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Mark Twain said "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness." He needs to visit Arizona.
More than 20 years ago many state and local tourism offices began developing cultural tourism programs, in order to attract visitors who travel to experience a region's natural and cultural wonders—national parks, museums, Indian heritage centers, local art. Countless studies demonstrated that these tourists stay longer and spend more, so it made sense to lure them to one's community.

In the last decade or so, a number of places have started to target gay and lesbian travelers for the same reason. Metropolitan guru Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class and similar studies about urban development, correctly trumpets the economic advantages of tolerant communities. In his studies he develops a "gay friendly" city index, which demonstrates that regions which are perceived as tolerant (San Francisco, Portland, etc.) enjoy healthier economies than places considered intolerant. It's for that same reason that more travel and tourism agencies are developing LGBT-friendly marketing programs, at the same time their leaders are encouraging state legislatures to enact more equal rights measures:

After same-sex civil unions became law in Hawaii ... state officials saw a $50 million-plus tourism impact over three years. Arizona Republic
In Phoenix, openly-gay City Councilman Tom Simplot pointed out, "the city and convention officials over the past eight years have tried to strengthen [the] city's gay-tourism plan." Given Arizona's absolute dependence on the hospitality industry for economic development, the state should be in the forefront of this trend, but unfortunately the dickheads at the Capitol are moving in the opposite direction, which is both morally repugnant and economically crazy. According to Michael McFall, who publishes "Arizona Pride Guide," a national travel guide for the LGBT community,
Arizona is the seventh-most-popular destination among gay tourists in the U.S. and third among gay international travelers. Nationally, those tourists spend more than $80 billion a year, and in Arizona, they bring in about $122 million. Arizona Republic
It's a BFD here. The state already kicked the tourism economy in the gut in 2010 when it passed the "papers please" bill, which resulted in dozens of canceled conventions and individual tourists staying away in droves. Now the Governor and her merry band of fundamentalist homophobes in the legislature are very publicly endorsing more mean-spirited anti-LGBT measures, which will likely encourage gay and lesbian tourists to steer clear of the Grand Canyon State.

The most recent example came this week, when Governor Brewer petitioned the US Supreme Court to intervene because a lower court blocked Arizona's ban on benefits for LGBT couples:

Gov. Jan Brewer has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the state's elimination of benefits for the same-sex partners of its employees after a lower court struck down the ban... The case revolves around whether the state can eliminate health coverage for same-sex domestic partners of state and university employees. Arizona Republic
Brewer's policies are particularly small-minded and wrongheaded when it comes to university recruitment, another key ingredient of the state's economy, because schools are trying to attract the most creative and productive scholars. For the most part, they're not interested in moving to a state that wears its hate on its sleeve—and is proud of it! "[O]ur pool of talent is going down," ASU President Michael Crow told Richard Florida in The Flight of the Creative Class, because many of the best and brightest prospects aren't even considering Arizona.

The anti-LGBT laws are also harmful to the tourism sector, which is built on reputation and word of mouth if nothing else. Gays and lesbians won't be the only tourists who stay away; it'll also be the growing number of younger travelers, particularly the Millennials, who tend to support equal rights. Yesterday, a member of the Governor's Tourism Advisory Council felt so strongly about her prejudicial policies that he stepped down:

The push back came in the wake of Tuesday's resignation of a member of the Arizona Tourism Advisory Council. Edwin Leslie, a Brewer appointee, stepped down over Brewer's decision to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to eliminate health-care benefits for state employees' same-sex partners. Arizona Republic
Brewer says Arizona can't afford employee benefits for same-sex partners, even though last year the state spent only $3 million of $625 million on those benefits. As former Tourism Advisory Council member Edwin Leslie correctly points out in his two-page letter of resignation (PDF), it's pennywise and pound-foolish to save money on employee benefits at the same time they stomp a boot heel on the neck of the state's #1 economic engine—tourism.
Ben Bethel, owner and manager of central Phoenix's Clarendon Hotel, said state officials have pounded "one more nail in the state's tourism coffin."

"It's pretty insane," he said. "But to me, it was just one more thing to make me roll my eyes and go, 'I'm not surprised that something like this comes along from our crazy state government.' You should be loving and open and welcoming to people from all backgrounds and walks of life, and that's what tourism is. And we keep shutting out people to go to the state of Arizona." Arizona Republic

Last year a group of more than 70 influential CEOs and other movers and shakers wrote then-Senate President Russell Pearce a letter, asking him to quit being such a hateful and stupid dick when it comes to immigration, because his prejudicial policies are not only unconstitutional, they're hurting the economy (PDF). A lot of people got that message, except for Pearce, who didn't scale back his racist assaults on Hispanics. But not one of his over-reaching bills passed, and he was successfully recalled. It's time for the leaders of Arizona's powerful tourism industry to write a similar letter to Jan Brewer.

Originally posted to Maggie's Farm on Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 11:41 AM PDT.

Also republished by Baja Arizona Kossacks, Your Government at Work, LGBT Kos Community, and Milk Men And Women.

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