Originally posted: July 16, 2008, 11:46 p.m.
Updated: July 17, 2008, 7:28 a.m.

See updated story, “‘Knowingly incorrect info’ from S.C. officials, say Brit ‘So Gay’ ad execs”

View the “South Carolina is so gay” ad (PDF)

COLUMBIA — When South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford learned that his state was being advertised as a gay tourism destination, he ordered a Cabinet-level department head “to do the right thing personnel-wise or process-wise to ensure this does not happen again,” Sanford’s spokesman Joel Sawyer told Q-Notes.

Sanford was reacting to U.S. media reports that a subway poster mounted in London, England, during Gay Pride week was announcing, “South Carolina is so gay.”

A state employee who approved the ads was called to a meeting with management and resigned, according to Marion Edmonds, spokesman for the state’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism (PRT).

If the employee broke any rule in the conduct of her job, it was apparently an unwritten one.

“I’m not sure if there were rules to follow,” said Edmonds.

Edmonds said that South Carolina has been promoting international tourism for years by contracting with foreign vendors who, in turn, work with tour operators.

“It appears that this employee, working with our U.K. representative, gave approval for the dollars to be spent,” Edmonds said. “That couldn’t have happened on the domestic side.”

“In the future, we won’t be able to have those kinds of people acting with that kind of autonomy and latitude,” Edmonds said.

He added, “Going into a new area, a different market or a different way of reaching that market, you have to check with somebody on that. That decision has to come down from the marketing plan.”

Governor objects to ‘agenda’
In the Governor’s office, Sawyer said that the state will not promote itself as a tourist destination through campaigns “aimed at a specific group of people.”

Sawyer said the “so gay” ad should have been “run up the flagpole,” but did not know whether any standard procedures were violated at the time it was approved.

“It defies common sense that someone would sign off on an advertising campaign that controversial,” Sawyer said.

Asked whether South Carolina would, for example, position itself as a tourist destination for African-Americans by utilizing black media and promoting vacation spots of relevant cultural interest, Sawyer said that the state does not “get into targeting a specific group that might have a social or political agenda.”

NAACP, the leading U.S. African-American advocacy organization, is working to boycott South Carolina tourism due to the state’s official display of the Confederate flag.

“We don’t believe that the average South Carolina taxpayer would agree” with advertising the state as a gay tourist destination, Sawyer concluded.

EDITORIAL: Sanford is so stupid
The recent flap over the “South Carolina is so gay” British ad campaign has left the heads of LGBT citizens in the Carolinas spinning.

What the hell happened and how’d it happen so fast? One minute, South Carolina’s going about its “Dixie”-whistling ways and the next it’s busting out with Barbra Streisand show tunes and musicals. Then, out of nowhere, the politicians take over and the Pink Palmetto is slammed back in the closet.

The story broken by Q-Notes — that the directive to do away with the “So Gay” campaign came straight from the office of Gov. Mark Sanford — puts a continued national spotlight on the Palmetto State.

Rumor has it that Gov. Sanford is on the short list in the Republican veepstakes. His name keeps popping up in GOP circles and his small government, anti-tax, libertarian-esque record would compliment Sen. John McCain. READ THE REST…

Top chief ordered to check ads
Governor Sanford mandated that PRT director Chad Prosser will from now on have to personally sign off on all advertising campaigns, Sawyer said.

A total of $4,942.50 of PRT funding was spent on the “So gay” ads — less than one-half of one-tenth of one percent of PRT’s annual budget, which exceeds $10 million.

Edmonds told the press that PRT will not pay the bill for the ads.

“I do not believe that it is appropriate to use state tourism marketing funds to support any specific social agenda, nor would we ever knowingly do so,” stated Prosser in a press release.

In an interview from his office north of London, Andrew Roberts, the CEO of gay travel agency Amro Worldwide told Q-Notes that the ad campaign was planned in partnership with Kirsty Dillury, a British-based PRT contractor.

Amro’s eye-catching “so gay” ads promoted several U.S. destinations, mostly gay-friendly cities.

South Carolina was the only state to be included.

Brit tour operator was welcomed
“We think that people may be surprised to see our destination reaching out to the gay market,” said Dillury in a statement released before the furor by Out Now, the British agency that prepared the ads.

Dillury said, “We are delighted to be involved with the ‘So Gay’ campaign in particular as it sends a powerful positive message to everyone that there is nothing wrong at all with a destination being described as ‘so gay.'”

“There is no political agenda,” Roberts told Q-Notes. “It was purely a travel advertisement.”

Roberts said that he performed “due diligence” by making a personal inspection of all destinations that are promoted in the poster series, including several South Carolina venues.

“I will not sell any destination I have not visited,” Roberts said.

“I was warmly welcomed in South Carolina, and there are more gay bars in South Carolina than in Las Vegas,” another destination promoted as “so gay,” said Roberts.

The warm Southern hospitality that greeted Roberts in person turned to public scorn and ridicule when images of his posters appeared in South Carolina media.

In a bright side to the story, local and national media interviewed several South Carolina gay spokespeople, exposing citizens to positive images of gay life.

Out Now CEO Ian Johnson spoke to Q-Notes in his first interview with a U.S. media outlet regarding the upset from his gay marketing agency’s branch office in Brussels, Belgium. “The reaction from the South Carolina politicians is quite disturbing,” he said. “I felt sorry for the gay and lesbian community there.”

Come one, come all in capital
Some press reports compared the state’s rejection of gay marketing with the opposite approach in Columbia, the capital.

