Tuesday, April 12, 2016

American Dance Festival takes a stand on North Carolina's HB2...sort of

American Dance Festival--launched in 1934 as Vermont's Bennington Festival and, since 1977, based at Duke University--is arguably one of the world's most historic, most influential arts institutions. Its renown--and its location in Durham, North Carolina--recently raised questions for many of us in the dance community when the state's legislature passed HB2, touted as a way to protect women and girls from transgender women in school and public bathrooms and changing rooms. HB2, in actuality, broadly denies anti-discrimination protection to LGBTQ people and strips employees of the right to file claims under state law for discrimination on the basis of race, sex, national origin, color and age. It also restricts local governments from raising the minimum wage beyond the federal level.

HB2's passage drew swift condemnation--most notably from rock star Bruce Springsteen, who cancelled shows scheduled for the state, and PayPal, quashing plans to open a center with hundreds of jobs in Charlotte. But what about ADF whose programs include and serve many people who identify across the queer/gender non-conforming spectrum?

On March 30, ADF's Facebook friends found this posting on its page:
In light NC's legislature passing ‪#‎HB2‬, we want our friends in NC and beyond to know that our bathrooms are still safe for trans and gender non-conforming folks. ‪#‎WeAreNotThis‬ ‪#‎NoHateInMyState‬
followed by Google's handy map of North Carolina businesses "who have stated publicly that their bathrooms are safe for trans* and gender non-conforming folks under HB2." And that--to the immediate and continued anger of many friends from the dance field--is as far as things went.

Yesterday, finally, a dance artist I know discovered a new statement now linked through ADF's website:
The American Dance Festival (ADF) is disappointed by the North Carolina legislature's recent passage of HB2, a bill that cruelly reduces the scope of anti-discrimination protections in the state. Discrimination is wrong, period. As an organization, ADF has long promoted diversity and is deeply troubled by North Carolina's embarrassing step backward. HB2 does not reflect the values of ADF nor do we believe it reflects the values of the overwhelming majority of the state of North Carolina. ADF has been a proud resident of the North Carolina arts community since 1977, a community that believes in inclusion and fairness and believes that every individual is important. 
ADF strongly urges the North Carolina General Assembly to repeal HB2 at the earliest opportunity. ‪#‎WeAreNotThis‬
This is the rough equivalent of "Hey, you guys, cut it out. We're over here trying to do the right thing, and you're making us look bad." No one expects dance folks to make economy-shaking gestures on the level of a Springsteen, an Apple or a PayPal, but we really need to pull out better words than these prim ones about disappointment and embarrassment.

ADF has no shortage of smart, creative people. Surely, good heads can work up a statement or action that, in no uncertain terms, reflects ADF's cultural and economic value to the state of North Carolina and the weight of its rejection of hate. Direct, uncompromising condemnation of HB2 from ADF--an institution associated with the best North Carolina, and our nation, has to offer--would have high visibility and moral impact, giving needed support to anti-discrimination activists in the state and beyond.

This fight isn't only about who gets to use which bathroom. It's about concerted efforts to drag our country back to times when discrimination and abuse could be widely, openly practiced without restriction or consequences. An ignorant, hate-filled demagogue now commands an army of supporters who--even if he goes down to defeat--have been encouraged and activated. With or without a Trump--or a Cruz--we're staring at damage we'll likely still be confronting well into the future. Sitting there in the belly of the beast, ADF needs to toughen up, speak truth to power and represent our dance community the right way.

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