It's no secret that anti-LGBT "religious liberty" laws have been the talk of the nation for the past month. Bills in Georgia, Mississippi, and Missouri that allow individuals to use religion to discriminate have ignited a firestorm of criticism, including official travel bans, boycotts by entertainers, and protests by the business community. Now there's criticism coming from abroad.
According to Pink News, the United Kingdom's Foreign Office issued updated guidance this week warning LGBT Brits about changes to state laws, specifically in Mississippi and North Carolina*, that could directly affect their stay.
"Laws vary from state to state. When you are physically present in a state, even temporarily, you are subject to state laws," the new travel advice said. "LGBT travelers may be affected by legislation passed recently in the states of North Carolina and Mississippi."
Foreign LGBT tourists should indeed consider these laws when traveling through these states. Mississippi’s HB 1523 allows a range of individuals, corporations, healthcare providers, and nonprofit organizations—including those that receive taxpayer funding to perform social services—to refuse to provide goods and services to same sex couples, single mothers, divorcees, and anyone who has had sex outside of marriage and their families. Though not a "religious liberty" bill, HB 2 prohibits transgender tourists from using "public restrooms based on their gender identity" in North Carolina.
Losing tourism, whether domestic or foreign, is no laughing matter. According to the "2014 Economic Contribution of Travel and Tourism In Mississippi, April 2015" produced by Visit Mississippi, tourism and travel dollars made up 7.4% of the state's General Fund for FY2014. The same year in North Carolina, tourists spent $21.3 billion. This blow to state revenue makes the passage of legislation to discriminate against the LGBT community a bit of a pyrrhic victory even for its supporters. Only time will tell if it was all worth it.
*The article incorrectly labels North Carolina's HB 2 as a law that "permits discrimination based on religious belief." Although the law does discriminate against the transgender community, it does not require that the desire to discriminate be based in religion.