PD Editorial: California’s travel ban isn’t delivering — time to try something else
The Democratic leader of the state Senate has at least two good reasons to repeal California’s ban on state-funded travel to states that discriminate against LGBTQ+ people: It’s not working, and it’s easily evaded.
Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, a lesbian, understands the pain caused by discrimination, and she remains committed to protecting LGBTQ+ rights. But she also sees that attempting to punish other states has not changed anyone’s hearts and minds.
The Legislature voted in 2016 to ban state-funded and state-sponsored travel to states with anti-LGBTQ+ laws or policies. The legislation — Assembly Bill 1887 — was triggered by a North Carolina law that prohibited transgender people from using restrooms of their gender identity in public buildings.
Seven years ago, AB 1887 affected travel to four states. Now it restricts travel to 23 states, with more likely to join the list as conservative lawmakers rush to enlist in the culture wars. The American Civil Liberties Union is tracking 449 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in states across the nation.
Credit California lawmakers with good intentions. They meant to show that discrimination has a cost. But the task becomes Sisyphean when half the country is off limits to state-funded travel.
Off limits, that is, except for state travel that qualifies under a half-dozen broad exemptions. For many people, that made the ban more of a speed bump than a roadblock.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, for instance, traveled to Montana last summer in the company of his state-funded security detail, even though Montana is on the list of no-go states. And the governor is barnstorming for Democrats in deep-red states this week, sidestepping the travel ban by using campaign funds instead of public money.
The travel ban also hasn’t kept California’s state-funded universities from sending their athletes deep into Arizona, Utah and other states that are hostile to LGBTQ+ rights. The schools quickly learned to shift their travel costs to private donors. On Monday, San Diego State played for the national basketball championship in Texas, which unsuccessfully challenged AB 1887 before the U.S. Supreme Court. The NCAA paid the cost of the Aztecs’ travel to Houston.
Meanwhile, university researchers and public employees are denied the opportunity to attend professional and academic events because they don’t have third-party sponsorship to pay their way.
Because AB 1877 hasn’t slowed the spread of anti-
LGBTQ+ policies and because it has proven to be a porous barrier to travel, Atkins has proposed repeal. A similar measure is under consideration in San Francisco for its municipal employees.
Atkins suggests replacing the state travel ban with an advertising campaign to promote tolerance.
“I know from personal experience growing up in a rural community, where it is more conservative, that the way to change people’s minds is to have impact and direct contact and to open hearts and minds,” Atkins said in a call with reporters, describing her childhood in rural Virginia. “Polarization is not working. We need to adjust our strategy.”
But should California taxpayers send money to billboard owners in states that discriminate? That seems contrary to the original idea of the travel ban.
California’s best approach — and in the long run, the approach most likely to be effective — is to show that ensuring equality for everyone promotes the development of a just and prosperous society.
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