Gays To Boost Vermont Biz?

Fall Line

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The Vermont Supreme Court and State Legislature had equality in mind when they enacted the Civil Union law¿a marriage-equivalent for gays¿last spring. Now there’s evidence that the measure might mean good business in a state whose No. 2 industry is tourism. Can Vermont’s ski resort towns expect a boost from grateful gays?

Consider this: Most gays now perceive Vermont as the most welcoming state in the U.S. What’s more, gays have long shown a willingness to reward or punish companies and states that please or displease them. (Remember the Anita Bryant/Florida Orange Juice boycott? Or the Colorado boycott following Amendment 2?)

Lisa Keen, executive editor of the gay publications New York Blade and Washington Blade, says that in a call-in readers poll, 27 percent said they planned to go to Vermont to take advantage of the Civil Union law and get “CU’d.” Ed Salvato, managing editor of the gay travel newsletter Out & About, says he received so many requests that an all-Vermont issue was published.

Not all Vermonters are wedded to the Civil Union law. Thousands of “Take Back Vermont” signs can be seen nailed to the state’s scenic farm houses and towering trees. The TBV movement can be viewed as either pro local-control or anti-gay, but the primary motivation isn’t clear. Either way, it has become an election-year wedge issue.

That said, Civil Unions are a boon to many. “We’ve seen an increase of about 100 percent from last year in occupancy,” says Willie Docto, co-owner with his partner, Greg Trulson, of Moose Meadow Lodge in Waterbury, Vt. “In the first month since the law took effect, we’ve hosted seven gay ceremonies, with seven more coming up and three more in the works. And people have told us it’s why they’re coming here: to get married.”

Ken Richardson, gay owner of the Black Bear Inn, located off the slopes of Bolton Valley Holiday Resort, says “We’re having our best year ever.” And the Black Bear Inn’s guests “are spending more money than usual. This will have a ripple effect across the state.”

So are ski areas actively wooing gays? For the most part, no. Most resort management is cautious, fearful of offending conservative visitors. “Any time you target one group in your marketing, you run the risk of alienating others,” says Stowe Mountain Resort President Hank Lunde, who allowed that he might target gay-only publications for future advertising.

Mad River Glen takes a loose approach. Says Marketing Director Eric Friedman: “Hell, I’d paint the Single Chair pink if I thought it would improve business.”