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State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-123) said he was withdrawing from a scheduled SXSW Conference speaker’s panel on the “bathroom bill” to demonstrate his opposition to a SXSW artist contract that threatens international artists with deportation for contract violations.
“I will not in good conscience participate in a festival that uses the threat of deportation as part of its business practices,” Bernal said in a statement released Monday. “… I should not have to make a choice between standing against coercive immigration policies and participating in a panel on LGBTQ issues, between one person’s human dignity and another’s.”
Indie-pop band Told Slant announced it was cancelling its SXSW performance because of language in the artist contract that allows the festival to “notify the appropriate U.S. immigration authorities” if they “or their representatives have acted in ways that adversely affect the viability of their official SXSW showcase.”
Following his own review of the contract, Bernal informed panel organizers that he felt the artists’ concerns were legitimate and that he was withdrawing from participation.
“As a legislator, as a representative of the city’s urban core and considering the political climate and the fear that I’ve heard from people, the idea that the threat of deportation is going to be kept on the menu as a recourse if there’s a violation of their performance contract strikes me as heavy-handed and, really, shockingly cruel,” Bernal told the Rivard Report on Monday evening.
For Bernal, it was a tough decision to withdraw from the panel discussion of the State’s Senate Bill 6, but one he does not regret. The bill would prohibit transgender people from using public bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity.
“What I’m doing is removing myself from an opportunity to engage in advocacy around an issue that’s very important to me and the people I care about and to the city, both morally and economically,” Bernal said.
“That’s why I didn’t like having to choose between the two. That being said, my position on SB 6, the ‘bathroom bill,’ and LGBTQ rights in general aren’t really a secret, and I don’t apologize for my work and advocacy on those issues. This is just one opportunity to do that. I’ll keep working.”
SXSW organizers released a statement saying that they have never reported “anyone to any immigration authorities,” including U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “The language in our Performance Agreement is intended to facilitate U.S. entry for international artists and to show CBP that SXSW takes visa issues seriously.” Organizers also stated that the language in question has been part of the contracts since the summer of 2013, and that they will be reviewing and amending the contracts for the 2018 festival and beyond.
“SXSW opposes discrimination of any kind, and has taken a public stand against President Trump’s travel ban and proposed legislation like SB 6 in Texas,” the statement read. “We have and will continue to support human rights for all. In this political climate, especially as it relates to immigration, we recognize the heightened importance of standing together against injustice.”
In addition to letting other legislators and officials know about his decision to withdraw, Bernal also contacted SXSW organizers Monday afternoon.
“They essentially told me that this provision will be gone, and the whole contract will be reworked, and I believe them,” Bernal said. “I want artists to be treated fairly, and I also think that if you’re worried about people violating performance contracts, there are a thousand other things at your disposal to enforce those contracts that don’t involve deportation, and they agree 100%.”
Starting Friday, the nonprofit Choose San Antonio will set up at Half Step Bar in Austin for three days and showcase the best of San Antonio for tens of thousands of people who come from all over the world to attend the annual music and film festival and slate of conferences. It will be the second year the group has hosted official SXSW events at “Casa San Antonio” in Austin.
“We are sad to hear that this is occurring with such an international organization,” Choose SA Executive Director Meghan Garza-Oswald said of the contract dispute. “We have not had the opportunity to review all the facts, but Choose San Antonio will continue its mission to promote the city of San Antonio to the world through outreach, education, and experience.”
Bernal added that as a musician, he has always appreciated the accepting atmosphere for all creative types at SXSW — a place where they go to be discovered by fans and industry leaders but also to meet one another.
“I get the sense that these are people who inherited a bad contract and they are scrambling to make it right. And I understand that,” he said. “But having said that, this is the contract that’s in place in 2017, and that’s the contract I’m responding to.”