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Company CFO Worries About Gay Boycott; Owner Denies Damage to Bottom Line

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday August 27, 2008

A business group the owner of which gave a large sum of money to the anti-gay CA campaign to rescind marriage equality may be feeling the bite of a boycott launched in protest to the donation.

San Diego newspaper the Union-Tribune reported in an Aug. 27 article that even as the Manchester Financial Group has put a PR spin on the boycott that suggests the boycott isn't hitting the company's bottom line, an email sent to the concern's owner, Doug Manchester, by the organization's CFO, warns of dire economic consequences if the boycott continues.

Further, the email from Chief Financial Officer Paul Wilkins warns Manchester about the perils of alienating a significant sector of the market: GLBT customers.

The boycott, called for by GLBT equality groups and union organizations, targets two properties belonging to the Manchester Financial Group, the Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel and the The Grand Del Mar hotel.

Wilkins warned Manchester, who contributed $125,000 to the anti-gay-family measure Proposition 8, that, "this boycott effort will cost you millions of dollars of lost revenue and possibly tens of millions of dollars in lost value for both the Manchester Grand Hyatt and The Grand Del Mar."

The July 29 email also pointed out that gay and lesbian travelers constitute what Wilkins termed a "large and very affluent market segment."

The email reminded Manchester that The Grand Del Mar, which opened nearly a year ago, "is still struggling financially," and that a potential loss of millions of dollars in revenue could spell disaster: said the email, the "absolute last thing The Grand needs right now is a boycott."

Proposition 8, which will go before CA voters in Nov., would hurt gay and lesbian families, say opponents, by curtailing the civil and legal rights of gays and lesbians to marry.

Doug Manchester's $125,00 contribution to the anti-gay-family measure, which would inject discriminatory language into the state constitution, helped get the proposed amendment onto the election ballot, the article said.

Events scheduled at the Manchester Hyatt have been canceled by the Association of American Law Schools and by the county retirement board, reported the Union-Tribune.

Manchester has continued to construe the boycott as not affecting his group's bottom line.

Calling Wilkins' projections of financial disaster "totally incorrect," Manchester stated that Wilkinson "was alarmed at the potential" for a negative impact as the result of the boycott.

Added Manchester, "As a matter of fact, we have picked up lots of business since the boycott began."

The article cited state records in saying that Manchester had contributed around $147,000 to Republican causes in 2006.

The article quoted further from Wilkinson's email to Manchester, in which Wilkinson expressed alarm at the prospect that the boycott could widen in scope and affect all Hyatt hotels, which Wilkinson envisioned possibly leading to a cancellation of the contract between the hotel chain and Manchester's business concerns, with resulting "significant legal liability."

Wilkinson's email noted that, "More than 400 companies in the Fortune 500 now provide equality of treatment to their gay employees and these are companies that book our group business."

Noted Wilkinson, "[N]early every other luxury hotel in California is actively seeking out and marketing to the gay community to get their business."

Wilkinson added, "We should be doing the same."

The article also quoted from an email that Manchester sent in response to Wilkinson, who had explained that his concerns were motivated purely out of business sensibilities.

Wilkinson fired back in a response sent the same day as Wilkinson's July 29 missive, "I appreciate your rightful concern," but went on to say, "I am now really angry and I consider this a personal attack on myself and my family."

Wilkinson said that he would not take Wilkinson's advice to make a contribution to the counter-campaign seeking to prevent the change to the CA constitution or else to request his $125,000 back from the anti-gay campaign.

However, Wilkinson said that he welcomes GLBT guests at the hotels, and that he is supportive of his GLBT employees.

Wilkinson explained the contribution as being the result of his church's stance against gay families.

Wilkinson is Catholic, reported the article. The official Catholic position on gays and lesbians is that they are intended by God to lead celibate lives.

The Catholic church also opposes gay adoption and gays raising their own children together with same-sex companions.

Anti-gay conservative and religious groups have resorted to boycotts in the past to protest companies that they feel are overly solicitous of gay customers, such as McDonald's, Ford, and Disney.

The recent call by the anti-gay American Family Association for a boycott against McDonald's was reported on in a recent EDGE article. McDonald's categorically refused to give in to the group's demands.

The Union-Tribune made note of the findings by GLBT marketing research firm Community Marketing, Inc., which has shown that GLBT Americans travel more than their heterosexual counterparts; some hotels have taken that to heart, such as Evans Hotels, which the article cited as contributing a portion of its profits to the effort to preserve family rights for gays and lesbians in CA.

The article quoted Evans Hotels Director of Operations Bill Evans, who said, "Since we are making money from [GLBT customers], we want to support them."

The article cited a recent Field Poll that demonstrated that Proposition 8 is unpopular with CA residents, with 42 percent in favor of curtailing the rights of gay and lesbian families, as opposed to 51 percent wishing to see those rights remain protected.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.