Gay Advocacy Groups Battle Over Arizona Boycott

A Phoenix-based gay business group is pleading with other gay rights groups across the country to drop their Arizona boycott, saying their "political" and baseless attempt to compel the repeal of the state's immigration law will only hurt local businesses.

The Greater Phoenix Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce on Monday blasted out an e-mail to hundreds of its members along with two groups spearheading boycotts against the state -- the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. The e-mail, which urged those two groups to "rescind" their boycott and chamber members to pester them until they do, came after the Phoenix chamber was unable to privately convince the national groups to cool their rhetoric.

Now a dispute that for weeks was taking place in back channels has spilled out into the national debate cauldron over Arizona's immigration law.

"They haven't even read SB 1070. ... They don't even really know what's going on around here," Joseph Gesullo, chairman of the Phoenix gay chamber, said of the organizations calling for boycotts. "It's really just hurting the people of Arizona."

Gesullo told on Tuesday that the groups are "grandstanding." The Human Rights Campaign and National Gay and Lesbian Chamber were joined by 21 groups in announcing a boycott several weeks ago.

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Gesullo said the national chamber has since shown a willingness to reach a compromise. Indeed, the group sent a letter to the Phoenix chamber June 16 expressing support for Arizona businesses.

But Gesullo said the Human Rights Campaign has "absolutely" resisted requests to tone down the boycott. He accused the group of kowtowing to Latino advocacy groups as well as the Service Employees International Union and expressed concern that the move would discourage gay and lesbian couples from visiting Arizona. That, in turn, hurts the hundreds of Phoenix businesses that count themselves as chamber members, he said.

The Human Rights Campaign has clarified its boycott since the original announcement June 7. In a June 16 statement, the group said the boycott only applies to bringing conferences and meetings to the state. That's not enough for Gesullo -- who wants the group to completely restate its position -- but the Human Rights Campaign says that's all he's going to get.

"We're not backing off of this position, because we think it's a principled stand against SB 1070," Human Rights Campaign spokesman Fred Sainz told "We don't share the opinion ... that it's going to result in these things that the Phoenix folks do."

Referring to a conference call held two weeks ago during which Gesullo tried to convince the other groups to drop their boycotts, Sainz suggested that the Phoenix chamber was making the problem worse by talking about it.

"My counsel to them was if you want to draw attention to it, they should speak to the media," he said. "I'm like, the best thing you can do is say nothing in that situation, and they clearly didn't agree."

He denied that the Human Rights Campaign launched the boycott just because the SEIU wanted it, but said there's nothing wrong with working as a "coalition." He said there's a strong connection between those who support Arizona's immigration law and those "who would bring similar harm" to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

But the Phoenix chamber argues that the boycotts are already harming that community.

"We feel the boycott of the entire state of Arizona is counter-productive to the issue at hand. Punishing Arizona businesses will not change the minds of any partisan legislature politician, including Arizona's," said the e-mail sent out Monday. "Our entire state has been miscast as racist, unsophisticated and dangerous in the worst of the 'Wild West' stereotypes."

The letter urged those opposed to Arizona's law to consider signing a statement denouncing it, rather than impose a boycott.

Gesullo also ridiculed the Human Rights Campaign since the group didn't have any meetings scheduled in Arizona in the first place.

"This is so political. They weren't coming here anyway so why do you need to sign onto something where you're not really taking a giant stand?" he said.