see shows. I’m fortunate that I can do that and not everyone can, I definitely recognise that some people don’t feel that way, but I just think the greater good is more important. Some things are more important than a rock show, and this is one of them: we’re talking about social justice and basic human decency. I do believe this stuff makes an impact – I don’t think it’s an empty gesture.”


Amber, 21, Charlotte, NC


What do you think of HB2?
“As a lifelong Charlottian and member of the LGBTQIA+ community, HB2 absolutely disgusts me. It’s nothing more than a way to discriminate against trans men and women and nonbinary people by dictating even where they relieve themselves.

“This can (and most likely will) cause dysmorphia, and also can and will put trans women specifically in danger by forcing them to use the same bathroom as cisgendered men who are statistically more likely to commit hate crimes against them. It’s not about bathrooms, just like it wasn’t about water fountains during segregation.”

Has the cancellation of shows made you more aware of HB2? Are you talking about it more now because of these musicians?
“I was well aware of what the bill was the second it came out. I don’t know whether artists cancelling their shows is necessarily bringing awareness, because I think mostly everyone in North Carolina who has been on the Internet at all since the bill knows about it.”

Have the cancellations made you want to take action/protest? And do you think cancelling shows is the right way for musicians to protest HB2?
“For people who aren’t directly affected by HB2, it definitely provides ample exigency to stand up against the bill. Charlotte is a city that constantly has big names performing in it, so when we start missing out on seeing our idols, it’s enough reason to make sure this doesn’t get overlooked, if the issue itself isn’t enough for other people.

“Personally, I’m angry enough about it as it is to do something about it, even as a cis woman, but I definitely appreciate the sacrifice these artists are making in protest of this bill.”

Do you think there’s a chance musicians cancelling will result in the scrapping of HB2?
“I definitely think it’ll help, yes. As much as it is, a large portion of our culture centers around selfishness and superficiality. Artists cancelling their shows makes HB2 about everyone, not only the trans people who are being victimized.”


Alex, 16, Raleigh, NC

What do you think of HB2?
“As I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I do not believe one should be able to govern an entire community’s decision without holding it to a vote. Signing a motion without authorization “by the people, for the people” can result in many consequences, much like cancellations in North Carolina concert dates.”

Has the cancellation of shows made you more aware of HB2? Are you talking about it more now because of these musicians?
“Being an active member in advocating the rights of equality for everyone, I was well informed of the decision in passing HB2 the day it was signed. Governor McCrory made it clear this was his decision and that he would stand by it. Though I was aware of what HB2 was designed for, I was surprised to find out that so many artists nationwide had known about it as well.

“As I’m not an avid fan of many of the artists who cancelled previous to Demi and Nick, it was only until Monday (Apr. 25) when most people I knew became more knowledgeable in the Bill.”

Has it made you want to take action/protest? And do you think cancelling shows is the right way for musicians to protest HB2?
“HB2 has certainly led to the need for action toward repealing the Bill, but as my voice is only one within the herd, support from all over would definitely help change officials’ minds. As I do understand the point artists are trying to make by withdrawing from performing in North Carolina, it is stressful to wonder which future artists will withdraw as well.

“Fans spend hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on seeing some of their favorite people in the world perform, and it is heartbreaking to know that (although refunded the money) they will not be able to attend a show due to a decision they had no control over.”

Do you think there’s a chance musicians cancelling will result in the scrapping of HB2?
“Right now, I don’t foresee this occurring. Unless the artist is a big influence in North Carolina’s pop culture will the general population then begin to act on human nature and make large statements toward our government. If it doesn’t threaten McCrory, he will not change his mind.”