California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom repealed the state’s 7-year-old prohibition of publicly-funded travel to states with laws that discriminate against LGBTQ people.
The law was originally passed in 2016 in response to North Carolina’s passage of an anti-transgender “bathroom bill” that prevented people from public multi-user facilities matching their gender identity.
It was subsequently used to ban travel to Kansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee in response to anti-LGBTQ bills passed in those states.
But while the law was an exercise in political posturing, it failed to have the desired effect — namely, to give lawmakers in other states pause before pursuing anti-LGBTQ legislation over concerns that they would lose out on business.
Additionally, the number of states on the list where publicly-funded travel was banned continued to grow, reaching 26 as recently as July, especially as Republican-dominated legislatures have seized upon opposition to LGBTQ rights as an election issue ahead of 2024. More than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced.
The ban on state-funded travel had previously been criticized in a 2019 column for the website LGBTQ Nation by Cyd Zeigler, who said the law as “a political stunt to boost the appearance of Sacramento politicians’ support of the LGBTQ community.”
Zeigler noted that many state-funded agencies simply used separate funds to pay for travel to banned places, expressing solidarity with the LGBTQ community publicly while continuing to spend money and do business with offending states.
The travel ban also created logistical difficulties for state workers, university scholars, and sports teams at public colleges and universities by requiring them to seek alternative funding sources for travel, such as road games to states like Arizona and Utah.
The repeal bill’s primary sponsor, California State Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), a lesbian who became the first out LGBTQ person to lead the state Legislature as Senate president, admitted that the ban on state travel had led to “unintended consequences” and isolated LGBTQ people living in other states.
As part of the bill, dubbed the “BRIDGE (Building and Reinforcing Inclusive, Diverse, Gender-Supportive Equality) Project,” Atkins replaced the travel ban with an outreach campaign, using various marketing campaigns to encourage LGBTQ acceptance in Republican-run red states with laws hostile to the LGBTQ community.
The BRIDGE Project bill ultimately passed the Assembly by a vote of 64-12 and the Senate by a vote of 31-6 before heading to Newsom for his signature into law.
“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 in a statement. “Today, we are sending a message to the rest of the nation — here in California, we embrace one another, not in spite of our differences, but because of them. And we are ready to reach across the aisle, and across state lines, to help open hearts and minds, and support our LGBTQ+ youth and communities who are feeling so alone.”
“There’s so much hate, so much hurt, so much harm being inflicted on people who are just trying to live their authentic lives,” Atkins said in a statement. “The BRIDGE Project is a chance to counter that with kindness and empathy…. We will be the bridge to a more understanding and compassionate nation.”
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