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California reconsiders its state business travel ban to states with anti-LGBTQ+ laws

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

For nearly seven years, state employees in California have been banned from traveling for business to other states with laws that discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. Now, with legislation targeting trans people sweeping the country, Democratic lawmakers want to change tactics and repeal the ban. Cap Radio's Nicole Nixon explains why.

NICOLE NIXON, BYLINE: Let's go back to 2016, when North Carolina passed a law that required people to use public restrooms that correspond with their sex assigned at birth. In response, California passed its own law banning state-funded travel to North Carolina and any other state with anti-LGBTQ+ laws on the books. At first, this travel ban only applied to four states. Now it's 26.

TONI ATKINS: I think we find that it isolates us from being able to be present, be visible and show examples of inclusivity and success.

NIXON: Democratic state Senate leader Toni Atkins, herself a lesbian, is proposing a tactical shift. She has a bill to repeal California's travel ban. Instead, she wants to create an outreach campaign to LGBTQ+ communities in conservative states.

ATKINS: Because it really is personal relationships, direct communication and contact that change hearts and minds.

NIXON: Take, for example, Marc Stein. As a professor at San Francisco State University, he's covered by the ban, which complicated his research on LGBTQ+ history.

MARC STEIN: I needed to go to North Carolina to do that research, and when I applied for reimbursement on my return, the foundation that holds my research funds put a stop on payment based on the policy.

NIXON: Aside from complicating trips and conferences, Stein says the travel ban limits the topics graduate students research. For example, he says if a student wanted to research the Tulsa race riots or Florida's anti-gay Johns Committees from the 1950s, they'd have to get private funding to go to those places. Despite that, Stein is not getting behind Senator Atkins' proposal to end the ban.

STEIN: I think it sends an unfortunate message that the arguments that are coming at us from Florida and Texas are working and that we need to change our value-based policies.

NIXON: Instead, he'd like to see an exemption for higher education. Now, the whole point of California's travel ban is to put economic pressure on states that pass discriminatory laws.

WIT TUTTELL: It definitely had an impact on the state, a negative impact.

NIXON: Wit Tuttell is the director of Visit North Carolina, that state's tourism bureau. But measuring the exact impact of the ban is difficult.

TUTTELL: You know, it's one thing if an organization is looking to host a convention here and they tell us, hey; we're not hosting it here because of this travel ban. But what you don't know is how many meetings didn't even consider you because of it.

NIXON: North Carolina's controversial law that started all of this was repealed in 2020, and states with similar bans like Washington and New York have reinstituted travel there. But California hasn't, and California's list keeps expanding. Three new states were added in July after they passed new anti-trans laws. To Senator Atkins, that indicates the ban has outlived its usefulness.

ATKINS: Polarization is not working. Insulating ourselves in a more protected environment like California - you know, we need to adjust our strategy.

NIXON: She says California leaders can condemn discriminatory laws and still go to those states to support LGBTQ+ communities. For NPR News, I'm Nicole Nixon in Sacramento.

(SOUNDBITE OF LADY WRAY SONG, "HOLD ON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Nicole Nixon / CapRadio