Senate Leader Atkins Announces BRIDGE Project to Lift Travel Ban, Create Marketing Program to Encourage Acceptance of LBGTQ+ Community
SACRAMENTO – With legislative attacks on the LGBTQ+ community and youth worsening in recent years nationwide, Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego) is introducing legislation that would lift California’s travel ban to other states and create in its place a program to encourage acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community.
SB 447 would create a donation-driven fund that could be used to create inclusive messaging, discourage discrimination, and help members of the LGBTQ+ community feel less isolated. Called the BRIDGE Project – Building and Reinforcing Inclusive, Diverse, Gender-Supportive Equality – the legislation would help California champion compassion and help build bridges to unite and unify communities.
“When I was a teenager growing up in rural Virginia, the idea of being accepted as a lesbian was a foreign concept. Times have changed, but for so many in the LGBTQ+ community, the feelings of isolation and fear remain. Lifting the travel ban and putting a program in its place that would infuse inclusive, non-partisan messages in other states is a way that California can help build a bridge of inclusion and acceptance,” said Pro Tem Atkins. “At a time when LGBTQ+ rights and protections are being rescinded, and the very words we use are being weaponized, putting understanding and kindness at the forefront is more important than ever. The goal here is to speak to people’s hearts and open minds. That’s a pursuit that would have made teen Toni – that southwestern Virginia girl afraid to be herself back then – so proud.”
California’s current law on the matter – AB 1887 – restricts state agencies, departments, boards, and commissions from using taxpayer funds to travel to states that have adopted discriminatory anti-LGBTQ+ laws. Currently, the law is applicable to 23 states.
While the law originally sent a clear, early, and effective message that California would not engage with states that allow discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, a new approach is needed for California to have a positive impact. As the years have passed, the travel ban has had the unintended impact of further isolating members of the LGBTQ+ community in those states, and hampering Californians from being able to conduct research, business, and engage with all people from those states. Examples include California’s public university systems experiencing challenges with being able to conduct academic research on LGBTQ+ or other equity issues in some of the very places where that work is most needed and jeopardizing opportunities for intercollegiate athletes to compete in games that could determine postseason eligibility.
The shift in direction also will help further position California as a national leader of inclusivity and beacon of hope and support for those who have been isolated by state-sponsored discrimination elsewhere.
This year alone, an unprecedented 434 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country to date, targeting a host of issues, including civil rights, healthcare, schools, and free speech, according to an interactive report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
In 2022, state legislatures around the country introduced 315 anti-equality bills, 29 of which were signed into law, according to a report by the Human Rights Campaign. Much of those discriminatory efforts were focused on LGBTQ+ youth, especially transgender and non-binary youth. According to the 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health by The Trevor Project, 42 percent of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, and 94 percent reported that recent politics negatively impacted their mental health.
Contrasting rollbacks at the national level, the California Legislature has passed hundreds of bills and resolutions to advance LGBTQ+ rights and protections. This year alone, more than a dozen bills covering a host of issues related to the LGBTQ+ community have been introduced to date, along with several budget requests.
Pro Tem Atkins has long been a champion for civil rights, gender equity, and the LGBTQ+ community. She authored landmark legislation promoting equality for transgender Californians by ensuring they can have their true gender identification listed on driver’s licenses, birth certificates, and death certificates (2017, SB 179). Pro Tem Atkins also led the charge to expand HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention services (2017, SB 97), and secured funding for housing homeless LGBTQ+ youth. In partnership with the LGBTQ+ Legislative Caucus, Pro Tem Atkins worked to remove gendered language from our state laws (2012, AB 887). Last year, she authored SCA 10, the landmark constitutional amendment that enshrined the right to reproductive freedom in the California’s Constitution.
SB 447 will be in print Thursday.
Toni G. Atkins is President pro Tempore of the California Senate. Having previously served as Speaker of the California Assembly, she began her tenure in the Senate in 2016. As Senator for District 39, she represents the cities of San Diego, Coronado, Del Mar and Solana Beach. Website of President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins: www.senate.ca.gov/Atkins