Online Extra: Gays Across America: Anti-gay laws in South, Midwest come with a cost
by Seth Hemmelgarn
Several people in states that are the subject of California's ban on travel to states with anti-LGBT laws praise the new legislation but are expressing uncertainty about its potential impact. California has banned most taxpayer-funded travel to Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
The ban is the result of Assembly Bill 1887, which was authored by gay Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell), going into effect January 1. Low's legislation was in response to North Carolina lawmakers adopting in early 2016 House Bill 2, which restricts cities in the state from enacting local non-discrimination laws and requires transgender people to use public restrooms based on the gender they were assigned at birth. Newly sworn in Democratic Governor Roy Cooper has vowed to repeal the law, though an effort to rescind it just prior to Christmas failed.
Ben Graumann, a spokesman for Equality North Carolina, said California's ban "is going to make it harder for any businesses to recruit viable people."
The Golden State is "sending a very clear message by imposing a travel ban. That's not something handed out lightly," Graumann said, adding, "Obviously, we do not like any economic sanctions or any economic harm that happens to the state, but the fact is that HB 2 is a discriminatory law against the LGBTQ community," so it should be "North Carolina general assembly's number one priority to repeal this hateful law."
Kansas last year adopted a law allowing campus-based religious groups to discriminate against LGBT students. But Lyndon Sean Connell, 64, who was born in Kansas as intersex and identifies as male, supports the ban for another reason. His birth certificate lists him as female, and he hasn't been able to get it changed.
"I have been fighting the sate of Kansas for 50 years trying to get a correct birth certificate," said Connell, who's straight and hasn't lived in Kansas in over half a century and resides in Iowa City, Iowa.
He's sent documentation to his birth state to support the correction to his records there, to no avail.
"I think all of the states should put a travel ban on Kansas," Connell said. "Given the political climate, will that happen? Probably not." However, he said, "The only thing, in my opinion, that these political types understand, is in their wallet when they don't have enough money to run their state. That's the only thing that is going to get their attention. Of course, it hasn't worked exactly that way in North Carolina, but close."
Tennessee adopted a law last year allowing therapists and other mental health professionals to deny seeing LGBT patients and others for religious reasons.
Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, said of the ban, "It's California's money, and California can certainly do with it what it wants. My guess is it will not move the legislators that support discriminatory bills. The value of the travel ban is that it raises the economic impact issue again, but in terms of a cause-and-effect relationship with right wing legislators, I haven't seen that born out anywhere, so we'll have to see."
However, Sanders said, "It's always valuable when the issue is raised in the media, because that is an opportunity to reset the discussion."
Out Memphis Executive Director Will Batts said, "I think it's important that our legislators get the message that there are broader implications to these laws that they write, that we live in a multicultural, mobile, social media world, where people are always watching and we share information. It's not just Tennessee. It doesn't just affect Tennessee when they write things like this. It affects businesses that think about moving here, and travelers and tourists. They see us as less than friendly, less than safe. It's more than just intolerance. It's bad for business."
Batts continued, "Tolerance doesn't always get through" to lawmakers. "Dollars and cents, that message usually gets through to them."
He said, "Memphis is a relatively blue area in a really, really red state," and elected officials from the city are "fairly progressive, but we know we're a big minority." Tennessee Republicans have a "supermajority," with control of the governor's office and the state Legislature, he noted.
"You can fight, but when it comes to voting, there's not much the Democratic side can do. The only thing that slows that process down is when people shine a light on things," Batts said.
Mississippi allows for its residents and businesses to discriminate based on their religious beliefs. Staff at the LGBT advocacy group Unity Mississippi didn't respond to a request for comment.
With anti-LGBT legislation already pending in Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Texas, and West Virginia, it is likely more states could be added to the travel ban lists this year.
The online page regarding California's travel ban can be found at https://oag.ca.gov/ab1887.
San Francisco officials are expected to also ban non-essential travel to Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee, and possibly others, when its local travel ban goes into effect February 14, Valentine's Day. The city's ordinance also bans departments and agencies from entering into new contracts with businesses headquartered in the banned states.
US DOJ provides update on death in custody data
The U.S. Department of Justice recently gave an update on its data efforts including its plan for gathering data under the Death in Custody Reporting Act. It's also published a notice in the Federal Register on details of gathering information.
"I am incredibly proud of the work that this department has done, in collaboration with our state, local, tribal, and federal partners, to expand and improve data collection, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a December news release. "This work is vital. It will allow the nation to have a more informed and robust dialogue regarding use of force; it will improve transparency; and it will help to build stronger bonds of trust between law enforcement and the people we serve. The Department of Justice will continue to work alongside our partners to build on these efforts and to create a nationwide data collection system that is useful and meaningful for law enforcement and communities alike."
Spokespeople for the agency didn't respond to emailed questions about gathering data on LGBTs.
Go to the DOJ's report to Congress at https://www.justice.gov/ag/page/file/918846/download for more information.
Gays Across America is a column addressing LGBTQ issues nationwide. It will run Tuesdays, but is off next week for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Please submit comments or column ideas to Seth Hemmelgarn at (415) 875-9986 or firstname.lastname@example.org.