SEATTLE — At least four states and seven major cities have banned non-essential employee travel to Mississippi or North Carolina after governors there enacted legislation that advocates contend discriminates against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Based on the states whose residents travel most to Mississippi and North Carolina, the moves may be largely symbolic in their economic effects. More significant may be individuals' and companies' decisions on where to travel.
“Seattle will continue to speak out against injustice and stand with those who are fighting for equality,” Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said in announcing Seattle's travel ban against Mississippi. “This debate is settled in America and yet we continue to see states roll back civil-rights protections for LGBTQ people."
Last week, Murray also signed an executive order banning official city travel to North Carolina. So far, Seattle and New York City are the only large cities to have travel bans in effect for both Mississippi, where Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed a religious freedom bill Tuesday into law, and North Carolina, where Republican Pat McCrory signed a bill March 24 that prohibits counties and municipalities from passing anti-discrimination ordinances and requires transgender people to use bathrooms for the birth gender.
Other cities that say they're banning employee travel to North Carolina include Atlanta; Boston; Chicago; Portland, Ore.; and San Francisco.
State governments that so far have prohibited employee travel to both Mississippi and North Carolina are Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Washington — all with Democrats in the governor's office. Last week, the District of Columbia's Democratic mayor announced a ban against employee travel to North Carolina, and Tuesday a D.C. City Council member introduced a travel-ban bill that would become effective automatically for any state that approves similar laws.
“When the rights of some Americans are threatened, it is the responsibility of all Americans to stand in opposition to those discriminatory acts,” Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday in a statement.
The immediate effects of such bans are largely unknown. But Metro Transit in the Twin Cities, a Minnesota state agency, is canceling plans to send employees May 13 to 17 to the American Public Transit Association's International Bus Roadeo in Charlotte, N.C., according to the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune. The conference is a training opportunity for bus operators and maintenance teams.
Organizers of the High Point Market have said dozens of the retail and interior-design companies that attend the April 16 to 20 furniture trade show will be no-shows because of North Carolina's new law, which was effective immediately, and they will face significant economic damage because of it. The show generally attracts more than 75,000 customers who buy for their businesses.
More than 120 chief executives and other business leaders have signed onto an open letter calling for McCrory and the North Carolina General Assembly to repeal the almost 2-week-old law, gay-rights group Equality North Carolina said Friday. Equality Mississippi does not appear to have a similar initiative in the works.
Right after McCrory signed the legislation, Executive Director Stephanie Pace Brown of the Asheville, N.C., Convention and Visitors Bureau said she had fielded about a dozen emails from people saying they were canceling plans to vacation in the area.
"(But) silence is a gauge," said Jamie Gilpin, head of Outfitter Bicycle Tours in Hendersonville, N.C. "I'm sure that there are fewer people reaching out" to consider trips. Summer, when many kids are out of school, is generally peak season for vacation travel so many businesses have not seen effects yet.
Much of both North Carolina's and Mississippi's travel business is leisure: about 92% in Mississippi and 87% in North Carolina, according to information in 2013 tourism reports for both states. States that send the most visitors to Mississippi and North Carolina are, for the most part, on their borders or a state or two away.
Business and leisure tourism play a part in about 1 in 10 jobs in each state, a little more in Mississippi and a little less in North Carolina, ranking the category fourth among jobs in the private sector. But more than three times the number of people work in travel-related fields in North Carolina than in Mississippi and state and local tax revenue from tourism is almost five times higher, so the pain could be more acute in the Tar Heel State.
"I'm hoping that, if anything, people realize that (North Carolina's new law) is not consistent with who the people of this community are," said Jim Muth, co-owner of Beaufort House Inn in Asheville and vice chairman of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority. "It gives North Carolina a bad name."
Georgia escaped similar boycott efforts when GOP Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed its version of a religious-freedom bill March 28. South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, also a Republican, vetoed a transgender-bathroom bill March 1.
The wave of government-backed travel bans echoes the backlash that Indiana experienced last year when GOP Gov. Mike Pence signed the first version of the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allowed businesses and their employees to refuse to serve LGBT customers based on the workers' religious beliefs. Indiana is home to NCAA headquarters, and the Men's NCAA Tournament finals were being played in Indianapolis days from when Pence signed the bill March 26, 2015.
Connecticut, the District of Columbia, New York, Vermont and Washington instituted travel bans then along with at least eight large cities, about half of them different from those who have announced bans for North Carolina. The Indiana bans were lifted when state lawmakers amended their law about a week later specifically to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity — even though many activists said the changes did not go far enough.