A pril 2016: Here we go again. Many may remember last year when Indiana enacted new legislations based around “Religious Freedoms”, which many in the LGBT community took as a direct attack on them. Basically it would allow discrimination based on one’s religious beliefs, so that denying accommodations and other services to LGBT individuals would be permissible if that is what the higher powers have told you is right. As for same-sex marriages, this also could be denied despite it being declared legal across the nation. Eventually, Indiana reversed their decision, after a backlash from activists, and more importantly tourism and corporations (i.e. lost revenue to the state).

So you would think other states would have taken notice, and not gone down that destructive path. Wrong, several other states have followed, and more are proposing similar “Religious Freedom” acts even today.

Last month Georgia put through a motion, which was just vetoed this past week, again after tremendous backlash not only from the LGBT community, but the mainstream population as well.

Now North Carolina has passed legislation awaiting Governor approval to make it law, and Mississippi’s Governor swiftly approved his state’s legislation into law.

For those living elsewhere in the United States, it’s easy to say I’ll never travel there again as long as these policies are in place, however what about those LGBT individuals who actually live in these States? And, how will this impact tourism, and the work of convention and tourism agencies?

Some reaction from Tourism Authorities

Rainbow Roundup checked in with a few CVB’s to gather their thoughts on the current situation.

Stefanie Paupeck Harper, director of communications, Georgia Department of Economic Development, said, “we are not commenting. The Governor’s comments speak for themselves.”

Here’s a brief part of what Georgia Governor Nathan Deal had to say when he announced he would veto bill HB 757. Deal said he had no objection to the “Pastor Protection Act”, but other versions of the bill could possibly lead to discrimination. He then went on to make comparisons between God and the Government, acknowledging he doesn’t, “respond well to insults and threats”, which he said he has received from both the religions and business communities.

He also said, “I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia, of which my family and I have been a part of for all of our lives”

Deal made it clear that “Georgia is a welcoming state filled with warm, friendly and loving people.” A complete transcript of Deal’s remarks is available here.

As for the cities which have thriving LGBT populations, William Pate, president and CEO, Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, provided his comments, “Today, Governor Deal ensured Atlanta’s position as a top meetings and conventions destination by his swift action in vetoing HB 757. By his decision, the Governor has shown his continued support for one of the largest industries and employers in the state of Georgia.”

Heather Kirksey, senior manager, Public Relations, described further how things could still possibly play out based on this announcement, but are highly unlikely to change.

“The Georgia General Assembly adjourned for 2016 on Thursday, March 24. Our legislators meet for 40 days at the beginning of each year. In order to overturn the Governor’s veto, three-fifths of the members of the House and Senate must each certify to the Governor in writing that in their opinion an emergency exists in the affairs of the state. That would require 108 members of the House and 34 members of the Senate to return to Atlanta for a special session. HB 757 passed with 104 votes in the House and 37 votes in the Senate.”

In Savannah, Erica Backus provided this statement from the tourism office. “The Chamber and Visit Savannah worked hard this session to defend our business community against legislative measures that would negatively impact our business climate, appear discriminatory in nature, or would harm the ability to create, attract, retain and expand jobs. We applaud Governor Deal’s decision to veto this controversial piece of legislation.”

Over in North Carolina, Scott Peacock, public relations manager, Visit North Carolina Economic Development Partnership, said, “We cannot speak to matters of public policy within the state as we’re a non-partisan, non-profit entity contracted by the NC Department of Commerce, so it’s against our policy.”

He did offer this formal statement on behalf of the organization however – “We recognize the wide range of opinions on the new legislation, but as an organization that performs under contract with the state government, the EDPNC does not take positions on matters of public policy. As always, we’re staying focused on our efforts to aggressively promote North Carolina for new business investment, international trade, and tourism, film production and sports.”

The Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau, which has a dedicated LGBT portal on their website, released the following official statement received from Ryan Smith, director of communications, “The Greater Raleigh CVB’s mission is to promote travel to and within Wake County through a comprehensive strategy for attracting meetings, conventions, sporting events and leisure visitation.

“We will continue to serve ALL travelers and those interested in visiting. We understand there is a wide range of opinion and concern about the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act (House Bill 2). Our primary mission remains to increase tourism economic impact for the City of Raleigh and all of Wake County. Respect for diversity and inclusion also remains a constant for our staff and area hospitality partners as well as for our valued visitors.”

Meanwhile Charlotte’s CVB director of communications, Laura Hill White, released this statement from their CEO Tom Murray, “We are extremely concerned about the state legislation in place as we continue to hear negative feedback and potential event cancellations from our customers.

"Our city has worked incredibly hard to build a thriving visitor economy over the last 20 years, which has welcomed major events and conventions that greatly give back to the city and the state of North Carolina's economy and overall quality of life.

"This issue is in danger of setting us back from the progress we've made in positioning Charlotte as an attractive, inclusive destination. Our city has long had a track record of creating an environment that not only values diversity, but strongly embraces it.

"On behalf of the visitor economy that represents one in nine jobs across the Charlotte region, we strongly urge that state and local leaders find a resolution that represents the best interests of our city and state.”

So, as is obvious, tourism professionals are quite concerned about the livelihood and potential detrimental effects these harmful legislations could have on their business. While it took a great amount of outside pressure for Governor Deal to veto his state’s legislation, it seems North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory is standing his ground on this one so far. However, this past week he did agree to meet with leading representatives from both state and national LGBT lobby organizations

Travel Industry Today reported earlier on Kentucky Governor Sam Brownback passing bill SB 175 into full legislation,  and most recently Mississippi House Bill 1523, ‘Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act’, was signed into law by Governor Phil Bryant.

Unlike the other states which may have some vagueness in interpretation toward the LGBT community, this bill clearly states that it’s acceptable to discriminate against someone who identifies as LGBT, if the view is held that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, sex should only happen in marriage, and male and female refer only to someone’s anatomy. The law is set to take effect July 1, 2016.

Retribution toward these “religious freedom” states has been strong from all angles. Some cities and states have banned non-essential and administrative travel to these “religious freedom” states, including New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Vermont’s Governor also instated a ban. Companies have threatened to relocate, and others to not do business with these states should these type of legislations become law. PayPal pulled out of a proposed expansion to North Carolina that had a projected employment opportunity for 400 people. The NBA has even stated it will pull the All-Star Game from Charlotte, a similar move done by the NFL who gave the same ultimatum to Georgia about pulling the Super Bowl as well.

So while there seems to be an increased movement across the country to use religious freedom as a means to discriminate, pressure from celebrities, corporations, CVB’s, and even Disney and Marvel have jumped in to voice their opposition.

It’s definitely an interesting time in politics of all sorts south of the border.


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