Metro Weekly

San Francisco Repeals Boycott of Anti-Gay States

Report finds city's travel and contracting ban is ineffective at stopping Republican states from passing anti-LGBTQ laws.

San Francisco City Hall – Photo: Dllu, via Wikimedia.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 7-4 to repeal a 2016 law barring the city from doing business with or funding travel to states that have passed anti-LGBTQ laws, as well as states that have passed laws banning abortions and imposing stringent ID requirements to vote.

The list of states on the banned list initially started as a protest against anti-LGBTQ laws, like North Carolina’s infamous anti-transgender “bathroom bill” in 2016, but soon grew into a virtue-signaling measure as additional states were added.

Over time, criteria for being added to the list expanded beyond jurisdictions that had passed anti-LGBTQ laws, with the total number rising to 30 states.

The repeal comes after a report from the city administrator concluded that the policy was raising costs and administrative burdens for the city, with San Francisco spending more than $475,000 in staffing expenses to carry out the ban.

By ending the red-state boycott, the report asserted, the city might be able to reduce contracting costs by as much as 20% annually.

By prohibiting official travel to the 30 states on the list, and preventing the city from contracting with companies located in conservative states, the policy reduced the number of bidders for city work.

Additionally, the city was forced to approve hundreds of exemptions and waivers for $800 million worth of contracts — thereby undercutting the very aim of the boycott. 

The travel and contracting ban also failed to achieve its desired aim of putting economic pressure on conservative states in the hope of forcing them to shy away from pursuing anti-LGBTQ laws or other laws in conflict with San Francisco’s preferred political values.

The city administrator’s report found that “no states with restrictive LGBTQ rights, voting rights, or abortion policies have cited the city’s travel and contract bans as motivation for reforming their law,” according to The Associated Press.

Aaron Peskin, the president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, called the travel and contracting ban “a well-intentioned effort at values-based contracting” but acknowledged that it “did not accomplish the social change it sought to effect.”

“Instead, this onerous restriction has led to an uncompetitive bidding climate and created serious obstructions to everything from accessing emergency housing to being able to cost-effectively purchase the best products and contracts for the City,” Peskin said.

Scott Wiener, a former supervisor who has since been elected to the California State Senate and who authored the original ban, also agreed that the boycott did not have the desired effect.

“We believed a coalition of cities and states would form to create true consequences for states that pass these despicable, hateful laws,” Wiener said in a statement. “Yet, as it turned out, that coalition never formed, and the full potential impact of this policy never materialized. Instead, San Francisco is now penalizing businesses in other states — including LGBTQ-owned, women-owned, and people of color-owned businesses — for the sins of their radical right-wing governments.”

City supervisors are expected to hold a second vote next Tuesday repealing the 2016 law, and Mayor London Breed is expected to sign it into effect immediately.

Similar problems have led the state of California to consider repealing its own 2016 ban on state travel to states pushing anti-LGBTQ legislation.

The ban is difficult to abide by logistically, having forced sports teams at California public colleges and universities to seek out alternative sources of funding to pay for travel to games in other states, like Arizona and Utah.

It has also complicated some other state priorities, like using state money to pay for people seeking abortions to travel to California from states with laws restricting reproductive health care options.

According to The AP, California State Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins introduced legislation last month to end the statewide travel and contracting ban.

In its place, California would create an advertising campaign, featuring nonpartisan messages opposing LGBTQ discrimination and promoting greater acceptance of the LGBTQ community. The campaign would be funded through private donations and some state funding.

“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, who grew up in rural Virginia, said at the time she introduced her bill. “Polarization is not working. We need to adjust our strategy.”

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