Democratic leader urges end to California travel boycott

In a Democratic-dominated state Capitol where expanding LGBTQ rights is a mainstay on the agenda, an announcement Wednesday from one of the most powerful lawmakers came as a shock:

Senate Leader Toni Atkins — a Democrat from San Diego who blazed a trail as a lesbian lawmaker and the first woman to lead both houses of the Legislative Assembly — said she wants California to repeal its ban on government-funded trips to states with anti-LGBTQ laws.

Atkins introduced legislation to repeal the law that she and her colleagues passed in 2016 with the encouragement from major gay rights groupswho argued that an economic boycott by the state would “ensure that California taxpayers’ money does not help fund discrimination beyond our borders.”

Instead, Atkins said she wants California to create an ad campaign in red states that encourages LGBTQ acceptance. Her Invoice would create a fund supported by private donors and possibly taxpayers who could pay for non-partisan messaging that discourages discrimination and helps LGBTQ people feel less isolated.

“I know from personal experience growing up in a rural community, where it’s more conservative, that the way to change people’s minds is to have impact and direct contact and open hearts and minds. minds,” Atkins said on a call with reporters, describing his childhood in rural Virginia.

“Polarization doesn’t work,” she said. “We have to adjust our strategy.”

While Atkins said the California travel ban succeeded in sending a message that the Golden State opposes discriminatory state laws, his decision to repeal it is a tacit acknowledgment that the ban does not did not work as expected.

Instead of stopping travel to states with anti-LGBTQ laws and creating an economic blow that might tempt them to change, it generated a host of workarounds. California politicians continued to travel to prohibited states using campaign funds rather than taxpayers’ money. Public university sports teams turned to private boosters and corporate sponsors to get the money needed to compete in states on the banned list.

Meanwhile, as state laws that discriminate based on gender identity or sexual orientation have become even more common across the country, the list of forbidden states has gone from four when Governor Jerry Brown signed the law to 23 today.

The fact that nearly half of the country is barred from government-sponsored travel has become a problem for many scholars at public universities who have found themselves barred from conducting research and giving presentations across the country. THE American Historical association. wrote a letter to California lawmakers in 2021 asking for a change in the law.

“We are particularly concerned that this boycott restricts the work of graduate students and early-career scholars, preventing them from carrying out research that would highlight the importance of LGBTQ life, among other pressing topics. in targeted states”, historians have written.

The drumbeat intensified in December when the The New York Times published an editorial California travel ban blasting.

“Many policies — including those that focus on food security, health insurance, taxation, and traffic safety — are regulated at the state level. Why doesn’t California see the point in funding research on what other states could do in these areas?” wrote Aaron Carroll, director of health at Indiana University.

“Does California really believe that its housing policies, and those who craft them, might not benefit from trips to other states to see what they could do better?”

Atkins acknowledged the “unintended impact” of California’s ban by hampering certain academic research and athletic opportunities for students. She also said it left LGBTQ people in red states even more isolated and made it harder for California lawmakers to share their progressive agenda with policymakers across the country.

“We should, as lawmakers who have proposed the most LGBTQ-friendly racial justice bills, on reproductive rights, we should be in all of these states so we can share our experience,” Atkins said.

Atkins push comes like San Francisco is also considering repealing a similar local ordinance that bars city workers from traveling to 30 states with laws limiting LGBTQ rights, voting rights and access to abortion. The San Francisco law goes a step further by also prohibiting contracts with companies based in those states. City officials found the policy to be “ineffective and cumbersome,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported last monthadding cost and complexity to city business.

Whether Atkins’ bill will win the support of a majority of California lawmakers remains to be seen. Gay rights advocates have always championed the importance of the travel boycott. The law was drafted by Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell), who still serves. And the legislature this year includes more LGBTQ lawmakers than ever before.

But if anyone can argue that communicating with voters in red states is a better way to defend gay rights than banning travel to red states, Atkins is the lawmaker in the best position to do so. The daughter of a miner who grew up in rural Virginia in the 1960s, Atkins moved to San Diego in 1985.

After a career in local politics and advocacy for women’s health, she won a seat in the Assembly in 2010. Four years later, she kissed his wife Jennifer LeSar on the Assembly dais as she was sworn in as California’s first lesbian speaker.

Los Angeles Times

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