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Vicco, KY: An Economic Case Study for Equality

By Andrew Belonsky

A funny thing happened in Vicco, Kentucky: the small town's council passed an LGBT inclusive non-discrimination policy and, like magic, it was awash in pledges of emotional and, more important, financial support. CBS News reports that over the past eight months, strangers from across the country have sent small bills, pledged playground equipment, and solicited grant applications, all to help keep the struggling town afloat.

Johnny Cummings, Vicco's gay mayor, says that the pledges come close to $200,000. Far fewer dollars, however, are actually in hand. Maybe a potential reality show will help: producers approached Cummings about broadcasting from the Appalachian town of 330, but he's reading the contracts carefully. He wants the show to be about Vicco's turn around, not about exploiting residents or making them into clowns. "I don't see us being that entertaining" says Cummings. The Colbert Report did, though. See?

Vicco's turnaround is just one small example of the positive economic impact equality has had across the country. Passing marriage equality in New York State helped generate an estimated $259 million just for the Big Apple alone. The Williams Institute predicted that Washington State would see about an $8 million tax windfall from $88 million in wedding spending once their same-sex nuptial laws went into effect last December. Minnesota is predicted to rake in $42 million from their new same-sex wedding and tourism industries, and $3 million of that will go to state and local bank accounts. And nationally speaking, the Congressional Budget Office found that marriage equality reduces benefit and safety net costs by about $100-200 million a year.

And in the realm of job discrimination, which is closer to the Vicco scenario, 42% percent of American gay and lesbian employees say that they've faced on-the-job discrimination. A shocking 90% of transgender people say the same. This not only creates an oppressive, unproductive work environment, but costs companies lawsuit money and, if someone leaves because of discrimination, and the National Commission on Employment Policies estimates that anti-LGBT discrimination costs businesses about $47 million in unemployment and training expenditure each year. All this and the pricelessness of equality is probably why four Republican Senators backed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act this summer, and these facts also help explain why 93% of Fortune 100 companies — but not Exxon — have L&G inclusive policies, while less, 82%, include gender identity, as well, according to HRC.

Most of all, these numbers explain why Vicco, once self-described as a "dead town," is having a gay old renaissance. While the town isn't the next gold mine, it's showing, in very short time, that equality and inclusion are part of a winning hand.

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