Republicans in the Georgia House showed on Wednesday that they want a "religious freedom" bill to further legalize anti-gay discrimination in the state. Now, hospitality insiders are putting a price tag on that bias: $15 million.
Some 13 convention and visitors bureaus across the state signed a letter to members of the House Judiciary Committee – the panel expected to consider state Sen. Josh McKoon's Senate Bill 129 on Thursday – stating that $15 million in convention business is at risk if the measure becomes law.
"This bill has been highly controversial and the language is commonly misunderstood. They way this bill is being perceived by convention groups coming to Georgia is that it opens the door to allow their delegates to be discriminated against. Careful legal analysis of this bill raises concerns of discrimination. We do not want out future visitors to Georgia to be worried about being faced with any discriminatory behavior under the guise of this bill."
But there's more:
"As of today we know of at least $15 million in convention business that has stated that they will cancel their conventions should this bill pass. This is only what we've been made aware of publicly. Other groups have inquired but have not given notice to leave yet. Of course this doesn't count the lost opportunities – groups that simply won't consider Georgia because of the perception of our state being unwelcoming. If this bill passes, we expect the long term negative impact will be hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue."
The letter comes as Ron Tarson, the governmental affairs chair of the Georgia Hotel & Lodging Association, warned during a hearing on Tuesday that industry players were concerned about the impact of the legislation.
“We’re very concerned about legislation that creates a perception that Georgia allows discrimination,” Tarson said. “We are 100 percent supportive of religious freedom. However, we believe this legislation is unnecessary and sufficient protections are already in place.”
The letter from the tourism and convention groups doesn't carry the signature of the Georgia Chamber and Metro Atlanta Chamber. Those groups have stayed quiet on the legislation, despite speaking out against it in 2014.
Their silence is similar to the lack of public statements from Atlanta's leading gay-friendly companies, including Delta, Coke, IHG and Home Depot. The big brands publicly criticized "religious freedom" measures last year but have failed to speak out during the current legislative session. Republican lawmakers quieted Delta by retaliating.
UPDATE | On Thursday morning, McKoon took to the Senate floor to denounce the letter as "extortion."
UPDATE | Organizers of the gay-popular Dragon Con said Thursday that it's lobbied lawmakers to kill the bill. Convention director Tony Gowell, who is gay, called the measure "discriminatory," according to Georgia Tipsheet.
“Legislation that hurts one of us, hurts all of us,” Gowell said in a statement provided to Tipsheet. “Should this bill become law, we will seek written assurances from all of our business partners that they will not participate in any discriminatory behavior on the basis of race, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other point of identification.
“We have no intention now or in the future of supporting a business partner that discriminates.”