Note to North Carolina elected officials and its tourism industry - this question is for you as well. Hit me up with your best case explaining why my birthday should be celebrated here on Facebook or pam at firedoglake dot com and I'll be happy to share your perspective with readers.
It's a relevant question that I'd like to hear your thoughts on because many thoughtful people here in North Carolina, who pay taxes to a state government that put the anti-gay measure on the ballot that passed this May, are wondering how they should spend their discretionary dollars and what they should tell equality-minded friends and relatives to do.
My wife Kate clued me in that some family members planned to do something nice for my 50th birthday next year (July 8). Their first thought was to rent a beach house on the Outer Banks of NC (@theouterbanks, on Facebook), a place I've had the pleasure of staying back in the day when the wild ponies were still allowed to stroll the streets of Corolla. She told me because she wanted to toss the idea around with me to consider what has transpired here politically and whether I had strong feelings one way or another about it.
The matter is more politically and emotionally complicated than it seems. North Carolina is my birth state; I moved and lived in NYC for many years and chose to come back to live here in 1989 for the quality of life and infinitely better cost of living. We happen to live in a progressive area of the state, so being out hasn't been an issue (though not having our Canadian marriage here recognized is). It is also a state with zero statewide anti-discrimination measures on the books, but it has many private companies and institutions that offer that and same-sex spousal equivalent benefits. So yes, it's complicated. Look at this map of the Amendment One results (the interactive one is at WRAL). I highlighted the counties highly dependent for revenue from vacation tourism that voted against A1:
Dare County (at the beach): 51% against, 49% for.
Buncombe County (Asheville): 51% against, 49% for.
Wautauga County (Boone): 51% against, 49% for.
So the only county on the beach that voted against A1 is Dare County and it barely did at that. That's not a lot of confidence about a hospitable environment for a celebration with out gay folks and allies. It's not just a matter of supporting the tourism industry here -- the issue extends to the local community. Why spend gay/ally dollars in a place where Kate and I cannot be out in the local community, enjoy local restaurants, etc. and be treated like anyone else. Would Dare County residents be aghast at the sight of us holding hands? Can major NC tourist destinations (outside of Asheville) claim LGBTs are treated as equals in those destinations?
One Facebook friend, Jon Winkleman, tried to frame consideration based on the potential positives of the Democratic National Convention being held in Charlotte.
"To that end I personally believe the answer is not for openly gay people and straight allies to isolate NC and give them less one on one exposure to LGBT people and their friends. As the DNC nor requires every state including NC to set LGBT diversity goals to not only reflect the size of NC's LGBT community but the ethnic and cultural diversity within NC's LGBT community, we may squander more good than bad by moving. Every Democratic political leader I'm NC will be seated at the convention with their LGBT neighbors. For many it will be the first time they are interacting with openly LGBT COLLEAGUES rather than special interests lobbying them from outside. It is a real insider geeky strategy but it actually works effectively at shifting how local political leaders view LGBT people."
[M]y birthday celebration isn't the DNC, and there are many factors in any personal decisions about how one spends their money. A potential marriage equality plank in the Dem platform does nothing to advance marriage equality or employment non-discrimination in North Carolina, and nothing about that will change by my birthday on July 8 of next year. So again, does my family spend its money here? For instance, many of my friends are in NYC, my brother lives in Delaware. Both have much more to offer in terms of equality under the law. So does DC.
But back to the question and whether I've received any responses from NC institutions about it - I haven't heard from any of the above parties in the NC tourism industry as of yet from that Tweet (the state’s official travel and tourism department or the Outer Banks folks). I did get a reply from a prominent business on the Outer Banks, Jean Maynard of Village Realty OBX (@VillageRealty), who gave me permission to post her email.
Hi Pam, this is Jeannie at Village Realty on the Outer Banks of NC. You had posted a question about coming in for your 50th (really? You don't look 50 at all..) birthday next year. I assure you that your family would be welcome and I did post a reply. We are very welcoming to all people...and there are many gay people who live and work here year 'round. I will be very happy to answer any questions or concerns you have and I do understand your concerns... Thank you for your interest and I hope I can convince you that Dare Country is a good place to vacation. And we did NOT like it that that amendment passed--one of the few counties that did not vote w the rest of the state.
...One of my sisters is gay...and a minister (I call her a Lesbitarian! with love) and I have many gay friends, my daughters brother in law is gay and married, my husband is a musician and we have lots of friends who happen to be gay. Frankly, I don't what 2 people (or more) do as long as they don't mess with kids and all are consenting adults. There are a lot more things to worry about in this world than who loves who. Love is love. Feel free to use my words...and I hope I get the opportunity to meet with you one day. Our island is so beautiful and laid back...I brought my daughters up here and they love it too.
It is a magical place...
Have a most wonderful day
That's one compelling argument - not to hurt local businesses run by people who are supportive. But does doing so bring equality to NC any faster? Is it more important to be out and proud in the state than withholding discretionary income in a boycott? Maybe, maybe not. In a realistic view, nothing about anti-gay discrimination will occur in NC legislatively; our lawmakers are for the most part cowardly. Even a good number of the Republicans are agnostic on these matters and are simply swayed by their bible-beating bigoted constituents to hold on to their seats. They are content to wait for the federal government and the Supreme Court to eventually take the decisions out of their hands.
So -- if I don't hold my 50th birthday fete in NC, where do you think I should? Other considerations are below the fold.
Some politically hospitable choices that immediately come to mind: New York, DC, Maine, Delaware, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont. Big downsides for these Blue states -- the cost of planning a vacation there can be prohibitively expensive, and I don't want to send my family to the poorhouse on my account. By that standard, NC provides much more bang for the buck.
And to throw another wrench in the works, how about whether the place is keen on interracial couples or TEH BLACK for that matter. You sadly still can't take that for granted in 2012.
What do you think? I hope that people chime in with their thoughts about what they would do, given we also have 30 states with anti-gay "marriage" amendments. If you're going to boycott one state, then one should be consistent and boycott ALL.
Other matters to consider from my perspective that have nothing to do with politics when considering a locale:
- Ease of travel access: With my rheumatoid arthritis, air travel is literally a pain, and I'm not good for driving long distances any more, so taking planes with multiple connections takes a toll. From the perspective of guests, expense of travel to and from the venue should be easy too. (Note: the Outer Banks is a real haul by car from RDU, a big demerit).
- Expense: As I mentioned above, I don't want my loved ones going broke on my account trying to foot the bill for a beach or spa vacation for my 50th. All the most LGBT-friendly states are not surprisingly much more expensive.
- The local environment: public transportation is good if I'm not going to end up at the beach (where that's usually not available). Or easy ability to find fun restaurants to sample local specialties -- btw, I had a great time in Maine in 2010, thanks to my friend Joe Sudbay, who celebrated his 50th there with family and friends.
- I want to relax: In the end I'll just be happy to make it to 50 (cross fingers) considering my broken body. I have no need to party hard, and don't want to spend a lot of time walking around on painful feet all the time, so an adventure trip is out. Some spa pampering would be most excellent. Beach would be nice, but not essential. I haven't had a real vacation that wasn't about blogging or a perfunctory family trip that is way too short to see all the people I would like to see (that's just about every NYC trip!).