While it’s a positive sign that someone in the state of South Carolina thought it was a good idea to attract gay tourism dollars — in this case an ad campaign that was tied to gay pride festivities in London — you still have to wonder what were they thinking.  

This kind of pro-gay public position is a no-brainer for Atlanta, Boston, and New Orleans —  cities that participated in the campaign — but SC has a severe case of homophobia woven into too many of its institutions. I couldn’t imagine officials letting this kind of positive outreach fly under the radar without blowback.

After learning last week the state had agreed to spend tax money on the campaign – and spurred by a post on The Palmetto Scoop blog – the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism said Thursday it would not pay the tour operator.

Parks, Recreation and Tourism director Chad Prosser said an agency advertising manager signed off on the contract, proposed by the agency’s London advertising contractor.

The rest of the article puts the issue into focus — it was an overseas contractor who came up with the piece (and who apparently doesn’t know the depth of homophobia in SC’s government); this marketing person actually put out a press release in the name of the state’s tourism agency — “we think people may be surprised to see our destination reaching out to the gay market.”

The folks back in SC were surprised all right, and the reaction was swift, predictable and elicited over-the-top panic that the state might be perceived as welcoming of gay tourists.

The agency is reviewing how, if at all, to discipline the employees who signed off on the program.

Some lawmakers were shocked to learn about the campaign, with state Sen. David Thomas, R-Greenville, calling for an audit.

Joel Sawyer, spokesman for Gov. Mark Sanford, said using tax money to support a social or political agenda is inappropriate. “Our state tourism dollars should be talking about the beaches and attractions of South Carolina,” Sawyer said.

Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding