Tuesday, November 07, 2006

GFN.com: Texas May Be Homophobic, But Not Dallas

An interesting piece that ran on the Gay Financial News website...

Texas May Be Homophobic, But Not Dallas

Dallas may seem like an unlikely place to extend the welcome mat to gay tourists. After all, the Bush-supporting state of Texas passed a gay marriage ban last year with an alarming 75% of the vote. To be sure, statewide, anti-gay rights sentiment rides high in the saddle.

But Dallas city leaders apparently believe in diversity, and have not only devoted a page of the city's tourism Web site to "Diverse Dallas," they've earmarked $50,000 a year of its $14 million budget to attract gay tourists.

What kind of Texas values are those?

The reason may be traced to two compelling facts, or as Deep Throat once famously whispered, "follow the money." First off, the Dallas area is home to about 120,000 gay or lesbian households. And, like more than a few city leaders from around the country, Dallas want a piece of the expansive gay spending dollar. Surveys show that gay tourists spend about 100 bucks more per day than their straight counterparts, and take 2-3 times as many trips a year.

In fact, a survey conducted this year by San Francisco-based Community Marketing Inc. ties Dallas with San Diego as the seventh top business destination for gay travelers.

Stats like that are liable to make almost any city interested in boosting tourism stand up and shout "yippee-kay-ya."

"Big D" is a diverse metropolitan area that "has left behind stereotypes of big-haired women and rowdy cowboys — unless you count sassy drag queens and strapping gay rodeo champs," touts the city's Web page devoted to the city's diversity efforts, which features images of same-sex couples enjoying the local sights.

"It's not about being politically correct, it's about being economically correct," Phillip Jones, president and CEO of the tourism bureau told the Associated Press.

The tourism bureau put up the Website this year, listing more than 20 gay-friendly hotels, shopping areas, tourist attractions and night clubs.

The effort is already paying dividends.

Last month, the Washington-based Family Pride Coalition, a gay family advocacy group, conducted its national conference in Dallas after the bureau made an in-house pitch at the organization's D.C. office.

The presentation worked, in spite of the fact that Dallas isn't readily thought of as a gay-friendly Mecca. Wooing the Family Pride conference was the bureau's biggest success so far, drawing rave reviews from attendees that boasted about 250 participants.

"I think it was an extraordinarily positive experience in that most of the participants found Dallas to be a warm, receptive inviting place for them," the group's Executive Director Jennifer Chrisler told AP.

The Family Pride experience is not an isolated one. According to the tourism bureau, 20 gay-oriented meetings have come to the city since the promotion began two years ago. Next year, six events are already scheduled including, naturally, a gay rodeo.

"I believe it's grown from no image to a positive image just in the last year to two years, and it's definitely been because of the efforts of the Convention & Visitors Bureau, their members and partners," Tom Nibbio, world membership and development manager at the Fort Lauderdale-based International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association told said to AP.

"In Texas and the Southwest, Dallas has sort of taken the lead. We're not going to be a national destination," Phillip Jones, president and CEO of the tourism bureau told the paper. But, says Jones, "were trying to position Dallas as an appealing destination for GLBT travelers."

It will surprise no one that groups that hope to suppress gay rights have been critical of the tourism campaign.

The Dallas-based Texas Eagle Forum, an off-shoot of the lobbying organization Eagle Forum, has been vociferous in their condemnation of the city's efforts. Like the Eagle Forum, which is lead by Phyllis Schlafly, an outspoken critic of women's rights as well as gay rights, the Texas Eagle Forum regularly lobbies against gay rights and led the fight against gay marriage in the state last year.

"If you are wanting families to move into the city of Dallas, are you going to show them such a promotion? I doubt it," said Cathie Adams, president of the group.

For their efforts, the tourism bureau apparently doesn't agree with the sentiments of the Texas Eagle Forum.

They want tourists. And they want tourists who spend a lot of money on travel.

Welcome gays and lesbians.