Cincinnati tourism officials are targeting groups that had previously taken their convention business elsewhere because of a charter provision banning laws protecting gay people from discrimination. Cincinnatians voted to repeal the 11-year-old amendment this month after city and business leaders warned that it was harming the city's economy.
Last week the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau sent letters to 200 groups that cited gay rights issues as a reason for not hosting meetings in Cincinnati. And bureau representatives are considering meeting with eight groups that canceled scheduled events in Cincinnati after voters approved the amendment in 1993. Those conventions had been expected to bring $25 million to the area. "We'll follow up with every group that canceled," said Alan Welch, interim bureau president.
The impact on the convention business may not be immediate because some of the groups targeted by the bureau are locked into deals to hold conventions in other cities through 2010.
But some groups say repealing the amendment could be the first step toward getting their business back. The Rockville, Md.-based American Speech-Language-Hearing Association canceled its 1995 convention in Cincinnati because of the charter provision. The group wrote a letter at the time that said the amendment "sends the message that some of our members will not be welcome in Cincinnati." Now Cheryl Russell, director of convention and meetings for the group, said it would consider Cincinnati for its regional meetings. "If they took it off the books, Cincinnati's opened up to us now," Russell said.
The American Library Association pulled out of a scheduled January 1995 convention, saying it wanted to take a "stand on human rights." "We're glad you changed it," Deidre Irwin Ross, the group's director of conference services, said. "Our association is very inclusive."