Rome officials say there may be a chance to pick up some business lost to North Carolina due to its new law exempting gender identification from anti-discrimination protections.
“We’re hoping that’s going to lead to more tournaments for Rome,” City Manager Sammy Rich told members of the Rome-Floyd Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.
The NCAA pulled seven championship events this month and the ACC is relocating all 10 of its neutral-site championships from the state the conference has called home since its founding in 1953.
Tom Daglis, executive director of the newly opened Rome Tennis Center at Berry College, said they’ve submitted hosting bids for events scheduled for next year as well as for those in the next three-year cycle, from 2018 to 2020.
“With all the stuff going on in North Carolina, the ACC pulled the 2017 bids awarded there and reopened the process … The events in 2017 are early in the year, so I imagine they’ll make a decision pretty soon,” he said.
However, Daglis noted that “it’s a very competitive process,” and an Associated Press report lists Georgia as one of four states that may be “problematic” for some national sports leagues objecting to discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Though Republican Gov. Nathan Deal in March vetoed a religious freedom bill that critics say would have limited LGBT rights, some conservatives have vowed to revive the measure — known as HB 757 — in January.
The NFL has said the bill, if passed, could jeopardize Atlanta’s bid for future Super Bowls.
Tennessee, Mississippi and Texas also could be at a disadvantage due to “religious objection” laws that are either pending or passed but facing a legal challenge.
The NCAA men’s basketball South Regional semifinals and final is set for Atlanta in 2018, while the Division I men’s and women’s tennis championships are scheduled for Athens in 2017.
‘A compelling reason to act’
Floyd County’s state legislative delegation voted unanimously in favor of HB 757, but thoughts are that it wouldn’t draw the same support next year.
“Anything can come up … but I don’t know if we’ll get to a vote on that again,” said Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville. “We’re a big, diverse state with a lot of various world views. I think it would be an uphill battle.”
Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, said there could be a “pastor protection” bill codifying that church authorities don’t have to act against their religious beliefs, or the adoption of existing federal language that covers government employees. But he called them “feel-good bills” that wouldn’t change the status quo.
“What North Carolina did more was tell cities what they could and couldn’t do. You’re not going to see this legislature doing that,” Hufstetler said.
He said there’s a tendency for both sides in the religious liberty battle to overreact and exaggerate threats to their rights. An example, he said, is a recent situation at Georgia State University where a Muslim woman refused to remove her niqab — her veil — in class.
“You want to protect all religions … but the question is, is there a compelling interest for government to act,” Hufstetler said. “It’s a matter of making government prove their case when they do get involved in religious expression.”
Deal’s relatively hands-off stance gives Georgia an opening in the “cutthroat environment” of competing with neighboring states for economic development, Coomer said.
“Certainly when there’s a misstep in the arena, the state of Georgia should be quick to take advantage of it,” he said.
It hasn’t gotten that far yet at the Greater Rome Chamber of Commerce, where Executive Director Al Hodge said they aren’t overtly using it as an opportunity to lure industrial prospects.
“Only in the sense of companies that may rule out North Carolina because of it,” he said.
Hufstetler said he thinks there are a few areas where Georgia will benefit — but he decries what he calls a double standard.
“I do think its hypocritical for companies that sell products in countries that, for example, punish homosexuality by death, to take a stand like that here,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.