Gov. Bill Haslam and Mayor Karl Dean, on opposite sides of Nashville’s gay rights issue, both played down the possibility Wednesday of a boycott of Tennessee over what some are calling the sanctioning of bigotry in the state.
A national blogging furor has erupted during the past week over the legislature’s nullification of Nashville’s anti-gay bias ordinance and Haslam’s signing of the bill on Monday. On Facebook and elsewhere, there has been an outpouring of calls for retaliation against the state.
“Time for a gay boycott of Tennessee,” one commenter at The Huffington Post wrote.
Another Huffington Post commenter wrote, “Because the state legislature in Tennessee is the most backward, hateful legislature in the country. They are trying to pass laws to take this state back to the 19th century."
But before a business conference in downtown Nashville Wednesday, where the governor and the mayor appeared, both said they doubt any significant boycott will materialize.
“There’s calls for a lot of things all the time,” Haslam said. “Businesses in this state are known for being open and welcoming, and that’s one of the things we’re working on doing as a state.”
Gay rights supporters won’t stay away from Nashville, Dean said, because the Metro Council is the one that adopted the ordinance in the first place, banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity by companies doing business with the city.
“People will be able to distinguish that Nashville’s council voted in favor of this particular ordinance and I signed it, and the city was in the position to go ahead and enforce it, but we can’t because of the state action. So I wouldn’t think there’d be anything happening in Nashville,” the mayor said. “I would think that people would take the long view and understand that this is a process that’s going to take several years to get done and to be patient right now.”
Asked whether he was disappointed in the governor for signing the bill, Dean said, “I clearly think this was a local issue decided by the local political body and my sense is that’s where this issue should be decided. The state legislature should not have interfered.”
“I spoke to the governor early on about this,” he added. “He knew my position on it, but I didn’t ask him to veto it, no.”
Taking the opposite position from Republican state lawmakers who saw Nashville’s ordinance as an unfair business regulation, Dean said it would have helped Nashville’s economy.
“In terms of business, it would have been a good thing for Nashville because it would have set Nashville off as an open city, which I think helps you bring business to the city when you have a representation for openness and inclusiveness. Companies and dynamic, creative businesses are looking to be in cities like that.”
When Colorado voters repealed gay rights ordinances in Denver, Boulder and Aspen in 1992 — approving a constitutional amendment that later was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court — the state suffered economically from a boycott.
Visitors canceled trips to the Rockies, costing the state millions of dollars in tourism. A TV production company opted for another state to shoot a movie. The Coalition of Labor Union Women canceled a 1,500-member convention in Denver. The Atlanta City Council banned official travel to Colorado, and San Francisco and other cities also took steps.
Chris Sanders of the Tennessee Equality Project said his group doesn’t plan to organize a boycott of this state, and he knows of no one else doing so.
“I don’t know whether one is going to be organized systematically or not,” Sanders told The City Paper. “You see people post on Facebook from other states saying, ‘You know, we ought to block the entrance to the Grand Ole Opry.’ Well, the city of Nashville did the right thing on this. That targeting is misplaced.
“If they’re going to do it, be smart about it. We’re not calling for a boycott of Tennessee. If people want to do that and they can organize it the right way to make an impact that will result in positive change, that’s fine.”