Bashing Gays And Business

William Buckingham, president of XChange Inc., was packed and set to move his software-distribution company to Fort Collins, Colo. Then, Colorado voters on Nov. 3 approved Amendment 2, making it illegal to pass legislation protecting homosexuals from discrimination and overturning such laws in Denver, Aspen, and Boulder. On Nov. 23, Buckingham said that his $5 million company will stay in San Francisco. Says Buckingham: "I view it as a backward step in a state I had thought was progressive."

Opponents of Amendment 2 warned that passing it would give Colorado a bad name. But few had predicted a backlash against state businesses. Now, Coloradans are questioning exactly how costly the measure will be. In an effort to roll back Amendment 2, an ad hoc, Denver-based group called Boycott Colorado is trying to persuade businesses and consumers to avoid the state. It's aiming at companies such as 3M Co., which has been considering an expansion site in Colorado Springs. 3M says it won't comment until it receives the group's request.

Even without such prodding, some groups are pulling their conventions out of Colorado. Among those canceling so far are the American Association of Law Libraries, which was expected to attract 5,000 to its meeting in Denver in 1998, and the Coalition of Labor Union Women, which was scheduled to bring 1,500 to Denver next year. "We lost one financial group. That's $20,000 worth of business," says Matthew Kryjak, manager of Loews Giorgio Hotel in Denver.

DAMAGE CONTROL. It doesn't help that Amendment 2 was passed at the start of ski season. About 2,000 tourists already have called the Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau with questions about Amendment 2, and some are canceling ski vacations.

Resorts hope to contain the damage by publicizing their tolerance. Vail's town council says it may pass an antidiscrimination law in defiance of the amendment. Aspen leaders have raised $50,000 or more for newspaper ads that tell skiers that the city banned discrimination against gays in 1977 and opposed Amendment 2. Aspen Skiing Co. is hosting a Thanksgiving weekend ski-a-thon to raise as much as $200,000 for AIDS research. And the resort's Gay Ski Week is still set for January.

Other Colorado companies also hope to blunt the boycott by making their point of view known. Denver-based Quark Inc., which makes desktop-publishing software, says it will deal only with suppliers and banks that have nondiscrimination policies. "You can't pick on people and expect to get away with it," says Quark Chairman Timothy E. Gill, who personally donated $40,000 to defeat Amendment 2. Quark and its employees have given an additional $75,000 in cash, equipment, and software to the fight against AIDS.

Amendment 2 is being fought in federal court by Denver, Aspen, Boulder, and several private citizens, including Aspen resident Martina Navratilova, the lesbian tennis star. They charge that it violates the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. If that tack doesn't work, they'll seek repeal of Amendment 2. But voters won't have a chance to do that for at least a year. Until then, the boycott will stick, and Colorado's cold winter could last well past spring.

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