California, which had been banning state-funded and state-sponsored travel since 2016 to states with laws discriminating against LGBTQ+ people, has repealed that travel prohibition. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed State Senate Bill 447, which not only repeals the ban but also creates Project Bridge — a public awareness initiative to promote throughout the country California’s values of acceptance and inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community.
"In the face of a rising tide of anti-LGBTQ+ hate, this measure helps California’s message of acceptance, equality and hope reach the places where it is most needed,” said Gov. Newsom. "I thank Pro Tem Atkins for authoring this important measure that enables California to continue taking a stand for the rights of LGBTQ+ people throughout the country, and combating intolerance and hate with empathy and allyship."
State Assembly Bill 1887, the measure behind the travel ban, had expanded since its inception seven years ago to include nearly half the country — listing 24 states that were removed from consideration for any state-funded travel, barring a handful of exceptions.
How effective are travel bans?
The debate surrounding state travel bans has intensified across the country in recent months, driven by controversial legislation in several states and its ramifications for the LGBTQ+, Black and immigrant communities, as well as reproductive freedom and health-care issues. Officials in Florida point to multimillion-dollar losses after organizations pulled their events from the state due to such legislation.
But others in the travel and meetings industry have sought alternatives to boycotts and travel bans. SocialOffset, for instance, is a platform that helps organizations create campaigns for social change and benefits for local charities when they're traveling to a state with legislation that doesn't align with their core values.
California's change of direction is "huge news" for the meetings industry, noted Elena Gerstmann, PhD, FASAE, CAE, cofounder, president and CEO of SocialOffset. "I applaud California for making this tough and complicated decision," she said. "They took this brave step after realizing their 2016 ban wasn't working as intended. Their recent decision fits perfectly with the philosophy behind SocialOffset — that we can't ignore states with laws we disagree with. Instead, we need to reach out to communities in these states that do share our values. We need to stand with them and raise money on their behalf so they can fight for these values."
California is fully advocating for that approach with this new legislation. "Today, we are sending a message to the rest of the nation: Here in California, we embrace one another, not in spite of our differences, but because of them," said the bill's author, California Senate President pro tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego). "And we are ready to reach across the aisle, and across state lines, to help open hearts and minds, and support our LGBTQ+ youth and communities who are feeling so alone.
"There’s so much hate, so much hurt, so much harm being inflicted on people who are just trying to live their authentic lives," continued Atkins. "The Bridge Project is a chance to counter that with kindness and empathy, and I’m grateful to Gov. Newsom for swiftly signing this bill into law, and to my colleagues in both parties who voted for it. We will be the bridge to a more understanding and compassionate nation."
Jack Johnson, chief advocacy officer for Destinations International, also applauded the new bill. "The repeal is great news," he said. "While the original legislation was well intentioned, it failed to achieve its goal and perhaps drove people further apart — and hurt California state employees by curtailing their professional development by prohibiting attendance at meetings in 24 states. It is a classic example of why travel bans rarely, if ever, truly work. Keeping people from meeting and connecting is a counterproductive strategy."
The bill took effect upon Newsom signing it, meaning government-funded travel from California to previously prohibited states may now be booked.