N.C.'s bathroom bill prompts artistic actions

Violinist Itzhak Perlman recently took to his Facebook page over a high-profile issue well outside his usual realm: North Carolina House Bill 2, which eliminated various antidiscriminatory legal protections for a range of people, including those who are gay, bisexual, and transgender, and required people to use only restrooms that corresponded with the gender specified on their birth certificates.

Wrote the violinist: "As my fans know, I have spent a lifetime advocating against discrimination towards those with physical disabilities and have been a vocal advocate for treating all people equally. As such, after great consideration, I have decided to cancel my May 18th concert in North Carolina with the North Carolina Symphony as a stand against House Bill 2."

We asked Sarah Baird Knight, a partner at the Brooklyn public relations firm DOTDOTDOTMUSIC (which does not represent Perlman), to weigh in on questions raised by the violinist's not-so-silent act of silence.

Do you think artists have any kind of special responsibility to respond to these kinds of laws?

It depends on the artist.

Some artists absolutely view their work this way - as reflection, criticism, social commentary, or even as protest against the social order and the cultural establishment. And those with greater influence and visibility might feel a greater responsibility to do so, even if their work is not overtly political.

What are the risks an artist takes when making a cancellation like this? What are the career questions you would counsel an artist to consider?

There are a number of relationships to consider.

The first is the artist's relationship to her fans. Then, behind the scenes, the relationship with the presenting organization, venue, booking agents, etc.

What are the other options for an artist who might not want to boycott but who still does not want an appearance to be interpreted as tacit acceptance of an injustice?

Cyndi Lauper's response is one creative example.

She used her Late Night appearance to publicize her stance, and, rather than canceling her North Carolina show, she turned it into a rally and donated the proceeds to Equality North Carolina. She also added a "non-gender-specific bathroom" to her tour rider, which pushed the venue to provide the accommodation that is at the crux of this bill.

Then there's a lesser-known artist, Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, who burned her birth certificate on the stage and said goodbye to gender (she is transgender).

These responses were effective, genuine, and congruous.

Lauper is known as an activist, so it makes sense that she'd throw a rally. And Against Me! is a punk band; it's definitely punk to set something on fire.

pdobrin@phillynews.com

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