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Topics In the News
George Takei Issues Call to Boycott Arizona
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 02/23/14
Last updated on: 02/23/14
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In an open letter posted on his blog on February 22, 2014, actor and activist George Takei called for a boycott of Arizona should Governor Jan Brewer sign into law its anti-gay "religious liberty" bill. Takei and his husband Brad Altman have deep ties to the state, where they own a vacation home. Citing the economic repercussions that followed the state's vote against the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday in 1989, Takei tells the legislators, "if our appeals to equality, fairness, and our basic right to live in a civil society without doors being slammed in our face for being who we are don't move you, I'll bet a big hit to your pocketbook and state coffers will."

Takei has issued the call for a boycott in response to the draconian and clearly unconstitutional law recently passed by the Arizona legislature. The law extends to individuals, businesses, and tax-exempt charities the right to disobey any "any law, including state law, ordinances, rules, regulations and policies" if it offends "sincerely held religious belief."

The law, which is clearly motivated by animus toward gay people, is so broadly written that it in effect imposes Sharia law on Arizona. As Jim Burroway at BoxTurtleBulletin observes, "It exempts anyone from having to follow a whole host of state laws, ordinances and regulations if they conflict with an individual's religious belief. This would mean that a Muslim landlord could forcibly evict single women or a convert to Christianity, since either action would be covered by Sharia law. It would also allow a Muslim employer to treat his non-Muslim employees with the same rules as his Muslim employees. He could compel non-Muslims to work longer hours at lesser pay and reduced rank."

In addition, as Burroway notes, the law is so broadly written that under it "a self-proclaimed Muslim could refuse to pay interest to his mortgage company, which goes against his sincerely held beliefs. A divorced Muslim could refuse to pay his alimony obligations. Or, conversely, he could prevent an ex-wife from seeing their children."

The irony, of course, is that the very right-wingers who frequently express paranoia about some plot to "elevate Sharia into a state-valued place in our civil codes" have, through the Republican-controlled Arizona Legislature, done precisely that.

Takei's open letter, which may be found here, begins by congratulating the state: "You are now the first state actually to pass a bill permitting businesses--even those open to the public--to refuse to provide service to LGBT people based on an individual's 'sincerely held religious belief.' This 'turn away the gay' bill enshrines discrimination into the law. Your taxi drivers can refuse to carry us. Your hotels can refuse to house us. And your restaurants can refuse to serve us."

He tells the legislators, "You're willing to ostracize and marginalize LGBT people to score political points with the extreme right of the Republican Party. You say this bill protects 'religious freedom,' but no one is fooled. When I was younger, people used 'God's Will' as a reason to keep the races separate, too. Make no mistake, this is the new segregation, yours is a Jim Crow law, and you are about to make yourself ground zero."

After rehearsing his and his husband's close ties to Arizona, Takei observes that the real purpose of the bill is to ostracize gay people. He says that "your mean-spirited representatives and senators" know that the law is going to be struck down by the courts, "But they passed it anyway, just to make their hateful opinion of us crystal clear."

He concludes by saying, "let me make mine just as clear. If your Governor Jan Brewer signs this repugnant bill into law, make no mistake. We will not come. We will not spend. And we will urge everyone we know--from large corporations to small families on vacation--to boycott. Because you don't deserve our dollars. Not one red cent."

Best known for his role as Mr. Sulu on the cult-classic television series Star Trek and subsequent films, George Takei has become an articulate advocate for glbtq rights.

Some of Takei's earliest memories are of the internment camps where he and his parents were sent after the outbreak of World War II. His current project is a musical, Allegiance, by composer-lyricist Jay Kuo, about the internment of Japanese Americans. The musical debuted in 2012 at San Diego's Old Globe theater, with Takei and Lea Salonga in leading roles. Takei hopes that it will be produced on Broadway soon.

Takei describes the musical as about "a little known part of U.S. history and even less understood. It's a dark and shameful chapter. Yet, it is also a powerful and dramatic subject that could grab an audience's hearts and minds." More about Allegiance may be found here.

Takei talks about the project in his TedxBroadway Talk below.

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