The British Foreign office released a travel advisory Tuesday to LGBT tourists looking to visit North Carolina or Mississippi.
“The U.S. is an extremely diverse society and attitudes towards LGBT people differ hugely across the country,” reads the advisory, posted on the Foreign Office’s website. "LGBT travelers may be affected by legislation passed recently in the states of North Carolina and Mississippi. Before traveling please read our general travel advice for the LGBT community.”
The travel advice includes warnings to avoid “excessive” public displays of affection, to exercise caution particularly in rural areas, and to be mindful that some hotels may reserve the right to turn away a gay couple.
Jonathan Lovitz, vice president of external affairs of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) said it is interesting that this is receiving attention internationally.
“It’s clear that governments around the world have an eye on what’s happening,” he told VOA. “We’re facing a patchwork of laws here in the United States – you can drive 20 minutes across state lines and your protections are radically different. That’s dangerous…on an economic level.”
North Carolina’s “bathroom bill," as it’s called, signed into law on March 23, mandates that individuals use the public bathroom corresponding to their gender at birth. Private schools and businesses are allowed to determine their own policies for bathrooms and locker rooms, but all public schools, agencies, and universities must follow the new law.
The North Carolina board of tourism released a statement making clear that as an organization operating under contract with the state government, it does not usually comment on public policy.
“However, we acknowledge that a number of companies … have expressed reservations about doing business in North Carolina because of concerns regarding House Bill 2,” Director of Communications Scott Peacock said in the statement. “We are confident our state’s lawmakers and governor will work together to consider ways to best address the concerns of all parties affected by this legislation, and we encourage timely resolution of this matter.”
North Carolina has already been subjected to many high-profile boycotts, including rocker Bruce Springsteen’s cancelled tour dates in the southern state and financial business PayPal ended plans to open a facility in the central city of Charlotte.
Mississippi has been subject to similar boycotts after passing a controversial state law allowing businesses to deny service to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender customers based on religious beliefs.
While Lovitz is confident that the economic pressure put on these states will force them to repeal the recent legislature, small businesses worry about attracting visitors with peak tourist season rapidly approaching.
North Carolina's city of Asheville is one of its most popular tourist destinations. The mountainous city attracts 9.8 million visitors and $1.7 billion annually, and 1 in 7 of its 85,000 residents work in the tourism industry.
“Buncombe County voted no to the bill,” said Stephanie Pace Brown, Executive Director of the Asheville Visitors Bureau. “What we say is a reiteration of our community’s core values – our community is built on acceptance.”
Brown said small businesses and hourly wage earners who depend on tips from tourists and conferences would be most affected by a drop in tourism.
The future of these state laws is being contested. A recent case in Virginia that ruled in favor of a transgender teen is expected to impact a lawsuit against the new law in North Carolina.