On the eve of its annual meeting, Discover Lancaster canceled the event Wednesday after facing criticism for scheduling it at Star Barn Village at Stone Gables Estate, which prohibits marriage-related services for same-sex couples.
In spite of the victory claimed by grassroots organizers who oppose the Star Barn's policy, a demonstration in support of LGBT antidiscrimination legislation will go on as scheduled today, they said.
In a statement Wednesday, Discover Lancaster’s communications director, Joel Cliff, said the board of the tourism marketing agency decided to cancel the annual meeting planned at the Elizabethtown event venue.
Cliff cited “escalating media and online discussions” that have made it “unlikely that this year’s Annual Meeting will be able to fulfill its purpose of celebrating our tourism community and our award winners.”
Later, the organization stated that “in canceling the event, we hope to create some time and space for future opportunities where the industry can discuss its differing perspectives on this matter in a respectful and productive manner.”
Refunds will be issued
Cliff confirmed the meeting would not be rescheduled and refunds would be issued to those who purchased the $40 tickets.
Several partner businesses of Discover Lancaster said they would skip event at the popular wedding venue after Star Barn owner David Abel reiterated his company’s policy on same-sex weddings last week.
"Any beliefs that are in direct opposition to our constitutionally-protected right to the free exercise of our religion we cannot be a participant of on the property," Abel said in a statement to LNP last week.
In a letter Wednesday morning before the announcement of the cancellation, Abel said he and his company, Stone Gables Estate, were “being discriminated against, judged and condemned for our faith beliefs and our freedom to live them out in our lives.”
Abel did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment Wednesday afternoon.
Protest will go on
A demonstration against the Star Barn's policy and in support of state and federal legislation against LGBT discrimination will go on as scheduled, but at a new location — Elizabethtown Square at 1 N. Market St., at 11 a.m.
“While we are thrilled by this victory, this was never simply about Discover Lancaster or The Star Barn," a written statement by organizers with the group Lancaster Stands Up. "We will still hold our rally (Thursday) to raise awareness for the need for Statewide — and FEDERAL — protections for” the LGBT community.
"This shows discrimination can’t be taken lightly," said Erica Millner, who owns Lancaster art jewelry store Mio Studio with her wife.
Millner added that she will no longer be a partner business with Discover Lancaster following the incident.
"Our end game here is legal protection for” LGBT people in Pennsylvania.
Public Officials React
Several elected officials, including Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace and Lancaster County Commissioner Craig Lehman, made public statements regarding the Star Barn, LGBT discrimination and the controversy's effect on Lancaster County tourism.
"We seek and support a Lancaster County free from discrimination and one with equal access, no matter who we are or who we love," Sorace said at a city council meeting Tuesday evening.
In a letter to Discover Lancaster on Monday, Lehman said holding the event at the Star Barn would put Lancaster County "at risk of damaging its image as a welcoming community and be viewed as one that is intolerant."
In a separate letter to the group on Wednesday, Lehman applauded the cancellation.
"I support the board’s decision and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share some thoughts on this important issue," he said.
Below is Discover Lancaster’s statement in full: