S.C. Governor demands personnel and procedure changes in tourism fracas
Updated: July 22, 2008 at 5:01 pm
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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”
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.
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