Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 42 / 19 October 2017
 

Online Extra: Political Notes: SF, Oakland lift Indiana travel bans

NEWS


m.bajko@ebar.com

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, left, and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, shown here at a KQED interview earlier this year, are reevaluating bans on city-funded to travel to Indiana in the wake of revisions to the anti-gay law. photo: Courtesy KQED
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In a joint statement issued Tuesday morning, the mayors of San Francisco and Oakland, along with those in Portland and Seattle, lifted their bans on city-funded travel to Indiana following the passage last week of a revised "religious freedom" bill by Hoosier lawmakers.

The April 7 announcement comes four days after the Bay Area Reporter reported that the Bay Area mayors were re-examining the bans they imposed.

"While not perfect, the changes made to Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act represent a step in the right direction," stated San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. "While I believe strongly that Indiana, like many states around the country, must still add more protections to prevent discrimination against its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, I have decided to lift San Francisco's restrictions on publicly-funded city employee travel to the state of Indiana with the hope and expectation that progress on civil rights for all Americans will continue."

Lee added that he also applauds "cities like Indianapolis, which have taken these steps at the local level, and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, who has been a consistent champion for equality during this whole debate."

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf stated that after reviewing the changes made to Indiana's law, she was directing the Oakland city administrator to resume the normal review of requests for city-funded travel to the Hoosier State.

"We have a duty to speak out and act against discrimination wherever and whenever it occurs because the erosion of anyone's civil rights is a threat to us all," stated Schaaf. "While there is much more to be done nationally and at the state and local levels to provide equal protection under the law for all, I am encouraged by Indiana's decision to clarify its law so that it cannot be used to deny members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities access to services."

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who is gay, called on lawmakers in Indiana to pass comprehensive anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBT Hoosiers.

"While the most egregious parts of the law were changed, LGBT people still face a tough reality in Indiana and in many other places throughout the country," stated Murray. "Indiana needs a comprehensive civil rights law like Washington's, which protects people from discrimination regardless of who they are or who they love."

The decision by the four mayors comes the same day as Santa Clara County supervisors take up a generic measure that would call for banning county-funded travel to any state that passes so-called "religious freedom" bills that allow for discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. As the B.A.R. reported Friday, a plan to call for an Indiana-specific ban was dropped last week due to the revisions made to the Indiana law.

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee rescinded his ban on state-funded travel to Indiana Friday due to the changes made to the law. Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton announced he no longer would purpose such a ban for his state.

Also Friday, the Minneapolis City Council dropped its proposed travel ban in a resolution it passed and instead called on Indiana and 27 other states that do not already ban LGBT discrimination in public accommodations to pass such protections.

In late March Lee was the first public official to announce a travel ban for government employees to the Hoosier State after Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed into law a state bill known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It allowed Indiana residents and business owners to claim religious beliefs to legally discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Reaction to the law was swift, with politicians and business leaders from across the country denouncing Indiana lawmakers for adopting the anti-gay legislation. Some LGBT advocates, such as gay actor George Takei, called for a boycott of the state, while executives of a number of companies with Indiana-based offices announced they were canceling expansion projects in the state.

Following Lee's lead, Schaaf announced Tuesday, March 31 that she had directed the Oakland city administrator not to approve the use of city dollars for business travel to Indiana. She also asked the Oakland City Council to pass a resolution that would ban city-paid business travel to Indiana citywide.

"As mayor of Oakland, I join with jurisdictions, private citizens, businesses and other entities around the world in denouncing the state of Indiana's action and will continue to direct the city administrator to deny the use of city dollars for travel to Indiana as long as this discriminatory law remains in effect," stated Schaaf.

Two days later Indiana officials did just that, at the direction of Pence, to clarify that the legislation does not authorize discrimination against LGBT people. While LGBT advocates hailed the move, they also called on Indiana lawmakers to do more to protect the rights of their LGBT constituents by adopting LGBT-specific anti-discrimination measures.

As the Human Rights Campaign explained in a statement following passage of the revised Indiana law, the legislation can't be used to override city-based LGBT anti-discrimination statutes. The national LGBT rights group also pointed out that restaurants, landlords, and "private, secular employers" all could no longer cite their personal religion as the reason that they fired or refused to hire an LGBT person.

