Besides stripping away the fundamental rights of an already marginalized group, the stack of "Bathroom Bills" piling up in state legislatures around the country will only drive away meetings and conventions, and the valuable economic income they bring with them.
Currently, North Carolina is the only state where a so-called “Bathroom Bill” has become law, but that may not be the case for long. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 12 states now have similar bills pending as of February 17.
Bathroom bills, or legislation requiring a person to use a restroom, locker room, or similar facility based on the sex stated on their birth certificate, make it a crime for transgender people to use facilities for the sex with which they identify. These bills are often used for state governments to restrict other laws protecting lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights.
Texas Senate Bill 6, coined by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick as the “Texas Privacy Act,” would define biological sex as the sex stated on a person’s birth certificate and make it a crime for the opposite sex to use such facilities. It also prohibits local governments from issuing related nondiscriminatory ordinances in response. Advocates for the legislation claim it will prevent male sexual predators from posing as women in bathrooms — but experts say there is no evidence to support this assertion.
However, there is evidence that laws like these can cause major economic damage to cities and the hospitality communities that support them. Since enacting its own bathroom bill, HB2, in March 2016, North Carolina has seen a long list of high-profile events cancel. The NBA moved its 2017 All-Star Game to New Orleans, the NCAA is threatening to pull all future championship games from the state if not repealed, and this week, Visit Charlotte announced it lost a total of 11 conferences and conventions and three sports events as a result of the law. This accounts for a total of $83.9 million in direct spending lost from cancellations because of HB2. On February 9, both the North Carolina senate and house proposed new legislation that would repeal HB2.
Texas may soon face the same fate. In a statement released earlier this month, the NFL said, “If a proposal that is discriminatory or inconsistent with our values were to become law there, that would certainly be a factor considered when thinking about awarding future events.” Besides losing out on sporting events, the state’s meetings and events business will inevitably take a hit.
In early January, Texas Welcomes All — a coalition of eight convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs) from cities including Austin, Arlington, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston, Irving, San Antonio plus the Texas Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus — unveiled a campaign in opposition of the Texas Privacy Act. “Nearly 1,200 Texas employers, including 41 Fortune 500 companies, 21 Texas chambers of commerce, most of the major airlines and hotels, and many CVBs are all united in saying that there is significant economic risk in Texas being hostile to LGBT people — and that protecting Texas’ competitiveness costs us nothing at all,” the coalition said in a release. It also stated that Texas would suffer a short-term GDP loss of $8.5 billion annually due to lost travel and tourism revenues and put an estimated 185,000 travel and tourism jobs at risk.
In that same release, the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) said it would pull its 2021 annual meeting from Dallas if the bill passed. John Graham, ASAE president and CEO said, “We are deeply opposed to any laws that permit or even give the appearance of tolerating discrimination. In addition to being regressive, these types of laws could also cause serious harm to the meetings and conventions business in any state that adopts them, creating an unwelcome environment for convention sponsors and attendees, and a strong incentive for convention organizers to consider holding their events elsewhere.” Graham also noted that the organization now includes anti-discrimination clauses in all of its convention center and hotel contracts to protect the organization against discriminatory laws that threaten the success of a planned meeting or convention.
The Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA) plans to bring its 2019 expo to the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, but if this legislation passes, future dates in Dallas may be off the table. “It’s about civil rights, it’s about discrimination, and it’s not something we want to look the other way on,” said Kate Achelpohl, SGIA’s senior manager of public relations. “We hope to bring it into our rotation, but if Texas were to pass this bill … moving forward, we’d have to revisit that.”
According to Trade Show Executive, the 2016 SGIA Expo ranked as one of the year’s fastest-growing trade shows due to a 12.9 percent growth in net square feet of exhibit space. The expo, which hosted more than 24,000 registered attendees and more than 500 exhibitors at its 2016 show, has an economic impact of about $30 million.
“The Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau (GHCVB) is committed to ensuring that Houston remains an open and welcoming place for all residents and visitors,” said Mike Waterman, president of the GHCVB, said in a statement to Skift. “That is why the GHCVB is currently working with hospitality industry partners from across Texas to inform lawmakers that legislation regarding this issue is unnecessary. We in the hospitality industry prefer that the state allow us to do what we do best: make Houston one of the most welcoming cities in America. We actively monitor all bills that are filed and continually assess those that could have an impact on the travel and tourism industry. We will continue to work aggressively to minimize or eliminate the negative effects of any potentially harmful legislation.”
|12 U.S. States with Pending “Bathroom Bills”|
|Source: National Conference of State Legislatures|
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Photo credit: Visit Dallas President and CEO Phillip Jones speaks at a press conference organized by the Texas Welcomes All coalition, which was mobilized to oppose the state's pending bathroom bill. Texas Welcomes All / YouTube