Tim Wood | April 01, 2016 12:00 PM ET
North Carolina Tourism Headed For Harsh Spring
When my family and I moved from South Carolina to North Carolina two years ago, we made a judgment that when comparing the two states’ focus on education, the grass was truly greener in the Tarheel State.
That’s held true, with a catch. The grass has been greener on the other side of the border. Turns out though, you may not be allowed to sit on it.
I’m embarrassed to call myself a resident of this state this week, after our governor, Pat McCrory, pushed through a law making it legal for businesses to discriminate against transgender people by hiding behind the guise of “religious freedoms.”
This pointless discrimination is largely because Charlotte, the largest city in the state, passed an ordinance allowing transgenders to use the bathroom, shower or locker room of the sex they identify with.
So McCrory and his cronies in the state assembly passed a statewide ordinance giving businesses the state-backed right to tell transgenders they must use the bathroom of the sex listed on their birth certificate.
The idiocy has put North Carolina in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. McCrory has big plans for himself and is using this agenda to catapult himself on to the radar of the Republican National Committee during an election year where this kind of bigotry evangelically wrapped in a “family values” blanket has become all too common.
I’ve come to find out very quickly that the Tarheel State is in the middle of a hardcore identity crisis. You have the old-guard, old-money, outdated-principles pockets throughout the state versus pockets of progressive thinking around the college towns. We see it every day where we live in Chapel Hill and Carrboro on the edge of the UNC campus.
I was at a restaurant in town recently where I heard a pair of through-and-through Republicans lamenting the loss of traditional values all around them.
“This hippie vibe is spreading like a virus everywhere I go nowadays,” one said to the other.
Yes, that ‘hippie vibe’ – otherwise known as tolerance and acceptance – is spreading. Asheville has long been a tourism hub thanks to its amazing mountain landscapes and the indescribable Biltmore resort. But it has also become a growing East Coast hub of creative innovation, attracting artists and tech entrepreneurs drawn to that viral hippie vibe.
The gorgeous waterfront scenery of The Outer Banks and Wilmington have been sanctuaries for creative types for decades (and the latter a hotbed for TV and movie filming). Cities like Greensboro and Raleigh-Durham are in the midst of urban renewal that is attracting college graduates full of that hippie vibe in droves. And increasingly, the changing demographics has led to a citizenry with fewer biases than ever before.
Durham was named the “most tolerant city in the U.S.” by Newsweek and The Daily Beast in 2012. The city’s annual Pride Parade has become an ever-growing celebration of that accepting mentality.
We’ve been tourists in our own hometown the last couple years, exploring all that the state has to offer – and it is truly magnificent. It’s no surprise that tourism spending in 2014 topped $21 billion, bringing in more than $1 billion in state tax revenues and local tax revenues over $636 million.
“We can take pride in North Carolina’s position as the sixth most-visited state in the nation with nearly 50 million overnight visitors in 2014,” said Commerce Secretary John Skvarla.
Ah, yes, pride. I’m not feeling much of that watching McCrory defend his law.
There has been plenty of backlash, from large employers in the state like Bank of America to major cities like Seattle, New York City and San Francisco banning their government employees from work-related travel to the state. New York governor Andrew Cuomo has joined in the denouncing of the law.
The NBA has threatened to pull next year’s NBA All-Star Weekend out of Charlotte, much like the NCAA threatened to pull the Final Four basketball tourney out of Atlanta. And Hollywood has chimed in plenty. More than 100 companies have signed a petition asking for North Carolina to repeal the law.
A similar law allowing faith-based discrimination against the LGBT community was vetoed by Georgia governor Nathan Deal after a loud chorus of Hollywood and corporate vitriol from the likes of Disney, no less.
Many of those protestors have turned their attention upward.
Director Rob Reiner pledges to halt film productions in North Carolina until fairness & equality are restored pic.twitter.com/bVX37vVsWH— HumanRightsCampaign (@HRC) March 24, 2016
Deal and state officials knew the tourism, jobs and PR fallout could be catastrophic.
North Carolina? They’re just digging in their heels against the haters. McCrory has even started an egomaniacal website to colonize his supporters.
The outpouring of support from people across North Carolina is humbling. Thank you for standing with us. https://t.co/J5IJhI9eu9— Pat McCrory (@PatMcCroryNC) March 30, 2016
The main photo on the site features McCrory over a picture of a Peeping Tom type slipping into the women’s room. It's a visual that highlights the state leaders' ignorance more than any words could.
McCrory's "myths and facts" about the law are equally comical, especially this one:
"Q: I’m worried about how this new law affects transgender children or students in North Carolina. Does this bill allow bullying against transgender children in schools?
A: Absolutely not. North Carolina law specifically prohibits bullying and harassing behavior against children on the basis of sexual identity. "
McCrory’s main argument is we’re protecting our state’s children. From what? Progress and social change? If McCrory truly followed the law against "harassing behavior," we could put him in jail for violating the bullying law.
To be fair, some of what The Governor (“Walking Dead” fans know this is not a good capitalization) says make sense, specifically about New York. Cuomo is calling out North Carolina but not calling out Houston, the home of this year’s NCAA Final Four that Syracuse is part of and a city that tried to pass an ordinance nearly identical to McCrory’s state measure. And Cuomo did travel to Cuba, home of a laundry list of human rights violations. So the verbal jabs from the north are ringing a bit hollow.
There is a lot of political grandstanding going on here around a very serious issue impacting millions of lives – the state’s attorney general calls the law a “national embarrassment” but it’s no coincidence he’s running for governor against McCrory.
The true test will be if the corporations, the film crews and most importantly, the tourists follow through on their boycotts. It’s a safe bet that North Carolina tourism officials are diplomatically holding their breath and begging those above their paygrade to tone down the anti-gay rhetoric.
The official VisitNC.com site touts this coming season as “A Spring Like No Other in North Carolina.” Oh, you betcha. Just don’t think they had this controversy in mind.
Indeed, local farmers tell me this is already a spring like no other, with the grass staying green throughout the winter.
Maybe it’s from all the vocal moral manure being flung by the governor.
The grass may be green for now, but with roots of hatred taking a firm hold once again, North Carolina is headed into the weeds like never before.
As for me, I’m getting my family out of here in June. Here’s hoping Massachusetts doesn’t catch a case of the McCrorys before then.
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