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HB-2 delivers first public blow to local tourism

HB2, the controversial North Carolina law that withholds state anti-discrimination protections from gay, lesbian and transgender people, has cost the Henderson County tourism economy its first publicly announced loss.

The Family Equality Council, an LGBTQ-supporting organization, announced Friday that it was cancelling its first ever Family Weekend in the South, an event that was scheduled to bring 25 families to the Kanuga Conference Centers June 17-19.

“HB2 is a sweeping anti-civil rights law that strips local protections from several classes, including women, people of color, people with disabilities and the LGBTQ community," Emily Hecht-McGowan, the organization's interim co-executive director and director of public policy, said in a statement. "It also contains particularly egregious provisions targeting members of our community who are transgender. Two-thirds of the families registered for the weekend would have been traveling from states other than North Carolina."

Gov. Pat McCrory and other supporters of what they describe as a "bathroom privacy bill" have defended the legislation and given no signal that they would consider repeal.

“There’s no doubt there is a well-coordinated, national campaign to smear our state’s reputation after we passed a common-sense law to ensure no government can take away our basic expectations of privacy in bathrooms, locker rooms and showers,” McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis said last week.

While Hecht-McGowan praised the Kanuga, an Episcopal Church-affiliated retreat, for its openness, she cited a "hostile climate" in the state that threatened LGBT families.

"Even though Camp Kanuga is an incredibly welcoming and affirming partner, given the hostile climate under this new law, we could not guarantee the safety of our families as they traveled to and from our event," she said. "We do not want to put our children in harm’s way. We are committed to serving our families in the south, but we also need to be reasonably confident that we don’t put their safety, security and dignity at risk.”

In an interview, Family Equality Council Media Manager Bradley Jacobs said he did not have an estimate of how much the families would have spent in Hendersonville. The organization has not held an event at Kanuga. "This was going to be our first event there," he said.

Brent Wright, interim co-executive director and director of programming, said: “We did not make this decision lightly or without great debate. The decision was made by a cross-section of our leadership team and came after two weeks of discussing the situation with stakeholders and our families. We are committed to serving our families in the South, but given the situation in North Carolina, this is just not the right place for our families at this time. Sometimes we have to make hard decisions for our families. ... Family Equality remains deeply committed to its work in the South. Executives are looking to relocate the event to a different state in the region, possibly Georgia, where Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a similar “religious liberty” bill on March 28, saying, 'I believe it is a matter of character for our state.'"

The Family Equality Council says it connects, supports and represents the country’s 3 million gay, lesbian and transgender parents and their 6 million children.