Democratic lawmaker proposes ending California’s travel ban to anti-LGBTQ states

A powerful California lawmaker has proposed ending the state’s ban on taxpayer-funded travel to states that have passed anti-LGBTQ laws, arguing that the ban — while good-intentioned — has resulted in unintended consequences.

Senate President pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, has introduced Senate Bill 447, which would lift the state restriction that currently applies to 23 states, and also fund a nonpartisan public service announcement ad campaign in those same states.

“I think we need to be ambassadors of acceptance and we need to be in those states,” Atkins said in a Wednesday press conference.

Atkins said the ad campaign would feature “nonpartisan, positive messages of inclusion” in a variety of media.

The ad campaign would be supported by donations in addition to state dollars, Atkins said, adding that she is mindful of the state’s precarious budget situation but that just as the state spends money making sure people have access to abortion care, the state should serve as a beacon of LGBTQ inclusivity to the rest of the country.

The bill comes as state legislatures across the country, including California’s, are considering hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills, including efforts to ban gender-affirming treatment for young transgender people and bar transgender people from participating in sports that correspond to their gender.

California’s travel ban dates back to 2016, when then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1887 into law after North Carolina passed a bill restricting transgender people’s access to bathrooms. States currently subject to the ban include Florida, Texas, Idaho and Montana.

Atkins, who voted for AB 1887, said that California has insulated itself and that has led to further political polarization.

“We need to adjust our strategy because we know what we need to do but we need to be able to be there to do it,” she said.

Atkins said that she believes AB 1887 was an effective law, that led to positive change as corporations and performing artists refused to travel to states that had enacted restrictive laws against LGBTQ people. But she added that it is time to pivot and reach out to people to change minds on the issue.

“I don’t see it as a failure, I see this as you need to adjust to do the work to make sure we are exporting our values to those who need it the most,” she said.

Atkins, who is a lesbian, described coming out at 18, and how much it would have meant to her to have something like SB 447 in effect back then.

“I looked at California all those decades ago as a beacon of hope even then,” she said.

Atkins acknowledged that AB 1887 has resulted in unintended consequences, including barring researchers, student athletes and even state lawmakers from visiting the banned states.

The senator said she has been in touch with Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, on the bill, and that she is committed to working with him to make the legislation as strong as possible.

Update: On Thursday, Assemblyman Low released a statement saying that while he supports the concept of Sen. Toni Atkins’ legislation, “we shouldn’t completely end California’s state-funded travel ban without having an alternative action in combating discrimination.

“We can’t back down, especially as a record amount of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is being introduced. I look forward to being part of many conversations with Sen. Atkins and key stakeholders as this moves through the legislative process to ensure that our message of love and inclusion continues,” Low said in a statement.