LGBTQ leaders mostly OK with repealing travel ban

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday August 2, 2023
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Equality Texas CEO Ricardo Martinez, left, does not support repeal of California's travel ban, while Virginia state Delegate Danica Roem and California Assembly candidate Justine Gonzalez do favor doing away with the law. Photos: Courtesy the subjects
Equality Texas CEO Ricardo Martinez, left, does not support repeal of California's travel ban, while Virginia state Delegate Danica Roem and California Assembly candidate Justine Gonzalez do favor doing away with the law. Photos: Courtesy the subjects

In interviews with the Bay Area Reporter in recent months a number of LGBTQ leaders in other states and across California said they have no issue with Golden State legislators ending the policy that forbids using tax dollars to pay for most state employee travel to states that have rolled back LGBTQ rights in recent years. A bill to do so is moving through the state Assembly, after California's state Senate passed it in May.

San Francisco officials already did away with their travel ban policy in the spring, arguing it had no impact on stopping the assault on LGBTQ rights in other states since the city's so-called no-fly list went into effect in 2016. Lesbian state Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego) echoed that argument earlier this year in introducing her Senate Bill 447 called the BRIDGE Act, which stands for Building and Reinforcing Inclusive, Diverse, Gender-Supportive Equality.

It would replace the state's travel ban, set to cover 26 states by October 1, with a marketing program in those states aimed at making their lawmakers and residents rethink their stance on LGBTQ rights. Atkins' bill doesn't specify how much money would be allotted for the ad campaigns or where the funding would come from to pay for them.

The Assembly Jobs, Economic Development, and the Economy Committee voted 6-1 in favor of SB 447 on July 11. The bill is awaiting a vote in the Assembly Appropriations Committee when legislators return August 14 from their summer recess.

"The BRIDGE Project's donation-driven, nonpartisan, inclusive messaging campaign will be designed to uplift and show compassion for LGBTQ+ people, and champion inclusivity in communities like the one I grew up in, where it's needed most," wrote Atkins, who hails from Virginia, in a guest opinion piece for the B.A.R. last month.

Gay Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Cupertino), who authored the bill in 2015 that established the statewide travel ban policy, has given qualified support for Atkins' bill. At the time of its introduction, Low had stated it should ensure "an alternative action in combating discrimination" replaces the travel ban.

Just one out-of-state leader the B.A.R. spoke with felt it wasn't the right time for California leaders to change course on the matter. Equality Texas gay CEO Ricardo Martinez said lifting of the travel ban would send the wrong message at a time when Republican lawmakers in numerous statehouses have pushed through a record number of anti-LGBTQ bills this year.

"I will say I am not totally fine with it going away. Optically, it sends the wrong message," said Martinez. "It is a timing thing. When it comes down to it, if it is this hostile at this moment, like why not wait? Is it really that critical to do that now?"

Martinez acknowledged that had he been asked about doing away with the travel ban policy late last year or in early January, he likely would have given a different answer. But after seeing the flurry of anti-LGBTQ legislative activity over the first half of 2023, Martinez said his feelings about the matter had changed.

"This sends a message to people, whether intended or not, that the experiences of other people don't matter. We are not going to take a stand," said Martinez, whose nonprofit has been able to defeat most of the anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in Texas this year but not all, such as ones that target drag performers and transgender youth. "It could be perceived in many different ways. For me, I like to understand the why behind something."

Since it is a matter of policy, Martinez said he hoped California legislators would ask several questions as they debate SB 447.

"How much good is it going to do versus how much bad? If it is going to do good, who will it do good for and who will it be bad for or feel the negative implications of the change? Is it worth it is the thing I would go to next," he said. "If we all approach policy from that perspective, either in changing policy or introducing new policy, I think that type of emphatic process helps."

Other views

Allowing California state employees and leaders to assist LGBTQ individuals on the ground in the states where their rights are under fire is why transgender Virginia state Delegate Danica Roem told the B.A.R. she sees lifting the travel ban as a positive. Having visited a number of conservative states across the country, Roem recalled a quote from the late television host Fred Rogers, better known as Mister Rogers, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping."

"I understand the idea that you don't want tax dollars going to those states. I get it," said Roem. "But if you go to Bentonville, Arkansas and Fayetteville, North Carolina, you will see Progress Pride flags all over those downtowns. There are people there who still care."

Roem noted that during a trip she took to Boise, she noticed more Pride flags flying in the downtown of Idaho's capital city than in her Northern Virginia district.

"It is an act of defiance for them," said Roem. "Why not support Boise giving everything it's got for LGBTQ residents? Why not support them?"

Even if every LGBTQ person were to leave a state with homophobic or transphobic laws on the books, there would still be straight parents having children who are LGBTQ in those states, noted Roem. They still will need support in fighting for the rights of their kids, she argued.

"That will never change in these states. If their own state governments are not going to look out for their constituents then who is?" asked Roem.

Gia Pacheco, a transgender Texas native who is the full-time program coordinator for Organización Latina Trans Texas based in Houston, sees California's travel ban policy as being "just a political move." She argued it doesn't do much for the LGBTQ people it claims to be helping in other states.

"It is just for show. I am sorry, but it is not helping anyone not in the state of California," said Pacheco, "and it is not helping anyone in the state of California because it is putting barriers on what they can do. A ban like that is a nice and flashy show but not doing anything for anyone."

Such a policy plays into the toxic mentality of "we will show them," argued Pacheco, in attempting to somehow punish the state of Texas.

"You forget once you are trying to do that you are not punishing (Republican Governor) Greg Abbott or the bigots doing these policies. You are punishing the population," she told the B.A.R. "You disregard the populations going through it."

Transgender Los Angeles resident Justine Gonzalez, who is running for a California Assembly seat next year, wasn't opposed to seeing the state follow San Francisco's lead in lifting its travel ban. Of more concern for the parent of a gender-nonconforming child was how state leaders are responding to the pushback against LGBTQ rights, particularly in public schools, being waged in California this year.

"I am not sure of the impact of those travel bans. I wouldn't weigh too much on critiquing the Legislature on that or the governor's office on that," she told the B.A.R. "I would say what efforts are they making locally to protect LGBTQ rights here? Are they ensuring LGBTQ youth locally in our schools and across the state have the protections they need?"

Nonbinary Oakland resident Ari Jones, who performs in drag as Pop Rox, has been raising money for LGBTQ groups in other states where their rights are under attack, such as last Sunday's benefit for the Texas nonprofits. Jones told the B.A.R. they understand the arguments for and against doing away with the travel ban policy.

"First is do we want our taxpayer dollars here in California to go toward government employees spending money in those oppressive jurisdictions? So I understand not wanting that," said Jones. "But, at the same time, if there is an opportunity for allyship or community building that would be facilitated by that travel then I support that."

Echoing Roem's remarks, Pacheco noted not every LGBTQ person can, or wants to, leave their home state even if it is not affirming of its LGBTQ community.

"This is a population of all ages. So once you find out your child is a trans teenager, what are you supposed to do, move your entire family to another state because your state is not affirming? It is such a flawed mentality," said Pacheco. "It is that savior mentality that we have to fight against sometimes."

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