Aarian Marshall is a transportation reporter at WIRED and former CityLab contributor. She lives in San Francisco.
City code already prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender or sex, sexual orientation or gender identification—so come on down! (Please.)
However you feel about the controversial religious freedom bill signed into law in Indiana this past March, there’s one fact that’s not up for debate: The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was bad for the Hoosier state’s bottom line.
Indiana Republicans said they meant the legislation to prevent the government from intruding on citizens’ religious rights without a compelling interest; civil rights advocates, meanwhile, argued that the law gave businesses an opening to discriminate against LGBT people on religious grounds. Though the law was “fixed” in early April with explicit language intended to protect people of all “sexual orientations” and “gender identities” (civil rights proponents say it’s still not enough), Indiana’s pocketbook had already taken a hit: Big groups canceled long-planned conventions in Indianapolis, major businesses nixed programs that required customer and employee travel to the state, travel brands warned tourists they could face discrimination, and the Hoosier government had to refine and then relaunch expensive public relations campaigns.
So when Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed a similar executive order in that state earlier this week “to prevent the state from discriminating against persons or entities with deeply held religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman,” the New Orleans tourism industry moved quickly.
Their official response: Something close to “Oh, hell no.”
In a joint statement, the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) and the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation (NOTMC) told potential travelers that Jindal’s move was little more than a political stunt. (There’s been wide speculation that Jindal will run for president.) “This executive order is largely a political statement by our conservative governor in support of his national position on the issue,” the groups said in a statement. “It is important for those who visit Louisiana to know that its effect in essence is that of a political campaign document.”
The executive order has no real power, the groups reassured prospective tourists. But Jindal handed the order down on the heels of a similar law’s rejection in the Louisiana legislature—and a bill like that, the tourism industry says, could cost the state more than a billion dollars a year and thousands of jobs.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu also responded quickly, releasing his own (and, it should be noted, similarly ineffectual) executive order yesterday reminding city residents and visitors that city code already prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender or sex, sexual orientation or gender identification.
The industry is right to be worried: Tourism is the third largest industry in Louisiana, and is particularly important to New Orleans, which is still, nearly 10 years later, working to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Numbers released last year show that a record number of visitors spent $6.47 billion in the city in 2013. A survey conducted by the local government found that 55.4 percent of the city’s business travelers extended their stay for an average of two nights—just for fun. Meanwhile, Americans (and particularly the large corporations they work for) are newly sensitive to sexual discrimination issues.
Whether Jindal’s move is good politics remains to be seen, but Indianapolis’ empty convention halls shows it could cause things to get tough in the Big Easy.