America is sending decidedly mixed messages to its LGBT citizens. This past weekend’s headlines included clothing chain Banana Republic unveiling an ad campaign with interior designer Nate Berkus and his fiancé Jeremiah Brent. The Brooklyn Nets signed Jason Collins, who becomes the National Basketball League’s first openly gay player. To balance out the notion of acceptance, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer remained undecided on whether to sign a bill allowing businesses to deny service to gay and lesbian customers on the grounds of their religious beliefs.
Whichever way Gov. Brewer decides will cost her. A former small business owner known for her conservative views, she told CNN, “I think anybody that owns a business can choose who they work with or who they don’t work with. But,” she hedged, “I don’t know that it needs to be statutory.” While refusal to sign the bill may anger her religious constituency, signing it would have repercussions as the worlds of advertising and sports accept – and capitalize – upon the LGBT community. As Arizona prepares to host next year’s SuperBowl, companies were already informing the state that it would be dropped as a potential investment location, should the bill pass.
THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: It’s better to lose the battle and win the war. Brewer, a conservative, may personally align with the bill. But in signing it into law, her state will be identified with discrimination. Tourism will suffer. Arizona will become the target of protests. The businesses so intent on maintaining their religious beliefs by refusing service to gays and lesbians may find themselves with less business overall. SuperBowl advertisers may shrink from the potential for negative publicity via association. In the end, letting go of the bill may be a lose-win situation.