Georgia, North Carolina CVBs Decry Controversial Legislation

Georgia State Capitol, Atlanta

Convention and visitors bureau CEOs in Georgia and North Carolina are speaking out against discriminatory religious liberty legislation that they believe could harm tourism and potentially drive away conventions in their respective states.

In breaking news Monday, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) vetoed a controversial bill that many claim discriminates against gay and transgender people. William Pate, president and CEO of Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau (ACVB) applauds the decision.

“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,” Pate says.

Earlier, Pate expressed his disappointment that Georgia’s state legislature had passed HB 757, noting that it would “have a substantial impact on our convention business and serve as an unnecessary distraction as we compete to host the largest sporting events in the country.”

He emphasizes that Atlanta is a welcoming city. “As the one of the largest industries in Georgia, Atlanta’s hospitality community is committed to welcoming and respecting the rights of all visitors to our city and state,” Pate says.

Details of the Georgia Bill That Provoked Outrage

Anti-gay religious freedom measures are being considered in nearly a dozen states after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage last June. In Georgia, the move by the Republican-controlled state legislature was suggested in order to protect the rights of religious organizations such as churches, private schools and adoption agencies to refuse to provide services that clash with their faith. Under the ruling, pastors could have legally refused to perform same-sex weddings, religious organizations could have refused to provide charitable services to individuals who identify as LGBT and faith-based organizations could have legally cited religious beliefs as a legitimate reason for hiring or firing workers.

Critics of the bill included corporations such as Marriott, AT&T, Bank of America, Google and Time Warner (which is based in Georgia), as well as a list of high-profile actors, including Anne Hathaway and Julianne Moore. The Weinstein Company and 21st Century Fox vocally criticized the measure, and Disney pledged that if Gov. Deal did not veto the controversial bill, it would pull production from the state.

Georgia offers attractive tax credits to studios that film there, and the movie industry contributes significantly to the state’s economy. According to CNN, the Weinstein Company threatened to move production of a biopic about Richard Pryor starring Oprah Winfrey, Eddie Murphy, Kate Hudson and Tracy Morgan from the state if the legislation was not vetoed.

In addition to Hollywood, the state’s major sports franchises opposed the bill, and the National Football League (NFL) had hinted that it might jeopardize Atlanta’s chance to host future Super Bowl games.

At a news conference, Gov. Deal said, “I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia, which I and my family have been a part of for generations.”

Gay rights organizations, such as the advocacy group Human Rights Campaign (HRC), were quick to praise his action in vetoing the bill. “Today, Governor Deal heard the voices of Georgians, civil rights organizations, as well as the many leaders in the entertainment industry and private sector who condemned this attack on the fundamental rights of LGBT people, and he has set an example for other elected officials to follow,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement.

North Carolina Battles Over Bathrooms

Meanwhile last week, North Carolina enacted a law reversing civil rights protections for gay and transgender people that had been passed last month in Charlotte and was scheduled to go into effect April 1.

The new law requires transgender people to use the bathrooms that correspond with their genders on their birth certificates, and prevents North Carolina cities and counties from establishing ordinances that extend protections covering sexual orientation and gender identity to restaurants, hotels and stores. The law was introduced by the state legislature, quickly debated and passed, and then signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory (R) in less than 12 hours.

Businesses such as Biogen and Dow Chemical, which employ a lot of workers in North Carolina, have criticized the law. The National Basketball Association (NBA) has threatened to move next year’s All-Star game out of the state and the American Civil Liberties Union and gay rights groups plan to file suit.

Tom Murray, CEO of Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA), is also expressing concern. “Tourism and hospitality serves as the region’s fourth largest industry, generating more than $6.3 billion annually that greatly contributes to Charlotte’s quality of life. Because of the importance of the industry as an economic engine, we encourage further discussion on the issue to ensure the path forward represents the diverse voices of our region,” he says.

“We would encourage state and local leaders to further work together to ensure any law passed allows visitors to feel welcome in Charlotte and North Carolina as a whole,” he said.

Details of Charlotte’s Ordinance

Although the city of Charlotte had a law protecting residents from discrimination based on race, age, religion and gender, the city council voted to expand those protections to apply to sexual orientation and gender identity on Feb. 22. The expanded ordinance would allow individuals who identify as transgender to use the bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. Opponents argued this would make bathrooms unsafe for women and children.

The North Carolina state legislature jumped into action, introducing and then passing a law that nullifies Charlotte’s ordinance, as well as existing LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances in other North Carolina jurisdictions, and prohibits local jurisdictions from crafting their own nondiscrimination measures in the future.

After signing the bill last week, Gov. McCroy described the passage as bipartisan. The bill passed the Republican-controlled General Assembly 82-26 in the House and 32-0 in the Senate. The Associated Press reports, however, that all the Senate Democrats left the floor during the debate in protest, allowing Republicans to give the legislation unanimous approval.