The city is listed as the leading sponsor of South Carolina Gay Pride.

A $10,000 grant — more than twice the amount spent on the London ads — was given by the City Council to the Pride organizers from the city’s hospitality tax fund.

“Diversity, I think, is our strength. It’s something we need to promote,” Columbia mayor Bob Coble told Q-Notes.

“I imagine that about every group has some kind of agenda. But when you have a group that is trying to bring visitors and guests into the community, it makes economic sense to welcome them,” said Coble.


In the days following the story’s break, supporters of the S.C. Pride Movement,
presenters of the annual South Carolina Pride festival in Columbia, circulated this
‘ad’ as a humorous take on the ‘South Carolina is so gay’ dust-up.

The mayor noted that the city courted both Republican and Democratic parties to host presidential debates, without promoting the political agenda of either party. “We aggressively go after religious conventions, too, and that doesn’t mean we are adopting a religion,” he said.

“Businesses are going to locate where employees feel open and welcome,” Coble added. “Non-discrimination is the right thing to do, and it’s good for the economy.”

In March, The City of Columbia amended its public accommodations and housing ordinances to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender-identity.

The S.C. Pride Movement announced July 17 that their organization would raise the funds to pay the state’s $5,000 debt for the “So gay” advertising campaign.

“Unfortunately, South Carolina has sent a message to the world, that a signed contract from any state agency could be nullified if someone says, ‘Oops, we made a mistake in signing this contract,'” suggested Board member Bruce Converse, who also works as the and executive producer of Rainbow Radio. “In other words, the ‘word’ of South Carolina can’t be trusted. We believe it is the right thing to do, to repay this debt.”

The group also announced it would start an official advertising campaign utilizing their humorous “South Carolina WILL BE ‘So Gay'” joke ad. (see related story)

Gareth Fenley is a Q-Notes contributing writer.

10 replies on “S.C. Governor demands personnel and procedure changes in tourism fracas”

  1. Whoever conceived that ad deserves to be fired – to claim that SC is “gay friendly” is fraud and does no favors to European gay tourist who have choices of destinations like Provincetown instead.

    THe leadership of SC Pride deserves to be fired too – instead of campaigning for equal rights they are raising money for fraudulent ads and seem to think that hosting RuPaul Concerts is the way to fight discrimination.

    If that’s the best leadership SC GLBTs have, they really should consider moving

  2. Sorry guy but I love my state and I support SC Pride.

    What they are doing is what needs to be done to bring attention to the South Carolina lgbt community.

  3. I too live in South Carolina – by choice.

    First off the copy and design of the original ad sucks and is not true.

    Secondly the slogan “South Carolina will be So Gay” really, honestly and truly sucks. WTF does that mean?

    Third: It’s time to start outing, and revealing the many past indiscretions, of the State’s politicians.

  4. I love all the people that complain about the gay organizations in South Carolina that live in the state. I mean WTF….get involved please, if you can do better?! Most are volunteer, nobody is in your way.

    I am so tired of people that criticize publicly but are on the SIDELINES!!!

    SC Pride you are amazing!!!! Keep up the good work!!!!!

  5. And to Patrick,

    Where have you been???? Columbia, SC has become one of the most supportive cities in the South. Passing the HRO and giving $10,000 to Pride this year and another $15,000 to the Center for education programs. These people work hard and don’t get payed for it!!!! So give them a little credit, I think they know what they are doing. They are doing an AMAZING job!!!!!!! Thank you to everyone involved with SC Pride!!!!!!!!

  6. While I too think the ad itself is kind of odd, and a little dumb, I generally think that of most states and countries attempts to advertise themselves. They almost always have a kind schlocky feel to them.

    That said, I don’t think its an inaccurate ad, and especially considering the need for South Carolina to attract more tourist dollars, its a necessary one. Like I said in another post, Columbia is quickly becoming a tolerant city, with great overtures from city politicians and the community in general. I think its ridiculous for people to only reward or go places that are “obviously” gay friendly, and leaving cities in the dust that have a mixed track record. Without gay tourism and spending in Columbia, we will never get to the point of other cities, especially if others keep insisting on punishing the South, and consequently the communities that live here, by refusing to spend money in the state.

    The one thing we learned here is that the gay-friendly businesses must do more to advertise themselves as a package to potential gay tourists, and must not be reliant upon state or city tourist boards.

  7. @SouthCarolina,
    I was involved in the battle against Amendment 1. My partner, his family and our friends all joined us on that line. I almost volunteered myself out of work. The one thing I have learned about volunteer organizations is that they will use your time but after they dole out $$$ to consultants, volunteers are left in the dust.

  8. Uncle Zoloft… I think it is great you volunteered you time and your efforts to help against Amendment 1. Did you know that the amount of money all gay groups have COMBINED greatly pales in comparison to the billions spent by radical right groups? Money is tight. We’re the minority. Work is hard, as it should be. Nobody is ever given their rights; they have to fight for it.

  9. @atswim2boy: I know quite well about the money situation. I was totally offended that our state LGBT organizations received little to no national funds to help defeat the Amendment. Why? Because “it would be a waste of their resource.” So, no more donations to HRC, Lambda Legal, or other national groups who refused to lend a hand. My partner and I raised $10k from family and friends around the country to fight the amendment ~ and all I got was some lousy t-shirt.

    Bitter? You bet your a$$. Not by the passing of the amendment but by bringing in out of stater’s to run the campaign.

    Here’s a link to a project we created about the amendment, which is still being used in college courses around our state.

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