News (USA)

California ends its travel ban to states with anti-LGBTQ+ laws

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The California legislature has voted to repeal a 2016 law that bans publicly funded travel to 26 states with anti-LGBTQ+ laws. The repeal, Senate Bill 447 — which was signed on Wednesday by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) — creates a fund to promote LGBTQ+-inclusive campaigns in these states instead.

“In the face of a rising tide of anti-LGBTQ+ hate, this measure helps California’s message of acceptance, equality and hope reach the places where it is most needed,” Newsom said Wednesday after signing the law.

The state Assembly voted 64-12 in support of the repeal on Monday, and the state Senate voted 31-6 in support of it on Tuesday.

The repeal will create a fund known as the BRIDGE Project – BRIDGE being an acronym for “Building and Reinforcing Inclusive, Diverse, Gender-Supportive Equality.”

The fund “could be used to create non-partisan, inclusive messaging, discourage discrimination, and help members of the LGBTQ+ community feel less isolated,” the repeal states. This messaging would “raise public awareness and promote civil rights and antidiscrimination through education, advertising, and marketing activities,” the repeal’s text adds.

California began restricting travel to states with anti-LGBTQ+ laws in 2016 after North Carolina passed a law banning transgender people from using restrooms and other public facilities matching their gender identities. North Carolina partially repealed the bathroom bill in 2017 and fully repealed it in 2020.

However, last July, California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) announced that the state would additionally restrict travel to Missouri, Nebraska, and Wyoming as a result of those states recently passing anti-LGBTQ+ laws — bringing the number of travel-banned states to 26.

The ban prevents California government workers, university professors, and elected officials from visiting over half of the country, making it difficult for them to conduct important out-of-state business. The law has also unintentionally isolated LGBTQ+ people in these red states, the repeal’s sponsors say, when California could do more to positively impact those states’ queer residents.

State Sen. Toni Atkins (D) said the travel ban was “the right thing to do” in 2016, according to The Hill, but she now believes it’s no longer an effective or sustainable way to oppose the growing wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.

“What we need is messaging that really goes to the heart of what regular people all across this country want, which is to live in peace,” said Atkins, the primary sponsor of the repeal who is also the first out queer legislator to serve as Senate president.

Gay state Assemblymember Rick Zbur (D), who previously served as executive director of the state LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality California said in a Monday Assembly speech, “In many instances, the travel ban has inadvertently caused California to isolate its services and citizens in a time when we are leading the nation in ensuring inclusivity and freedom.”

In 2019, LGBTQ Nation guest columnist Cyd Zeigler criticized the travel ban as “a political stunt to boost the appearance of Sacramento politicians’ support of the LGBTQ community.” Zeigler noted that many state-funded agencies use separate funds to pay for travel to the forbidden states, giving the appearance of queer solidarity while allowing California government business to continue in red states as usual.

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