Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

April 04 2016

Why One Trade Show Is Weighing In On North Carolina’s Legislative Controversy

Corey Fennessy

The organizers of a huge furniture trade show in North Carolina aren’t sitting down. After the state’s lawmakers signed legislation that prevents cities from extending anti-discriminatory protections to the LGBT community, the High Point Market is calling attention to the potential damage that the bill, HB2, can do to the state’s economy.

“As leaders and organizers of the High Point Market, we feel an obligation to inform the public and our government leaders in Raleigh of the significant economic damage that HB2 is having on the High Point Market and on the North Carolina economy,” the organizers wrote in a statement last week. “Based on the reaction in just the last few days, hundreds and perhaps thousands of our customers will not attend Market this April.”

In addition to receiving messages from customers who plan to cancel their trips to the show, the organizers said that several campaigns to boycott the event have appeared on social media in the wake of the new law. The statement continues to show that organizers disagree with the bill. “We would like to take this opportunity to clearly state that the High Point Market does not discriminate, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity,” it reads. “In fact, we embrace all of our attendees and believe that the diversity of the 75,000 people who attend Market is one of our greatest assets and strengths.”

A number of companies have condemned HB2, including Apple, American Airlines and PayPal. Other members of the convention and trade show industry are upset, too. According to an article in The Charlotte Observer, Tom Murray, CEO of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, said that some potential clients have crossed Charlotte off their lists. “This issue is in danger of setting us back from the progress we’ve made in positioning Charlotte as an attractive, inclusive destination,” Murray said.

Charlotte isn’t the only convention destination that has encountered recent challenges with state legislation. In 2015, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act created an uproar that forced the state’s lawmakers to reverse course. Thanks to the same type of pressure, similar measures failed to pass in Georgia and Arkansas. Hopefully, voices from High Point Market and other convention and tourism leaders can create the same kind of change in North Carolina.

Read “How Meetings Can Effect Social Change” for more on how meetings and conferences can make a difference in passing laws that prevent discrimination.

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