Metro Weekly

D.C. councilmember’s bill would prohibit travel to states with anti-gay laws

Measure comes on heels of a slew of bills in various states that target the LGBT community

Grosso (Photo: David Grosso, via Facebook).
Grosso (Photo: David Grosso, via Facebook).

A D.C. councilmember has introduced a bill that would ban official government-funded travel to any state with a law that could be interpreted as anti-LGBT. The move comes after a number of state legislatures have introduced and attempted to pass bills that restrict the rights guaranteed to the LGBT community, often under the guise of protecting the “religious freedom” of those who oppose homosexuality or same-sex marriage.

On Tuesday, Councilmember David Grosso (I-At-Large) submitted a bill known as the “Prohibiting Government Travel to Discriminatory States Act.” The bill would restrict the office of the mayor, the attorney general, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission or other District agency from requiring that its employees, officers or members travel to a state with any law that “affirmatively sanctions or requires discrimination” on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The bill also prevents those people, if they do travel to such a state, from using District taxpayer funds to do so. The prohibition on government-funded travel will remain in effect as long as the discriminatory law is on the books or is being enforced. The travel ban does not apply to those rare cases where government travel is necessary, such as for the protection of public health or safety.

Grosso’s bill drops just after Mayor Muriel Bowser and several of her fellow elected officials throughout the country, from mayors to governors, have issued travel bans specifically singling out North Carolina for its passage of the anti-LGBT law HB 2. That law repealed a pro-LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance in Charlotte, prohibited other municipalities from following suit, and imposed restrictions on the types of restrooms or changing facilities that transgender people can use, including in government buildings and schools. What Grosso’s bill would do is cement such a travel ban into statute and expand the number of states to which it would apply.

In terms of states that would likely be affected by the law’s passage, the list would include states like North Carolina and Mississippi, as well as any other state that passes a RFRA law, or a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that provides overly broad exemptions for those seeking to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. 

Grosso’s bill would not apply, however, to those states that have a RFRA law but also have a statewide nondiscrimination law that covers LGBT people. Examples of states like this include Rhode Island, Connecticut, Illinois and New Mexico, where the state’s nondiscrimination law would trump attempts to allow a broader interpretation of what constitutes “religious freedom,” such as denying a same-sex couple a wedding cake or allowing government workers to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as the recently passed bill in Mississippi does.

“Let us be clear — transgender people are not the threat, but rather it is bigots who are emboldened by legislation like in North Carolina and Mississippi who are harassing and assaulting our transgender friends and neighbors,” Grosso said in remarks from the dais at Tuesday’s D.C. Council meeting. “In the District of Columbia, we stand against such hate, and that is why I am pleased to present this bill today.”

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