January 27, 2015 at 9:29 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Advocacy groups to launch LGBT-friendly business campaign

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Statewide advocacy groups in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina on Thursday will officially launch a campaign that seeks to highlight LGBT-friendly businesses. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Three statewide advocacy groups in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina this week will launch a campaign designed to highlight LGBT-friendly businesses in their states.

Equality Virginia, Equality North Carolina and South Carolina Equality on Thursday will officially launch the “Equality Means Business” campaign at businesses in Richmond and Norfolk, Va., Raleigh and Charlotte, N.C. and Columbia, S.C.

“In North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, from the historic cobblestone streets of Alexandria, to the financial districts of Charlotte, to the bustling waterfront of Charleston, we’ve witnessed businesses taking the lead in this historic moment for LGBT equality,” said Equality Virginia, Equality North Carolina and South Carolina Equality in a joint statement the Washington Blade obtained. “Through Equality Means Business, we are proud to highlight businesses that have commonsense policies in place to ensure their doors are open to LGBT clients, customers and employees. Equality Means Business is also a tool for consumers to use if they want to ensure their patronage is supporting a business — or any place of public accommodation — that is welcoming to LGBT people.”

No LGBT-specific protection in states despite marriage

The three groups are launching the campaign less than four months after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case that challenged Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban, which allowed gays and lesbians to legally marry in Virginia and the Carolinas.

Virginia state Del. Bob Marshall last month introduced a bill that would allow licensed or accredited business owners in the commonwealth to deny service to someone based on their religious beliefs.

A measure currently before the South Carolina Senate would allow a clerk or any other judicial employee who is authorized to issue a marriage license to refuse to grant one to a same-sex couple based on their religious beliefs. A second bill in the state House of Representatives would prohibit the use of public funds or government salaries to fund advocacy efforts in support of nuptials for gays and lesbians and enforce marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples.

A so-called “conscience clause” bill is also before North Carolina lawmakers.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe last January on the same day he took office issued an executive order banning anti-LGBT discrimination against state employees.

Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina do not include sexual orientation or gender identity and expression in their anti-discrimination laws. The three states also lack hate crimes statutes that specifically include LGBT-specific protections.

James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, on Tuesday highlighted the lack of workplace protections for LGBT Virginians as he discussed the new campaign with the Blade. He also noted a Williams Institute study that indicates more than half a million LGBT people live in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

“This is taking it a step forward,” Parrish told the Blade while discussing the campaign. “It is also about equality means businesses on Main Street. We think that is an important distinction to start making.”

Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina, made a similar point.

“Having a common program from the Low Country of South Carolina, to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and through the Tidewater of Virginia will bring a unified voice for our entire region’s fair-minded business community as they say ‘we are open for business to all,’” he said.

“Equality is good for business, and businesses that support equality have a tremendous impact on the landscape of South Carolina,” added Jeff Ayers, interim executive director of South Carolina Equality. “By being inclusive in their policies, protecting their employees from discrimination, and providing quality goods and services to all customers, these businesses make South Carolina a better place to live and work. They’re growing our state and showing our communities and neighbors that equal means everyone.”

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A poster advertising the “Equality Means Business” campaign. (Photo courtesy of Equality Virginia)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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