Almost two weeks ago, I opened up my copy of The State to discover that state Sen. David Thomas (R-Greenville) was engineering yet another "Lizard Man" moment for the good people of the Palmetto State.
Thomas was told about a S.C. Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Department-sponsored advertising campaign in London catering to gay and lesbian travelers that featured the tag line, "South Carolina is so gay." Predictably, and in "compassionate conservative" fashion, he demanded the ads be withdrawn and no payment be made to Amro Worldwide, the tour operator commissioning the ads. Thomas also threatened the agency's budget and called for a detailed audit.
I suspect that in the middle-school, flat-earth, mouth-breathing linear thinking employed by politicians like Thomas, he thinks somebody is calling him a fag, and so he has to prove that he's not — by fighting.
Thomas told The Greenville News, "This is absolutely a subject matter that adheres to a social position, and it's simply improper for the state to be going after one social position."
Parks and Rec head Chad Prosser declared that the agency would not honor its agreement with Amro Worldwide and that the "low-level" employee who approved the campaign had suddenly "resigned."
By last Friday, Thomas had quieted down and backed off his demand for an audit of the department, telling The State, "We simply need their elaboration of what is being done with their advertising money ... I expect it to be vanilla. I don't expect any surprises."
Vanilla? Interesting choice of words.
Anyhoo, as I watched this nonsense play out and state media parrot each other's reportage, I began to suspect that this controversy, especially the "resignation," was just so much horse-hockey.
The ads, which number 10 posters, were placed in the Leicester Square Underground Station in order to woo the participants of London's Gay Pride celebration (June 2-July 6). An estimated 825,000 people attended the July 6 parade.
The 'So Gay' ads have been up since mid-June and will stay up until someone else rents the space.
I contacted Ian Johnson, chairman of Out Now, the company responsible for the campaign, and he related an entirely different story from the one we've been hearing.
To start, the campaign spotlighted five American cities: Atlanta, Boston, Las Vegas, New Orleans, and Washington D.C. Our Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Department came to Amro expressing a desire to have the state featured in the campaign.
Johnson told me, "In fact, the CEO of Amro Wordwide was hosted as a guest of the SCPRT in April as they approached us wanting to join this campaign after we had already commenced it with the other five participating cities. We had to negotiate additional advertising space so that South Carolina could be included."
Regarding the resignation of the unnamed Parks employee, Johnson said, "It seems most interesting that the identity of this person is not being revealed by the SCPRT. It suggests to me that the decision was not made at a 'low-level' of their organization as suggested, but by a respected, experienced individual charged with precisely the responsibilities of such decisions."
He continued, "To see the state and the SCPRT balk at honoring their own business agreements is frankly embarrassing to all South Carolinians.
"We estimate the damage [the politicians] are causing to the South Carolina economy — from gays, lesbians, their families, their friends, and their many supporters all over the world — will soon move from being measured in the tens of millions to exceeding $100 million in lost revenues for the S.C. tourism industry."
From the outset of this nonsense, I suspected that there were some BBQ sauce-stained fingerprints all over the initial decision to sign up for the ads and a loud-mouthed Upstater got to a microphone before anybody in the state GOP could stop him.
Great, now welshing can be added to racism and homophobia as personality traits for the good people of the Palmetto State.