S.C. beaches so not gay

Terry PlumbJuly 26, 2008 

It pains me to side with South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, but I think he was correct in objecting to the state paying for posters in the London Underground proclaiming, "South Carolina is so gay."

The question whether the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism is obliged, legally or ethically, to pay nearly $5,000 for the campaign is another matter. After all, a PRT representative, who has since resigned, reportedly approved the message.

I understand why leaders in Atlanta, Las Vegas and New Orleans, which participated in the same campaign, might not have a problem with the message, but the notion of a gay-friendly South Carolina boggles the mind.

Politically correct editorialists notwithstanding, does anyone really think South Carolina honestly can posture itself as a welcoming venue for homosexual tourists?

The campaign even held out the promise of "gay beaches," which led more than one critic to ask their whereabouts.

Sanford probably angered many constituents when he said South Carolina welcomes gay and lesbians to spend some of their estimated $40 billion in travel dollars here but that he was against using state money to target specific groups.

What he should have said is that South Carolina won't pay for false advertising -- that not only doesn't the Palmetto State have any "gay beaches" but that our citizenry also doesn't like gays.

What's next, Sanford might have speculated, a tourism campaign aimed at the Middle East, touting our burka-friendly beaches?

To be fair, South Carolina isn't obsessed with gays; we simply don't like people who aren't from around here or don't act or sound like us. In addition to not liking gays, we despise Hispanics, distrust Jews and aren't too fond of Catholics.

Charleston, being a port city where tolerance is a necessary component of international commerce, might be the exception. Gay couples are a common sight in that tourist Mecca, which prides itself on being the most hospitable city in the United States.

NAACP boycott

Let us not forget, however, that Charleston is where the local folk bombarded the federal garrison at Fort Sumter, touching off what genteel South Carolinians refer to as the Recent Unpleasantness. Nearly 150 years after the Civil War, the NAACP advocates a tourism boycott of our state because aficionados of the Confederacy insist on flying the Rebel flag on the grounds of the State Capitol.

It would have been more effective if PRT had persuaded the General Assembly to strike that banner, then spent $5,000 to place ads in Ebony magazine proclaiming, "Come on Down! We're over it!"

Before I would endorse a major campaign aimed at gay tourists, someone has to explain to me the appeal South Carolina holds for that market. Atlanta, I understand. LasVegas, of course. Even Asheville, N.C., has enough coffee shops, art galleries and funky shops to justify marketing to gays.

But the biggest tourist magnet in South Carolina, by far, is the Grand Strand. Does anyone really think that Myrtle Beach ever could appeal to gays in large numbers? Most of the gays I know have far too much taste to patronize the T-shirt shops, tattoo parlors and fried-fish emporiums that drive the economy down there.

Besides, the Strand has had mixed success with niche tourism. For years, civic leaders have been trying to play down the community's two "Biker Weeks" -- one for white bikers, one for black -- because regular tourists stay away in droves during those two weeks. Myrtle Beach motel owners and restaurateurs might not be enthused about adding Gay Beach Week to the resort city's events calendar.

Charleston is another story, of course. The Holy City is tolerant of people of different lifestyles, especially if they have copious amounts of cash to spend in its bars and restaurants.

Unfortunately, Savannah, less than a half-day's drive down the coast, has been a big draw for gays for many years, so some advertising genius would have to come up with a clever theme if Charleston hopes to cut into that market.

How about a Multi-Ethnic Gay Bikers & Confederate Re-enactors Week?

That would really give PRT something to sell.

Plumb, retired Herald editor, can be reached at terry.plumb@gmail.com

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