West Virginia saw perhaps its first loss of potential income over the Legislature’s transgender sports ban, as United Quidditch cited the law as its reason for rejecting the Shawnee Sports Complex as a venue for the 2024 Quidditch Cup.
In fact, the organization had denied the bid back in May, although it wasn’t publicly discussed until last week.
At first blush, this might sound silly or inconsequential. Organized quidditch, a combination of rugby, basketball and dodgeball, is an adaptation of a sport portrayed in the “Harry Potter” novels and films. It’s not exactly the National Football League.
But this is, in fact, a blow to the region, which was supposed to host the event in 2020, before it was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whatever someone might think about quidditch, the tournament was expected to bring around 1,600 people to the Kanawha Valley area, with a direct economic impact of about $550,000, according to Mary Kimball, executive director of U.S. Quidditch.
Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin estimated that it amounted to anywhere between $1.5 million to $2 million in revenue for local businesses.
In a response to a bid to host the event from the Shawnee Sports Complex, Kimball cited all the things detractors of the bill — passed in this year’s legislative session and signed by Gov. Jim Justice in the spring — were worried about. Kimball called the law discriminatory, adding that it “perpetuates harmful stereotypes.”
The greater concern is that this decision might be a bellwether for other events in the Kanawha Valley and beyond, such as the regional soccer tournaments that bring in entire families, pack hotels and stimulate spending at local businesses from Barboursville to Charleston.
The transgender ban was a cheap GOP political victory that has a real cost to the state, financially and in terms of image. A state with the third-oldest population in the country that lost more residents over the past 10 years than any other place in the United States isn’t exactly rolling out the welcome mat with that type of legislation. Not to mention that any real issues involving transgender athletes are typically already handled by the organizing body of a given sport.
Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango echoed the refrain sounded on this page multiple times in calling the law a solution in search of a problem.
“We had zero issues, and the Legislature came in to try to fix a problem that didn’t exist,” Salango said in a Gazette-Mail report. “Now, all of a sudden, we’re having issues. You know, that was the first tournament that I know of that was canceled because of it, and there will be more.”
What’s doubly frustrating is that legislators should have seen these types of problems coming. Other states, like Indiana and North Carolina, have lost major events and revenue over similar culture-war legislation. But the West Virginia Legislature plowed ahead anyway, and now a state that is hardly booming has put another obstacle in its own path.