Homophobic Mayor hurts tourism
Fort Lauderdale Tourist Attractions Fear Gay Backlash Over Homophobic Mayor
by 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff
Posted: July 26, 2007 - 5:00 pm ET
(Fort Lauderdale, Florida) Hotels and tourist attractions that depend on LGBT travelers are reportedly worried incendiary comments by Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle about gays will result in a severe loss of business.
Fort Lauderdale with its white sandy beach and large number of hotels and resorts catering to gays has long been an LGBT key destination, bringing in tens of millions of dollars to the city.
Following 9-11 when travel in general fell off, gay travel remained relatively high, and in the year after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington gay travelers were credited with helping save Florida's tourism industry.
Fort Lauderdale ranked No. 6 among gay travelers last year, and accounted for about 11 percent of Broward's $8.5 billion tourism industry.
But over the past month Naugle has infuriated gays with homophobic remarks.
Three weeks ago Naugle claimed that gay sex is rampant in public washrooms on the beach and called for the city to spend a quarter-million dollars on a replacement toilet that he said would end the problem. (story)
The remarks angered the city's gay community which launched a "flush Naugle" campaign to flood his office email with "virtual toilet paper" (story) and the police department said there had been only one arrest at the toilet on the stretch of beach known for its gay sunbathers.
On Tuesday he announced he would issue an apology, but instead turned it into another broadside against the gay community. (story)
The conservative Democrat said he was apologizing for what he claimed was underestimating the problem and that the county had the highest rate of new HIV/AIDS cases involving men having sex with men in the country.
Naugle then suggested the county tourism office should rethink its ad campaigns that welcome gays to the area.
So concerned is the tourism industry over the potential fallout the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau is using paid media watchers in New York and Europe to see how far the story is spreading.
So far it has been covered extensively in the US and European gay press, but has not attracted much attention in the mainstream media.
But that may give cause for alarm. An unscientific poll yesterday by 365gay.com of nearly 1000 readers found that 75 percent would take Naugle's remarks into consideration when considering Fort Lauderdale as a vacation destination.
For now the Visitors Bureau and local hotel operators are hoping the controversy blows over.
"Right now we don't think an overreaction to what's happening is necessary,'' president Nicki Grossman told the Miami Herald.
Roger Hanavit, a spokesperson for Rainbow Carpet Lodging and Hospitality Alliance which represents about 30 gay hotels in Fort Lauderdale, told the paper Naugle's remarks do not "put Fort Lauderdale in a good light, [and] the longer we stay on this, the more damage it does."
Some owners disagree. ''If anything we should increase our expenditures on the gay market,'' Richard Gray, owner of the Royal Palms Resort told the Herald. "We should double our budget, because it works.''