I am deeply troubled by the actions taken by the N.C. General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory, particularly the lightning speed by which House Bill 2, titled Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, was passed into law.
This isn’t about my or your political leanings. Some believe HB2 is a “common sense privacy law” while others call it “the most anti-LGBT bill in the country.”
This isn’t about religion either. I have strong personal feelings about the legislation but respect that you do too, and that we may not agree. I write not from my personal, religious, or political beliefs but from a business standpoint.
This action will almost certainly negatively impact Durham’s and North Carolina’s ability to attract visitors.
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Less than 24 hours after the legislation was enacted, the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau got its first email from a meeting planner asking, “Does the Durham CVB have an official statement about Gov. McCrory’s anti-LGBT bill HB2?” The planner worried that “attendees will not visit the state” and some “groups would suffer.”
Many associations earn a substantial portion of their annual revenue through hosting conferences. So do a lot of Durham’s hotels, restaurants, and meeting facilities. When attendance falls off, so does revenue, so even if a convention is not cancelled, the impacts could still cause financial hardships.
This goes well beyond meetings and conventions.
Durham is poised to create a Sports Commission jointly funded by the city, county, and DCVB. In the wake of this bill’s passage, the NBA, CIAA, NCAA, and others have all voiced concern or advised that they are monitoring “diversity issues” in cities hosting future events.
What about films?
Rob Reiner, a popular actor, writer, director, and producer was quoted as saying, “Until this hateful law is repealed and LGBT North Carolinians are treated with the equal dignity they deserve, I will not film another production in North Carolina, and I encourage my colleagues in the entertainment industry to vow to do the same.”
We’ve been following social media where this has been an extremely hot topic. There have been calls of boycotts, travel restrictions, or event cancellations by institutions such as the New York Daily News, The Washington Post, and the NBA.
The governor of Montana tweeted “Dear North Carolina, We are open for business … for everyone. #ChooseMontana."
Funny or Die, an Emmy-winning comedy video website created North Carolina's Anti-Gay Tourism Commercial, which at last check had about 60,000 views.
The mayors of New York City, Seattle, and San Francisco, along with the governor of New York, have banned non-essential travel to North Carolina.
Whether or not this is just rhetoric remains to be seen. But social media is where many opinions about where and how to spend money are informed. Vacations, tourism, and leisure activity are all purchases influenced by this kind of chatter.
I checked with other destinations that have had similar challenges. The negative impact and fallout is real.
There are reports that refusal to remove the Confederate battle flag near the capitol has cost South Carolina cities at least $10 million in tourism and revenue – and probably millions more.
Phoenix lost upwards of $100 million in convention business alone after Arizona’s anti-immigration law passed in 2010; another study revealed that the state lost $141 million in tourism revenue due to economic boycotts.
Indiana lost an estimated $60 million in tourism revenue following passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allows businesses to discriminate against LGBT people on religious grounds.
And then there’s Georgia, where legislation deemed discriminatory against LGBT citizens was vetoed on Monday by Republican Gov. Nathan Deal. Although Deal said this wasn’t the reason for his veto, the NFL threatened to deny Atlanta's Super Bowl bid, and Walt Disney and its subsidiary movie studio, Marvel, said last week they would stop all film production in the state should the Free Exercise Protection Act become law.
I’m drafting a statement that clarifies in a non-inflammatory way what the law does, while also trying to distinguish and celebrate Durham's progressive values on these issues. I’d love to hear your thoughts. What message would you send to prospective visitors considering a boycott or rethinking their visit to Durham based on passage of this legislation?
Has your company or organization issued a statement about HB2? I’d love to read it, particularly if your business depends on attracting or serving visitors. Have you lost business from groups or individuals in protest? I respectfully ask that you do not quote bible verses to me or use profanity, neither or which are useful since as a governmental agency our statement will be both secular and civil.
Personally, I believe that our success as a community is built on inclusivity.
I believe that acceptance of people with ideas different from our own are part of Durham’s essence.
I also believe that ultimately, history will not look back kindly on those who support injustice and discrimination of any kind.
Shelly Green is the president & CEO of the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau. You can reach her at Shelly@durham-cvb.com