SACRAMENTO, California — California may soon lift a ban on state-funded travel to states with anti-LGBTQ+ laws and instead focus on an advertising campaign to bring anti-discrimination messages to red states.
California started banning official travel to states with laws it deemed discriminatory against LGBTQ+ people in 2017, starting with Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee. Since then, the list has grown to include a total of 26 states, most of them Republican-led, following a surge of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation these past few years.
The prohibition has prevented elected officials, state workers and university scholars from traveling to more than half of the country using the state's money. That has posed a significant challenge to sports teams at public colleges and universities, which have had to find alternative funding sources to pay for their road games in states like Arizona and Utah. It has also complicated some of the state’s other policy goals, like using state money to pay for people who live in other states to travel to California for abortions.
California lawmakers in the state Assembly on Monday passed legislation to end the travel ban. The bill, introduced by state Senate leader Toni Atkins, would also establish an outreach and advertising campaign in states on the travel ban list to promote pro-LGBTQ+ messages. Atkins, who is a lesbian, said the travel ban has helped raise awareness about many anti-LGBTQ+ issues, but it has also led to unintended consequences.
“In many instances, the travel ban has inadvertently caused California to isolate its services and citizens in a time when we are leading the nation in ensuring inclusivity and freedom,” said Democratic Assemblymember Rick Zbur, the former executive director of the advocacy group Equality California. “With nearly 500 anti-LGBTQ bills having been introduced in legislatures nationwide this year alone, now more than ever, we need to reach into those communities with messages of support, inclusivity and understanding.”
Some Republicans voted against overturning the ban, but there was no debate.
The bill will head to the Senate for a final vote before landing on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk. The Democratic governor has until Oct. 14 to decide whether to sign it into law. The governor's office did not immediately return a request for comment about the legislation.
The reversal on the travel ban comes amid intense political battles across the country over transgender rights, including efforts to impose bans on gender-affirming care, bar trans athletes from girls and women’s sports, and require schools to notify parents if their children ask to use different pronouns or changes their gender identity.
The legislation is among nearly 1,000 bills that lawmakers have been debating during the hectic final two weeks of the Legislative session. The Legislature has until Sept. 14 to act on these bills.