South Carolina’s taxpayer-paid advertisement describing it as “So Gay” has backfired and could cost the state precious tourism dollars following a firestorm of criticism.

According to a report by the Palmetto Scoop last week, the state’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism budgeted $5,000 to promote South Carolina’s “gay”-friendly atmosphere in time for London’s “Gay” Pride Week that ended Saturday. The operation promoted South Carolina and five major U.S. cities to homosexual travelers, touting “gay” beaches and Civil War plantations.

State distribution of funds for the campaign was called off following public protest from angry citizens, 2 million people observed the posters plastered in London subways.

State Sen. David Thomas, R-Greenville, claimed he had no knowledge of the campaign and demanded an audit of the Tourism Department’s $14 million advertising budget.

“South Carolinians will be irate when they learn their hard earned tax dollars are being spent to advertise our state as ‘so gay,'” Thomas told the Scoop. “South Carolina is a wonderful, family friendly destination not a Southern version of San Francisco. This campaign goes against our core values.”

The Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement criticized “conservative ‘Bible Belt’ politicians” for cancelling the publicity stunt, saying the state stands to lose “gay” tourism funds. Ryan Wilson, president of South Carolina Pride, announced an effort to bring the promotion back by displaying South Carolina “Will Be So Gay” posters in London.

“South Carolina may not be ‘so gay’ currently – but we are going to show the world that we can be and we will be so gay, and gay friendly some day,” Wilson said.

According to an MSNBC report, when the campaign was unveiled last month, the state tourism board confidently promoted the ad, saying “it sends a powerful positive message.”

“For our gay visitors, it is actually quite wonderful for them to discover just how much South Carolina has to offer – from stunning plantation homes to miles of wide sandy beaches,” a statement said.

An unidentified “low-level” employee who is said to be responsible for authorizing the campaign resigned his position with the state tourism agency following the backlash.

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