But according to HRC, a private pharmacist could still cite their personal religious beliefs as the reason for denying a legitimate prescription to an LGBT person seeking HIV medication, hormone therapy, or to a lesbian couple seeking fertility drugs.

And a parent could still sue an individual teacher for intervening when their child harasses another child that is perceived to be LGBT, according to the HRC analysis of the revised Indiana law.

Therefore, LGBT advocates continue to call upon Hoosier lawmakers to adopt straightforward bills that would ban all LGBT-based discrimination in the state.

"This bill reduces the threat but is far less than this situation requires. It recognizes there are problems, but does not fix it as LGBT Hoosiers and others urgently need," stated Jennifer C. Pizer, the national director of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund's Law and Policy Project. "Now that there's broad public understanding that gay and transgender people in much of Indiana are terribly vulnerable to arbitrary discrimination by businesses, refusal of housing, and being fired just for being who they are – and even Gov. Pence has agreed that that is wrong – that unacceptable situation requires a full solution."

Because of such calls for further action in Indiana, mayoral spokespeople for Lee and Schaaf told the Bay Area Reporter Friday that neither was ready to immediately rescind their travel bans to the state.

"Mayor Lee is encouraged by the Indiana Legislature's actions in response to the national outcry over the previous law, in part led by great SF companies like Salesforce and Yelp along with the city of SF," wrote spokesman Francis Tsang in an emailed response. "But we are still evaluating the changes to the law and will consult with LGBT organizations and private sector leaders before lifting the travel ban."

In response to a question from the B.A.R., Schaaf spokeswoman Erica Terry Derryck wrote in an email, "The mayor is evaluating the changes to the law. I'll get back to you to let you know if there is a change."

Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, a lesbian who serves in the Oakland City Council's at-large seat, and Councilman Larry Reid, who is the current president pro tem, had introduced a resolution Thursday in opposition not only to Indiana's law but also "all similar efforts to allow discrimination."

"As a city with some of the highest numbers of both lesbians, and churches, Oakland is a community that can help show the nation that we can all honor and respect one another," stated Kaplan. "I encourage businesses and organizations looking to come to a diverse and welcoming environment to consider Oakland for your business location and events."


A news release announcing the resolution said nothing of imposing a ban on city-paid travel to Indiana or any other state that implements anti-gay laws. Kaplan Chief of Staff Andre Jones did not immediately respond to the B.A.R.'s request for comment Friday.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is set to vote on a resolution at its April 7 meeting that gay Supervisors Scott Wiener and David Campos had introduced Tuesday that condemned the initial version of Indiana's law and calls on city departments and private businesses to end business relations with Indiana.

Asked about the status of the resolution by the B.A.R. Friday morning, Wiener said that he would be talking to Campos on if they should make any changes to it. The lawmakers could table the resolution, proceed as is, or make amendments to it.

"We haven't made a decision yet," said Wiener. "Obviously, the situation has changed. It seems like the new bill is definitely less problematic than the original bill. But we have to take a closer look at how we should be proceed."

A decision won't be made until Monday or Tuesday morning prior to the board meeting, said Wiener.

Gay Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager had called on his board colleagues to adopt a ban on county-funded travel to Indiana. But in an April 2 email to constituents explaining his proposal, Yeager stressed that if the Indiana Legislature fixed the law, then "Santa Clara County's ban would be rescinded."

In a phone interview Friday, Yeager said he planned to revise his resolution so that it no longer called out Indiana. Instead, he plans to amend it so that the county executive would be able to impose a ban on county-funded travel to any state that adopts anti-gay "religious freedom" legislation.

"There are still some states debating it, so we aren't quite sure what will happen," said Yeager. "Hopefully the backlash to Indiana's law has been strong enough, other states won't pass it again."

Yeager expects he will have the support of his fellow board members to pass his revised, more generic resolution when they take up his resolution during Tuesday's meeting.

"It is my hope that Santa Clara County will stand with the growing number of governments and businesses – including many progressive Silicon Valley companies –refusing to spend money supporting state-sanctioned discrimination," he said.

Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail mailto:m.bajko@ebar.com.




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