California Reconsiders Its Boycotts of States Over Their L.G.B.T.Q. Laws
Furious that North Carolina approved legislation to ban transgender people from using public bathrooms that aligned with their gender identity, Democratic leaders in San Francisco and the California State Capitol quickly moved in 2016 to ban their employees from traveling to states deemed hostile to L.G.B.T.Q. communities.
Seven years later, Republican-led states have moved well beyond bathrooms. Eleven states this year alone have prohibited medical treatment for gender transitions, known as gender-affirming care, and conservative lawmakers are widely proposing bills restricting transgender rights as they see opportunities to win voter support. States also have been battling hard over access to abortion ever since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.
With tensions rarely higher, it may seem counterintuitive for Democratic leaders in California to repeal their boycotts of Republican-led states. But San Francisco supervisors did just that on Tuesday, and state lawmakers are considering a similar move later this year.
They say the bans are having little impact — as shown by the flurry of transgender legislation being passed — and have mostly hurt their own government operations in California.
“Ultimately, the strategy did fail,” said Scott Wiener, a state senator who spearheaded San Francisco’s ban in 2016 when he served on the city’s board of supervisors. “Everyone is deeply concerned about what’s happening in more and more red states, and people want the most effective strategies for pushing back.”
On Tuesday, San Francisco — a bastion of gay and transgender inclusion — repealed its boycott, which had expanded to encompass 30 states that had passed laws targeting L.G.B.T.Q. rights or that had passed abortion restrictions or laws deemed to suppress voters. Unlike California’s ban, the city ordinance had gone beyond travel and prohibited business dealings with identified states.
San Francisco supervisors backing the repeal cited reports that found the ordinance was actually causing the government to run less efficiently and was costing the city as much as 10 percent to 20 percent more in contracting fees.
“It’s not achieving the goal we want to achieve,” Rafael Mandelman, the San Francisco supervisor who introduced the repeal, told his colleagues before the Tuesday vote. “We have incredible needs for vulnerable populations right here in San Francisco.”
In March, Toni Atkins, one of the state’s most powerful officials as leader of the California State Senate, announced that she was proposing a repeal of the state’s travel ban. Ms. Atkins supported the boycott in 2016 but said its benefits had become outweighed by its attendant headaches.
Academics with the University of California system have been unable to use state funding to conduct research in states subject to the ban. And college sports teams have had to raise private funds to travel to some games, though she said that may not be the most grave side effect of the ban.
It was significant that Ms. Atkins called for the repeal, considering her credentials as the first lesbian to serve as speaker of the State Assembly as well as the first openly L.G.B.T.Q. person to become State Senate leader. Likewise, Mr. Wiener and Mr. Mandelman are prominent L.G.B.T.Q. leaders.
In her state rollback proposal, Ms. Atkins included funding for ads and other outreach campaigns in states that otherwise would qualify for the ban.
“It is a new approach and a pivot, adding to what we should be doing to make sure that the values that we hold so dear here in California really are the beacon for those across the country,” she said in March. “As I came out as a member of the L.G.B.T.Q.-plus community and as a teen, those positive influences would have helped me.”
California’s travel ban has in recent years been criticized as wholly symbolic and counterproductive. The state boycott list has grown to 23 states determined by the California attorney general’s office to have passed discriminatory laws against L.G.B.T.Q. people.
The state rollback has the support of Equality California, a leading L.G.B.T.Q. rights organization, which co-sponsored the initial travel ban in 2016. Tony Hoang, the group’s executive director, said he has heard from families across the country who are fearful for their transgender children and that outreach campaigns could help them see that California will “welcome them with open arms.”
But some leaders in California said that lifting the bans could allow for harms to continue and that it was the wrong moment to reverse course.
“Understanding that states are now doubling down on their discriminatory laws and practices, I’m not comfortable with even giving an inclination that we are not fighting against these discriminatory laws and practices,” Shamann Walton, a San Francisco supervisor, told his colleagues on Tuesday as he voted in the minority to preserve the city’s boycott.
Evan Low, a Democratic member of the State Assembly who wrote the state’s 2016 travel ban, said he was working with Ms. Atkins on her repeal effort but has not decided whether he will support it. That is in large part because he said he was concerned that L.G.B.T.Q. state workers could be harassed or assaulted if they resume travel to certain states.
“How do you protect L.G.B.T. people?” he said. “And how do you, using the power of the purse, advocate fundamental rights for workers?”
Mr. Low said that in 2016, the state joined big corporations and organizations like the N.B.A. and the N.C.A.A., whose leaders threatened to pull major events and investments from North Carolina and other states over their “bathroom bills.” He said that companies have since moved away from economic threats and focused on outreach to minority communities, a path that California could follow.
The repeal proposed by Ms. Atkins would have to clear her chamber, as well as the State Assembly in which Mr. Low serves.
It would then have to be signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who has taken a particular interest in attacking his Republican counterparts over abortion and transgender legislation.
This month, Mr. Newsom used some of his leftover campaign funds to visit Florida, Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi — all states on the banned list — where he criticized leaders for their conservative policies. His office did not comment on the proposed repeal of the travel ban.