California Set to End Travel Ban to States With Anti-LGBTQ Laws

(Bloomberg) -- California lawmakers voted to reverse a ban on government-sponsored travel to mostly Republican-led states with discriminatory laws targeting LGBTQ people, acknowledging that the policy had failed to stop a surge of legislation across the US.

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The ban, enacted in 2017, applied to state agencies, departments, boards and schools that are part of the University of California and the California State University systems. It prohibited them from using state funding to travel to states that had passed laws such as barring transgender people from participating in school sports or using the bathroom of their gender identity, ultimately affecting 26 states.

The bill was not without controversy. In 2018, the San Diego State University men’s basketball team had to raise private funds to travel to Texas for the NCAA tournament. Governor Gavin Newsom faced criticism last year for vacationing in Montana, a state that was included in the ban. San Francisco earlier this year rescinded its own stricter version of the ban after finding that it increased the cost of some city contracts by 20%.

Meanwhile, Texas has passed a law limiting public drag-show performances, while Florida has introduced restrictions on gender-affirming medical care for minors. Both have been temporarily blocked by judges.

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California instead is introducing a new bill, called the BRIDGE Project, to seek to reach out to residents in those states and foster a culture of inclusion and respect.

“When we make policy I think we should do it with humility, not with arrogance,” said the bill’s author, Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, a Democrat who is the first openly lesbian leader of California’s Senate “We’re not being successful. If there are 490 pieces of anti-gay legislation, how am I helping a trans kid, a nonbinary kid in the middle of America?,” she said in an interview before the bill was passed by the legislature

The bill to end the travel ban passed the Senate in a 31-6 vote on Tuesday, largely along party lines. It now heads to Newsom, who has until mid-October to sign or veto it. The governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Bridge Project will cost of $583,000 annually for civil rights and anti-discrimination efforts in the states that were previously subject to the ban, according to an analysis in the state senate. Atkins’ office said Tuesday the advertising will be “non-partisan.”

The bill faced opposition from some LGBTQ advocates, including Assembly member Evan Low, a Democrat who authored the original travel ban.

“While I approve of the Bridge Project concept to create inclusive messaging, discourage discrimination, and help members of the LGBTQ+ community, I do not agree that removing our state-funded travel ban to these states best protects Californians and our values,” Low, who is gay, said in an emailed statement on Tuesday.

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