California may end travel ban in states with anti-LGBTQ laws

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — 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 every other state with laws restricting it people deemed discriminatory against LGBTQ.

Seven years later, after a surge in anti-LGBTQ legislation in mostly Republican-led states, California now bans state-funded travel in nearly half the country. The ban has created travel problems for state officials, as well as academic researchers and sports teams at public colleges and universities, prompting state Senate Chair Toni Atkins to call for the travel ban to end on Wednesday.

Instead, she wants the state to approve a marketing campaign for “inclusive embassies” in those states “to help build a bridge of inclusion and acceptance.”

“The goal here is to speak to people’s hearts and open minds,” said Atkins, who is a lesbian. “It’s a pursuit that would have made teenage Toni — that Southwest Virginia girl who was afraid to be herself at the time — so proud.”

The California travel ban has been in effect since 2017. It requires the Attorney General to keep a list of states subject to the ban. This list has grown rapidly as states have passed laws barring doctors from providing gender-affirming care to minors and bar transgender women and girls from participating School sports consistent with their gender identity.

Today the ban included 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, TexasUtah 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 The men’s basketball team will play in the Final Four on Saturday 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.

The ban has also hampered academic researchers, who often have to travel to other states for their work. The American Historical Association wrote a letter to lawmakers in 2021 asking them to amend the list of exemptions to include research for travel and educational initiatives.

Marc Stein, a history professor at San Francisco State University, said he had trouble booking a trip to North Carolina to investigate the case of a transgender woman arrested for bestiality in the 1960s shortly after the travel ban went into effect was.

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 being discouraged from pursuing research projects that would require extensive travel to the list of states, which now makes up nearly half the country,” said Stein, who said he supports including a broad academic research exemption in the law.

Still, the California legislature might find it difficult to overturn the ban 10% of lawmakers identify as LGBTQ.

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