Texas CVBs Battle Proposed Bathroom Law SB 6

SB 6 Texas
Visit Dallas President and CEO Phillip Jones lets the numbers do the talking when campaigning against Senate Bill 6 (SB 6), a proposed bathroom law in Texas. The legislation would require transgender people to use restrooms based on their gender at birth rather than how they identify themselves. The bill is similar to House Bill 2, North Carolina’s controversial measure adopted in 2016 that outraged the LGBT community. Amid the backlash in North Carolina, the NBA moved its All-Star Game and the NCAA and ACC relocated college championships; Southern Sociological Society canceled its 2019 meeting in Charlotte; and APTrust’s spring 2016 meeting moved from Raleigh to Baltimore. Estimates put the state’s losses from HB2 around $630 million. Fearing worse damage in Texas, Jones has set up shop in Austin since the legislative session started there in January. While Austin is “the second-best city in Texas,” jokes Jones, he is eager to return home to Dallas, hoping to have defeated what he describes as a “very, very, very bad bill.” On Feb. 16, Jones plans to lead a group of hospitality, tourism and travel officials on the Capitol. He talked to Connect about making the business case against SB 6. What have your lobbying efforts been like? I’ve been meeting with individual legislators for the past month. I’m up to 71. I feel like we’re making headway in the House. The Senate is probably a lost cause because the lieutenant governor [Dan Patrick] has made [passing SB 6] a priority. We’re trying to educate them on the potential damage. The Democrat caucus has already said it is opposed to the legislation. Who else is fighting the bill? We’ve put together a coalition of all the major CVBs in Texas, including Fort Worth, Dallas, San Antonio, Houston and Austin, along with the Texas Association of CVBs. We launched a website, Texas Welcomes All, focused on getting our message out about Texas being a welcoming and diverse destination that wants people from all backgrounds and walks of life to come visit, and feel welcome and secure while doing so. What is the potential damage if SB 6 passes? Up to 185,000 jobs and $8.5 billion could be lost, not to mention the damage to the Texas brand. It would be devastating. Describe the importance of LGBT events in Dallas. We are the only CVB or DMO I am aware of that has a specific program called Diversity and Inclusion. Last year, we booked 50 D&I events. Specifically with the LGBT market, we booked five events [including the North American Gay Volleyball Association Championships in May 2016], and we are putting together bids for the Gay Games, among other events. What is the reaction from LGBT groups already booked in Dallas or considering the city? We’ve had 12 or 13 groups tell us if the bill were to pass, they would potentially cancel their meetings and Texas would be off the list for future meetings. A large medical group gave me that information last week. It’s not speculation; it’s reality. Have you consulted officials in North Carolina? We’ve talked regularly with out counterparts. In fact, I was on a panel with Denny Edwards [president and CEO of Visit Raleigh]. It’s scary to see what’s going on in North Carolina. It’s a bit baffling even though we’re seeing firsthand what the ramifications of HB2 have been, some of our leaders in Texas don’t seem to care. I’m trying to make sure [lawmakers] understand what’s at stake and that perception is a reality in this business. If the perception is that Texas is not an open and inviting destination, that could be very detrimental to our economy. The billions of dollars in state and local taxes our industry generates could be in jeopardy.