by Leah Waldron
This week, Nashville announced a new LGBT tourism campaign—a decision that has prompted other Tennessee cities (including Knoxville) to consider the same. The “Hey LGBT people… come and sit for a spell” project may sound like a good idea on paper, and I applaud their outreach to diverse demographics, but I have to ask…
Should LGBT spend their vacation dollars in Southern states?
I know I should feel welcomed by Tennessee’s recent bout of Southern hospitality, and I am (after all, I was raised in the South), but I’m getting a bit tired of states wanting our money, while at the same time, introducing legislation that reduces our rights. And it’s not just Tennessee that does this, although the “Don’t Say Gay” state suddenly welcoming our presence is a sad irony. If the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation passes, we would be traveling to a state that wants us to be seen (spending money) but not heard (in a classroom).
Everyone knows that Tennessee is a red state, but how red? According to RealClearPolitics.com, the state supported Rick Santorum by more than 9 points during the Republican primary election this March, and is considered to be “quite” red. Again, not looking so good for gay travel. But the number of hate groups in the “Don’t Say Gay” state is even more distressing. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that 39 classified hate groups make their home in Tennessee, which ranks the state seventh in the nation for total number of groups per state. In Nashville alone, there are four neo-Nazi, anti-Muslim and racist organizations that are fully operational.
But not to knock Nashville. Several other Southern and Midwestern cities have launched LGBT travel campaigns that are oddly out of place.
In Orlando, Florida, this June, Disney’s unofficial “Gay Days” brought in millions of tourism dollars, and local hotels even offered Pride-specific promotions. But Florida is one of the worst states in the South for gay rights (I know, because I was raised there). In essence, gays and lesbians can travel to one of the most kid-friendly places on Earth (Disney World), but the state does not allow gays to adopt children. Even Disney World, which has made untold billions off gays since “Gay Days” was launched over a decade ago, will not officially recognize the holiday. In the days before the event opens, the anti-gay Florida Family Association even flies a banner that warns tourists that “the gays are coming.”
But still, we come. No one wants to miss out on seeing hundreds of thousands of gays in Mickey Mouse attire.
One of the more interesting LGBT travel campaigns was hosted by the Midwest city of St. Louis, Missouri, which actually tried the slogan “St. Lou IS gay!” But despite a hefty marketing campaign for their “gayborhood” district, my partner and I were pretty disappointed when we arrived. It was not so much that St. Louis’s “gayborhood” was gay, but outright sad. Even the rainbow flags looked a little worn, and the bars and restaurants had seen much, much better times. Hence: the LGBT tourism campaign. At least St. Louis has a progressive mayor.
On the animated TV show “The Simpsons,” the creators poked fun of how cities see gay tourist couples as walking, talking dollar signs. Springfield’s “Gay-O, It’s Okay-O” promotional video was full of rainbows, frolicking same-sex couples, and a catchy Rastafarian tune: “I’m going to marry my Harry in Springfield town!”
LGBT individuals are notorious big spenders when it comes to travel, and it’s nice to be wanted—even if it’s just for our cash. But before you cancel your vacation to New England or San Fran or Amsterdam for a trip down South or to the Midwest, consider how the state will spend your vacation dollars.
And talk to an actual gay person—someone who has traveled there—before you go.