Two conventions cancel on Louisville because of religious freedom bill

Updated: Jun. 29, 2017 at 7:34 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE)-  Two conventions have canceled on Louisville as the locations of their events, because of a state-funded travel ban from California.

Lawmakers in California enacted the ban on all state-funded travel to Kentucky and several other states based on what they considered homophobic legislation.

Senate Bill 17 known as the Freedom of Religious Expression Bill, which prompted the California travel ban, also played a part in Louisville losing an expected $2 million in economic impact.

"Cities that are inclusive win in the competition for jobs, for visitors and residence," Mayor Greg Fischer said.

Fischer held a press conference Thursday with other business leaders to discuss the impact of the California bill. Those who spoke are concerned the travel ban is tarnishing Louisville reputation, and will cost the city more business.

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"Being inclusive is a competitive advantage that we have here in Louisville, that we do not want to lose," Fischer said.

Karen Williams, with the Convention and Visitors Bureau, did not want to give the names of the conventions but says one was for 2018 and the other for 2021. Both conventions were in contractual stages with hotels and were going to book over 4,000 rooms combined.

Both entities were from Chicago, one was a medical association and the other a research association. Neither had any convention attendees flying in from California.

"It was just a perception that they didn't want for their attendees for this meeting and that is why they pulled out of Louisville," Williams said.

Mayor Fischer is concerned the Freedom of Religious Expression Bill  will lead other states and businesses to take a similar stance.

Fischer said losing money from conventions also loses money to pay for the KFC Yum Center and the Omni Hotel.

"What the attorney general from another state says about our state is irrelevant as to whether businesses come here or don't come here," Governor Matt Bevin said.

Governor Bevin believes California's state-funded travel ban will have zero effect on Kentucky's economy.

Organizers with both conventions say the travel ban prompted them to cancel on Louisville.

Williams read a cancellation email from one of the groups that said

"We believe other states will follow. Because of this and the anti-LGBTQ legislation we are sorry but we must pull out."

Fischer is asking California's Attorney General to exclude Louisville from the ban, and is working with leadership in Frankfort to clarify that the religious bill does not intend to discriminate.

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