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Louisville Wants More LGBT Tourism, But City Has Some Hurdles

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Louisville Metro and tourism officials are working with groups to attract more LGBT tourism to the city.

But advocates say Kentucky's enduring same-sex marriage ban and a lack of protections in suburban areas might be a hurdle, despite some big draws for Louisville.

Chris Hartman, director of the Louisville Fairness Campaign, said the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau reached out to him about a year ago to discuss ways for Louisville to attract some more tourism from LGBT people. Since then, the bureau has created a taskforce with members of the Kentuckiana Pride Foundation, the Fairness Campaign, Louisville Metro government, as well as local businesses.

Hartman said the taskforce is taking a look at attractions that could draw LGBT people to Louisville. He said the city’s theater and arts scene is a potential big draw.

“We started look at a lot of these things and say, ‘You know, what can we highlight for the LGBT community that sort of says Louisville is a welcome, open and affirming place?’ Hartman said. “And then, what attractions are just universally attractive to folks—like the bourbon tourism industry.”

But Hartman said Kentucky does have some impediments to attracting LGBT tourism.

Hartman said Kentucky’s ban on gay marriage, which is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, is a reason LGBT people might decide not to visit Louisville.

“Kentucky has a lot to overcome in terms of LGBT rights and making the state attractive to LGBT folks,” Hartman explained. “Even though Louisville has a fairness ordinance, the majority of the state of Kentucky does not have anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

He said that means LGBT tourists might have protections in Louisville, but will lose those protections once they drive to Bardstown or other nearby communities in the region.

Stacey Yates, a spokeswoman for the bureau, said the state's ban was something her agency was looking at.

"It’s one of the reason we brought in professionals from the Fairness Campaign," she said. "We wanted them to help us navigate that."

Yates said officials want the city to start a conversation about how to attract this lucrative travel business. She said they will need people in the community familiar with LGBT issues to help guide them.

Hartman said it's a good thing the city is doing more to reach out to the LGBT community.