September 8, 2016 at 6:00 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
HB 2’s impact on Outer Banks tourism unclear
Outer Banks, gay news, Washington Blade

Bodie Island Lighthouse in Nags Head, N.C. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

MANTEO, N.C. — The sun had begun to set over North Carolina’s Roanoke Sound on June 19 when former Manteo Mayor John Wilson’s boat stopped between Roanoke Island and the town of Nags Head.

Dee Evans, manager of the Roanoke Island Inn, a bed and breakfast that is located along Manteo’s waterfront, and Angel Khoury, a writer who lives on Roanoke Island, began talking with Wilson after his boat dropped anchor. The conversation quickly turned to North Carolina’s House Bill 2 as they drank cocktails and ate crackers, cheese and other snacks.

“I was so upset when the thing passed,” said Khoury.

Gov. Pat McCrory signed HB 2 on March 23.

The controversial law bans transgender people from using public restrooms consistent with their gender identity. It also prohibits local municipalities from enacting LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination measures.

The Justice Department filed a civil rights lawsuit against HB 2 in May, alleging the law violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Violence Against Women Act. A report from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law indicates North Carolina’s economy could lose nearly $5 billion a year because of the law.

Lee Nettles, executive director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, told the Washington Blade on Tuesday during a telephone interview that it remains “too hard to quantify” whether HB 2 has had an adverse impact on the region’s tourism industry.

“We’re an open community and we welcome visitors from all over the place with varied interests and backgrounds,” he added. “It’s just unfortunate the perception of our region that is beyond our control.”

Outer Banks towns oppose HB 2

Members of the Nags Head Board of Commissioners voted on April 8 unanimously to oppose HB 2. The Duck Town Council has also called upon McCrory and the North Carolina General Assembly to repeal the law.

Nettles told the Blade the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau’s board of directors considered a resolution against HB 2.

“The board discussed it at some point,” he said.

Evans told the Blade she received an email from a couple in Maine who were concerned about “LGBT issues” in North Carolina after McCrory signed HB 2.

She said the couple had considered cancelling their reservation at the Roanoke Island Inn and “wanted to make sure their dollars spent” in the Outer Banks “went to restaurants and activities who supported” LGBT-specific issues. Evans told the Blade the couple spent an extra night after they learned the inn sponsors the annual OBX Pride that will take place in Nags Head from Sept. 9-11.

The Roanoke Island Inn also donated the cost of the couple’s extended reservation to North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper’s campaign against McCrory.

“Our guests were very happy,” Evans told the Blade.

Wilson told the Blade while he, Evans and Khoury were on his boat in Roanoke Sound that he heard anecdotal reports of vacancies in the Outer Banks in July.

The Blade could not independently verify those reports, but Evans said business throughout the region is down compared to last year. Khoury also noted musicians have also cancelled their performances in North Carolina because of HB 2.

“It has hurt so many people,” she said.

Khoury also noted she read comments on a New York Times article about HB 2 from readers who had cancelled their vacations to the Outer Banks and Asheville.

“It’s the most progressive places in the freaking state of North Carolina,” said Evans.

Outer Banks, gay news, Washington Blade

From left, Dee Evans, manager of the Roanoke Island Inn in Manteo, N.C., with Angel Khoury. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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

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