In case you missed it, Mississippi just passed a law that allows businesses to withhold services from LGBT patrons. It’s a pretty clear example of discrimination delivered under the guise of religious freedom — as Ellen deftly pointed out yesterday. Today, the tourism industry of Mississippi is fighting back against the law with a campaign dubbed “Everyone’s Welcome Here.”
The Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association launched the campaign following the passage of HB 1523 into law. The bill allows Mississippians to decline services like adoption, healthcare, and vendor services (rentable venues, florists, cake decorators, caterers, etc.) if they believe that providing them will run afoul of their religious convictions. The bill also allows clerks to decline to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples without fear of punishment from the state government. Perhaps most devastating, the bill allows landlords to discriminate against people they believe to be engaging in same-sex relationships (essentially redlining the entire state as far as LGBT people are concerned) and allows employers to fire transgender employees without cause.
So that LGBT people visiting the state will know where they can do business at a glance, the MHRA is issuing decals at no cost for businesses who want to advertise that they will treat all of their customers as full citizens. MHRA President Mike Cashion explained the move in a press release.
“When HB 1523 was signed, Mississippi was thrust into the national spotlight. Regardless of its intent, this legislation has created a level of controversy and public perception that affects the image of our state and the hospitality community,” he said. “And while we may not be able to manage the image and brand of the entire state, we can affect the image of our restaurants, hotels and other hospitality businesses. When our industry is challenged, we as an organization will take prudent steps to protect and promote the restaurant and hospitality industry.”
Cashion added that “Mississippi’s restaurant industry is open for everyone’s business.”
The MHRA will also keep a registry of all businesses in the state that declare themselves LGBT-friendly.
The move is similar to ones that successfully derailed other attempts at so-called “religious freedom” laws in other states. The pressure from businesses and lobbyists killed bills in Indiana and Georgia. The latter bill was vetoed by Republican Governor Nathan Deal, who offered a shockingly open-minded reasoning for the head politician in a Deep South state.
“I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia, of which I and my family have been a part of for all of our lives,” he said. “Georgia is a welcoming state. It is full of loving, kind and generous people…I intend to do my part to keep it that way.”
It’s good to know that Mississippi’s tourism authorities are taking the same approach, even if the state legislature isn’t.