Guest Opinion: It's time for Chapter 12X to go

  • by Rafael Mandelman
  • Wednesday March 8, 2023
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Supervisor Rafael Mandelman. Photo: Courtesy Rafael Mandelman
Supervisor Rafael Mandelman. Photo: Courtesy Rafael Mandelman

It's time for Chapter 12X to go

by Rafael Mandelman

By the time the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the fundamental right to marriage is guaranteed to same-sex couples, many of us in San Francisco's queer community were ready to move on to the next frontier in the fight for LGBTQ equality. After all, California was among 37 states to already recognize same-sex marriage. And it had been more than a decade since then-Mayor Gavin Newsom ignored the law and began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples — catapulting the debate into the national conversation. The high court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges seemed like the conclusion of the story, or at least of a chapter. Or so some of us hoped.

But in reactionary red states across the country, queer people faced a renewed assault on their rights and dignity. Anti-trans bathroom bills emerged alongside new religious protections to deny services and even medical care to LGBTQ people. In May 2016, a House Republican read into the Congressional record a Bible verse that proclaimed homosexuals "worthy of death." Two weeks later, a gunman massacred 49 people at an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando. The fight for equality was not nearly over, and too many places in America seemed intent on turning back the clock.

San Francisco responded to this ugly backlash in October 2016 with the addition of Chapter 12X to our Administrative Code. Authored by gay then-Supervisor Scott Wiener, 12X prohibited city-funded employee travel to four "banned states" with anti-LGBTQ laws and prohibited contracting with companies headquartered in those states.

12X's Banned State List has since expanded to include states with restrictive abortion and voting rights laws. All with the same underlying theory of change: progressive jurisdictions would come together to pool our political and economic power to stand up to bigotry. San Francisco alone may not be able to change the political calculus of an entire state or region, but together progressive cities and states could put the necessary pressure on radical right-wing governments to make them think twice before denying rights to those within their own borders.

But that coalition never materialized. No other cities or jurisdictions have come along for the ride to enact boycotts as sweeping as San Francisco's, though the state of California does have a banned travel list for states with anti-LGBTQ laws, it does not include contracting. Meanwhile, no states with restrictive anti-LGBTQ rights, voting rights, or reproductive choice laws have cited the city's travel and contract bans as motivation for reforming them. (Massachusetts was removed from the list in 2021 after changing its laws restricting abortion access.)

Fast-forward to today and San Francisco now officially boycotts 30 U.S. states — more than half the country! Yet the only documented evidence of the policy's impact isn't the success we've had changing discriminatory laws elsewhere but rather a growing record of bad outcomes here in San Francisco. Namely: rising contracting costs and needless barriers to engagement with the exact communities we want to support.

An analysis I requested from the board's budget and legislative analyst estimated that limiting free and open competition for contracts increases the costs of those contracts by as much as 20%. San Francisco taxpayers are paying tens of millions of dollars or more each year when procuring everything from computers to furniture to the materials and contractors for major capital construction projects.

Other unintended consequences are equally troubling: San Francisco's Human Rights Commission has had to navigate a complicated waiver process to allow visits to historically black colleges and universities and civil rights landmarks in the Deep South. Our Office of Economic and Workforce Development can't send representatives to trade conferences that would help recruit businesses and drive tourism to San Francisco. Recently, a local disaster response coordinator wouldn't authorize a constituent's lease for emergency housing after being displaced by a fire because the leasing company for the new apartment was headquartered in a banned state.

None of this makes sense. These outcomes are not good for San Francisco, and they're not helping vulnerable people in the banned states.

That's why I recently introduced a complete repeal of Chapter 12X. I am grateful that Wiener, now a state senator, has signed on in support of my reform. Some may argue that repealing this boycott is a retreat from San Francisco's values, but sometimes the most progressive thing policymakers can do is to admit that a well-intentioned law has not succeeded and that it's time to try something different.

Some have argued that repealing 12X means San Francisco is waving the white flag on the fight for equality. I think that's nonsense. But I also firmly believe that the best thing San Francisco can do for progressive politics nationally is to demonstrate that a great progressive city like San Francisco can govern itself effectively. Repealing 12X is one step toward rationalizing an inefficient and overly complicated contracting system very much in need of reform.

Rafael Mandelman, a gay man, represents District 8 on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

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