Friday, March 27, 2015

Dear Mr. Takei,

Prominent LGBTQ activist and Star Trek alum George Takei has called for a general boycott against the state of Indiana in response to the controversial SB101, a bill that permits businesses to refuse service on religious grounds. Like many other bills of its ilk, it's couched in religious terms, but no one is fooled by the kayfabe: it is a general license for bigoted business owners to discriminate against gay customers.

Without disagreeing with the sentiment that it's generally loathsome to shun someone for mere extracurricular bedroom peccadilloes, it seems to me unjust to condemn the good and honest people of Indiana for the barbarity of a few.

Targeted economic sanctions do occasionally work. But they work best when deployed against a single firm with the authority to respond swiftly and accurately to the demands of the protesters. In this case, the chain of communication linking firms to the state government is extremely weak. Local businesses, the ones hurt worst by a general boycott, have as much say in the state legislature as any ordinary citizen: next to nothing. A general boycott of Indiana is closer to the US embargo of Cuba or Iraq than to a picket line around a misbehaving department store: it will immiserate the local residents and the track record suggests it will do very little to sway the hearts of the legislature.

Consider the following alternative approach. Crowdfund a campaign to print out stickers for LGBTQ & allied businesses to put in their windows. Spread the word: "this sticker stands for solidarity in the face of bigotry" or something (I confess to not being especially talented at writing slogans). Customers will then know which businesses to support and which to boycott. If acrimonious identity politics must be a part of the marketplace, let's find a way to reward people for a principled refusal to discriminate.

So Mr. Takei, I implore you: please reconsider your position. There are better ways to serve both the Indiana LGBTQ community and businesses friendly to the cause. By all means, punish the guilty, but please, I beg of you: spare the innocent.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?