EDITORIAL: Some say yes, others say no! Thoughts and observations to help you decide whether you should travel to states with discriminatory laws.
Although I do not shy away from politics and religion in my personal life, it is rare that I address such polarizing topics on Backroad Planet.
Our purpose is to celebrate authentic travel to off-the-beaten-path locations with rich histories and scenic beauty, not to debate controversial issues or promote political agendas.
But history is not always beautiful, and sometimes, travel and politics are bound to collide.
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My Red Flag Moment
I was reporting on my Southern Mississippi Road Trip like I always do, writing posts and promoting them on social media.
Then this happened . . . .
It’s not that I did not know about the controversial laws in states such as Indiana, North Carolina, and Mississippi. I did know. I watch the morning and evening news and try to stay well informed.
It’s just that I never expected to be confronted about these issues on social media.
And this was not the only tweet I received objecting to promotion of travel to the State of Mississippi.
I knew it was my responsibility to respond to these tweets, and I did so with all the diplomacy I could muster.
There were other events that unfolded regarding my Southern Mississippi Road Trip series that I choose not to reveal at this point in time, but it was becoming increasingly clear that I needed to address the issue publicly.
As a travel writer, how can I be relevant if I only report the positive side of travel?
So, rather than look the other way and pretend these issues do not exist, I want to briefly share some of my observations on whether one should travel to states with discriminatory laws.
A Bit of Background
Let me be perfectly clear.
I do not endorse discrimination in any way, shape, or form. I believe discriminatory laws passed by any legislative contingency are unjust laws, and I categorically oppose them.
That said, governing bodies in various states, counties, and municipalities have debated or passed discriminatory laws in the past year. Most Americans would agree, regardless of your position on the political continuum, that these forms of legislation are punitive responses to Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), the landmark United States Supreme Court case that guaranteed marriage equality to same-sex couples.
I cannot help but see the parallels between these forms of legislation and what occurred following the landmark Supreme Court ruling on Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which upheld the unjust doctrine of “separate, but equal.” Local governing bodies, in response to the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, which abolished slavery and gave African Americans citizenship and the right to vote, began legalizing racial segregation by passing discriminatory Jim Crow laws. Most of these laws remained in effect until the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
As stated earlier, there are three states that have been at the forefront of these reactionary discriminatory laws and gained much attention in the media: Indiana, North Carolina, and Mississippi.
It just so happens that I traveled to all three of these states within the last year.
- I attended a conference in Bloomington, Indiana, last fall, and later roadtripped through Dubois and Spencer Counties.
- In February I did a weeklong road trip through Southern Mississippi.
- And I have traveled through North Carolina on many occasions due to its close proximity to Pinebox, my North Georgia cabin.
Governor Mike Pence signed Indiana Senate Bill 101, dubbed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), into law on March 26, 2015. The law would essentially give business owners the right to refuse service to customers on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The resulting outcry from the citizens of Indiana and the threat of economic repercussions from corporate America led the governor to sign an amendment to the law a week later to intentionally protect the rights of LGBT citizens. This action angered conservative supporters and left opponents of the legislation wondering why the ineffective law continued to remain on the books. As of this writing, the law is still in effect.
It would be safe to say that Bloomington, Indiana, home to Indiana University, is a liberal college town. During my visit, I spoke with residents who strongly opposed the RFRA legislation and were vocal about their position. As I walked around town, I saw signs and stickers in storefront windows such as the ones below.
On March 23, 2016, within the space of 11 hours and 10 minutes, the North Carolina legislature and Governor Pat McCrory signed, sealed, and delivered the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, also known as the “Bathroom Bill.” The law, which has been called the most anti-LGBT legislation ever passed in the United States, essentially prevents transgender citizens from using public restrooms that correspond with their gender identity.
As with Indiana, the resulting public dissent has been monumental. The economic impact from boycotts by corporate America, including the professional sports, film, music, and tourism industries, has been massive. The United States Department of Justice has filed suit against the governor and other state agencies for civil rights violations. North Carolina’s Attorney General Roy Cooper has refused to defend the legislation. And most recently, U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder has granted a preliminary injunction preventing the University of North Carolina from enforcing the law.
No one can deny Mississippi’s checkered history of racial discrimination, from slavery to Jim Crow to the Civil Rights era.
The struggle has continued through modern history with the controversy over Mississippi’s state flag, the only state flag to currently feature the Confederate battle flag as its canton.
In the months since my Mississippi road trip, the passage of House Bill 1523, also known as the Religious Liberty Accommodations Act, has attempted to limit the civil rights of Mississippi’s LGBT citizens. Signed into law by Governor Phil Bryant on April 5, 2016, the law never went into effect due to a preliminary injunction issued by U.S. District Court Judge Carlton W. Reeves.
Last April, the Jackson City Council unanimously passed a resolution in opposition to HB1523 and Tony Yarber, the mayor of Mississippi’s capital city, issued this statement: “As a predominantly black city in Mississippi, the Jackson community has endured racism, discrimination and injustice over the years. We are Mississippi’s capital city, and as part of our declaration of being the ‘Bold New City,’ we will not discriminate against any individual because of race, religious beliefs or sexual orientation, nor do we support legislation that allows for such discrimination.”
To Boycott or Not?
Unlike most op-ed pieces I am not taking a strong position on whether you should travel to states with discriminatory laws. I believe you should follow your conscience.
BUT, I do want to give you some points to consider:
- Boycotting is a powerful form of nonviolent protest, especially when it carries economic impact from corporations or well-organized groups of citizens.
- Elected officials do not always represent their constituency. Frequently their legislative actions are dictated by lobbyists or personal positions.
- Although citizens do elect their leaders, positive change takes time, even when officials are not reelected to another term.
- History, including recent history, has proven that unjust laws will not last.
That said, let me use Mississippi to make my final point.
Even though I oppose HB1523, I have chosen not to boycott the state of Mississippi. Simply put, I cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater. It is true that citizens elect their leaders, but positive change takes time, and state politicians do not represent all Mississippians. I believe this was best evidenced by the aforementioned resolution by the Jackson City Council.
When I visited Jackson earlier this year, I passed the construction site of the Museum of Mississippi History and the adjoining Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, both set to open in December 2017. These museums are powerful evidence that the citizens of the State of Mississippi are embracing their past and moving toward a future free of discrimination for everyone.
I love Mississippi for many reasons, and I stand with its citizens who have fully acknowledged the past . . . good, bad, and ugly . . . and are working to bring complete redemption to their beloved state.
Plans are currently in the works for my next visit to Mississippi in 2017.
We Would Love to Hear From You
We enjoy dialogue with our readers, especially when they share personal observations and experiences. Have you ever boycotted states with discriminatory laws, or have you traveled to these states in spite of the laws? We would love to hear your thoughts, and we invite you to leave your comments and questions below. We always respond!