A year after Hillsborough County decided to ban gay events, its neighbor across the bay has decided it will actively seek to attract the gay market. Yesterday Pinellas County voted in favour of spending money advertising in the gay media as a welcoming tourist destination. Gay rights groups welcomed the move, but as WMNF’s Roxanne Escobales reports, the vote was not with out dissent.

Research commissioned by Pinellas County’s Tourist Development Council, or TDC, last year and presented yesterday made some recommendations that TDC chairman and county commissioner Ken Welch could not accept.

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St Petersburg City Councilman Bill Foster sits on the TDC. He agreed with Welch, and was concerned that pursuing the gay dollar would change the image of Pinellas County as a destination. Yet not all council members felt this way. Tim Bogott, budget committee chairman:


The TDC commissioned the 19-thousand-dollar research as part of a wider proposal that the tourism board branch out to niche markets, such as the black and Hispanic communities. The council was told by hired research consultant Walter Klages that the target market of today’s travel industry looked more like a quilt, with niche markets patched together, rather than with traditional macromarkets to choose from.

By the end of the discussion, the TDC approved the policy of expanding the tourist market by advertising to niche groups with a 6-to-one vote. Ken Welch cast the sole dissenting vote.

He told WMNF that to interpret his vote as homophobic would be wrong.


Carole Ketterhagen is the executive director of Pinellas County’s tourist bureau and sits on the TDC. She said the gay and lesbian community is an attractive one to business.


Gay rights groups welcome the move by Pinellas County to actively seek gay tourists. Equality Florida executive director Nadine Smith said Pinellas County leads the area when it comes to fostering an inclusive community.


She contrasted the environment in Pinellas to the one in Hillsborough County. In June 2005, the Hillsborough County Commission said the county would not participate, contribute to or acknowledge gay pride events. Smith called this move a national embarrassment.


But the tourist board’s Carole Ketterhagen says that the political policies across the bay from the Gulfcoast beaches should not affect the gay market spending its money in Pinellas.


For WMNF News, I’m Roxanne Escobales.

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