HB2 Law Concerns Tourism Officials in the High Country and Across the State

Published Monday, May 9, 2016 at 2:24 pm

By Jesse Wood

In mid April, Wysteria White of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce received an email from a gay couple planning to hold a wedding in the High Country in the near future.

Friends, both gay and straight, of Ron Roach and his fiancé, David, expressed concerns about the controversial HB2 law that was signed by N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory. Their friends worried about being turned away from hotels or restaurant service and requested that the wedding be held in Tennessee to prevent from contributing to the state’s economy.

Ron Roach and his fiancé, David, were hesitant to hold their wedding in North Carolina because of HB2.

Ron Roach and his fiancé, David, were hesitant to hold their wedding in North Carolina because of HB2.

“Unfortunately, our guests now believe they will be visiting a non-inclusive state that seems almost proud of its discrimination. It’s sad that so many of our wedding guests do not want to visit NC. It’s even more sad that some actually feel nervous about how they will be treated,” Roach wrote to the Boone Chamber. “I’m confident that after seeing the kind, inviting and friendly side of the majority of North Carolinians that our guest will leave with a much better perception than they have going in.”

White’s response to Roach, which was praised by local tourism officials, alleviated the fears of the couple and their guests.

“Your email brought me to tears. I personally am disgusted and could never support such a bill! I have forwarded your email to our President, Dan Meyer and our Chair of the Government Relations Committee Omer Tomlinson.

“Please know I live each and every day as an equal. I wish to please and share love. I have been hurt and discriminated upon all my life for being a young, single, teenage mother. I am now an adult getting ready to turn 36 with a son turning 18.  I understand fear, but know I am a better person to smile, even at the ugly and judgmental. I welcome all to this area and hope that if there is anything I can do to make their stay more pleasant I will.”

Roach forwarded White’s response to all of their guests, and as initially planned, the wedding was held in the area. But the wedding might not have taken place locally if not for White’s email conversation with Roach.

On Friday, following their wedding, Roach wrote to White:

“I wanted to take a minute from my day to tell you that we had a wonderful time in Boone at our wedding. Everyone we came in contact with was beyond welcoming and treated us with true southern hospitality. The folks at the Avery county courthouse were kind and respectful and never made us feel out of place, which is all anyone could ever ask for.

“All of our guest who were concerned or had trepidation about visiting NC definitely left with a different opinion of our beautiful state. Most of them have said they plan to, or would like to go back. I just have to tell you that your initial response to my “concerns” is what made the final decision to keep the wedding in NC. The kindness you showed is exactly what I remember from growing up in NC and it put my fears to rest.”

Boone Area Chamber CEO Dan Meyer praised White on Monday.

“I think Wysteria’s response pretty much says it all,” Meyer said. “The end result is saying that we are just a welcoming community and I hope everybody comes to Boone and enjoys themselves without questions or concerns.”

In Blowing Rock, Tourism Development Authority Executive Director Tracy Brown also noted White’s “beautiful job” in alleviating the concerns of the wedding couple and guests. In another story, Brown mentioned that a local hotelier recently said that a cycling group from Canada that stays in Blowing Rock each year was reconsidering their annual visit to the High Country because of the HB2 law.

From the mountains to the coast, HB2 is the hot-button issue in the state’s tourism industry. Brown noted that the N.C. Travel Industry Association will meet Monday, May 23. Then on Tuesday, May 24, the group’s leaders will meet with legislators “to talk about tourism issues and I’m sure HB2 will be apart of that,” Brown said.

Brown said that the Blowing Rock TDA and the Blowing Rock Chamber has received several emails describing HB2 with words such as a “hate bill” or “intolerant attitude” and the like.

“Generally, we let them know it’s unfortunate this law was passed, but we didn’t pass it, and things really haven’t changed here,” Brown said. “We are still a very welcoming community. The state is a wonderful place to visit.”

The HB2 law was passed in March and then amended via an executive order by McCrory after backlash in April. But this amendment didn’t satisfy critics, who noted that McCrory doubled down on the “most damaging provisions of HB2.”

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice staff wrote a letter to McCrory that stated that North Carolina was violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and has until today, Monday, May 9, to respond that it would  “remedy these violations of Title VII, including by confirming that the State will not comply with or implement HB2.”

This morning, McCroy responded by filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice.

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