Visit Dallas President and CEO Phillip Jones lets the numbers do the talking when campaigning against Senate Bill 6 (SB 6), a proposed bathroom law in Texas. The legislation would require transgender people to use restrooms based on their gender at birth rather than how they identify themselves.
The bill is similar to House Bill 2, North Carolina’s controversial measure adopted in 2016 that outraged the LGBT community. Amid the backlash in North Carolina, the NBA moved its All-Star Game and the NCAA and ACC relocated college championships; Southern Sociological Society canceled its 2019 meeting in Charlotte; and APTrust’s spring 2016 meeting moved from Raleigh to Baltimore. Estimates put the state’s losses from HB2 around $630 million.
Fearing worse damage in Texas, Jones has set up shop in Austin since the legislative session started there in January. While Austin is “the second-best city in Texas,” jokes Jones, he is eager to return home to Dallas, hoping to have defeated what he describes as a “very, very, very bad bill.” On Feb. 16, Jones plans to lead a group of hospitality, tourism and travel officials on the Capitol. He talked to Connect about making the business case against SB 6.
What have your lobbying efforts been like?
I’ve been meeting with individual legislators for the past month. I’m up to 71. I feel like we’re making headway in the House. The Senate is probably a lost cause because the lieutenant governor [Dan Patrick] has made [passing SB 6] a priority. We’re trying to educate them on the potential damage. The Democrat caucus has already said it is opposed to the legislation.
Who else is fighting the bill?
We’ve put together a coalition of all the major CVBs in Texas, including Fort Worth, Dallas, San Antonio, Houston and Austin, along with the Texas Association of CVBs. We launched a website, Texas Welcomes All, focused on getting our message out about Texas being a welcoming and diverse destination that wants people from all backgrounds and walks of life to come visit, and feel welcome and secure while doing so.