SACRAMENTO, California — When North Carolina banned transgender people from using their gender identity bathroom in public buildings in 2016, California retaliated by banning state-funded travel to that state and any other state with laws deemed discriminatory against LGBTQ people -People have been viewed.
But seven years later, California now bans state-funded travel to nearly half the country after a wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation was introduced in most Republican-led states.
The ban means sports teams at public colleges and universities have had to find other ways to pay for street games in states like Arizona and Utah. And it has complicated some of the state’s other policy goals, like using state funds to pay people living in other states to travel to California for abortions.
On Wednesday, Senate leader Toni Atkins announced legislation that would end the ban and replace it with a statewide advertising campaign that promotes acceptance and inclusion of the LGBTQ community.
“I think polarization doesn’t work,” said the lesbian Atkins. “We have to adjust our strategy. We know what we have to do, but we have to be able to do it.”
The California travel ban has been in effect since 2017. The Attorney General maintains a list of states subject to the ban, a list that has grown rapidly as several states passed laws barring doctors from providing gender-based care to minors and stopping transgender women and girls from attending hold school sports in a way that is consistent with their gender identity.
Today the ban covers 23 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee , Texas, Utah and West Virginia.
The law applies to state agencies, departments, boards, agencies, and commissions — including the schools that are part of the University of California and California State University systems.
That means schools like the University of California, Berkeley can’t use state money for their football teams to travel to away games in Arizona and Utah — schools they have to play against because they’re in the same sports conference.
The San Diego State University men’s basketball team plays Saturday’s Final Four in Houston, a state on the no-travel list. The team evaded the ban because the NCAA, not California taxpayers, is footing the bill for the team’s travel. But the ban means the school can’t schedule football games against teams in Texas, said Jamie McConeghy, senior associate athletic director of communications and media relations for San Diego State.
The law provides a number of exceptions, including travel required to enforce California laws, fulfill contractual obligations, or obtain grants. It also allows for health and safety travel, which is why a federally funded security detail was able to travel to Montana with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s family last year.
But it has complicated some of Democrats’ policy goals in surprising ways. Last year, California agreed to spend $20 million to help women in other states travel to California to have abortions after the US Supreme Court ruled Roe v. Wade had fallen.
“We could help someone fly or travel to California, but if they had to go back to Texas or Florida or any other of those states, we really didn’t have the money to send them home,” Atkins said. “It’s starting to get complicated.”
Lifting the ban could be difficult in the California Legislature, where 10% of lawmakers now identify as LGBTQ. Atkins said she will officially introduce the law Thursday, which must be reviewed by lawmakers in both the Senate and State Assembly before it can become law — a process that will take several months.
“This legislation is a huge step in spreading our values of inclusion and acceptance across the country,” said Assemblyman Greg Wallis, a Republican from Bermuda Dunes. “If you disagree with someone, you should try to open their eyes to change hearts and minds and not pretend they don’t exist. I’m glad California is taking this approach.”
Marc Stein, a gay history professor at San Francisco State University who researches queer history, said he would like to hear from LGBTQ communities in other states before deciding whether to support lifting the travel ban.
But Stein said he would like to see an exception for social justice research. Shortly after the California travel ban went into effect, he said he had trouble booking a trip to North Carolina soon after the travel ban went into effect so he could investigate the case of a transgender woman arrested for bestiality in the 1960s had been.
Stein said the university eventually found a way to fund his research, but the barrier remains for other researchers, particularly students pursuing advanced degrees.
“I think Ph.D. Students in California are discouraged from pursuing research projects that would require extensive travel to the roster of states that now make up nearly half the country,” he said.
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