Long Beach joined a host of other cities throughout the country that voted to restrict city employee non-essential travel to North Carolina and Mississippi in the wake of the two states passing discriminatory legislation aimed at their LGBT communities.
The unanimous vote came at the prodding of the city’s human relations commission, which cited recent issues involving either the discrimination of transgender people in Long Beach, or in one case, the beating of a transgender woman in March, for pressing the council to enact the ban.
In a letter to the council, the commission said the move was imperative to “reinforce the notion that all members in our community are deserving of respect and dignity.” The letter also called for a signed letter from the council and Mayor Robert Garcia to be circulated to the governors of every state announcing the city’s stance and travel ban. Garcia, the city’s first openly gay mayor, was not present for the meeting due to a scheduled vacation.
The commission was previously chaired by Second District Councilwoman-elect Jeannine Pearce. Her predecessor, Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal took the opportunity to voice support for banning non-essential travel to those states as a means of taking a meaningful stand and showing the city’s commitment to sustaining a tolerant community.
"We cannot keep hating and murdering each other because we do no agree with whom they are," Lowenthal said. "We must continue to act out in a way that’s positive, and I believe that banning non-essential travel to North Carolina and Mississippi until they repeal their respective bills is our logical next step."
The bills in question, HB-2 in North Carolina and HB-1523 in Mississippi, have gained national notoriety for their potential impact on the LGBT communities they impact. The North Carolina Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, better known as the "bathroom bill," places limitations on which restrooms individuals can use based on the gender reflected on their birth certificates.
The Mississippi bill allows for religious objections to serve as a basis for denying services to same-sex couples and allows for employers to craft workplace policies surrounding grooming, dress code and locker and restroom access for their employees.
Both have yielded similar travel bans from municipalities across the US, and the North Carolina bill even had the Obama Administration flirting with the idea of denying federal funds to the state. The Tarheel State has also suffered from concert cancellations and PayPal pulling out of plans from opening a regional operating center in North Carolina.
While it's not immediately clear exactly how often Long Beach officials travel to either state, the symbolism was important to those in attendance, who felt it necessary for the city to take the step of banning travel to both states. Porter Gilberg, the executive director of the Long Beach LGBTQ Center, said the laws reflect a deeper issue that LGBTQ people are not worth of the same protections as others. Passing the ban, he said, would reinforce the idea that the city stands behind its own LGBTQ residents.
“These laws have a very national impact, even if they were enacted at the state level, and by enacting a non-essential travel ban, you are sending a message that Long Beach refuses to stand in, in the face of discrimination, silently,” Gilberg said. “You’re standing with our LGBTQ community here in Long Beach and you’re standing with the LGBTQ community in the rest of the United States.”
Gilberg pointed out that part of that national impact has been the proliferation of violence toward transgender people using restrooms getting questioned or attacked in the wake of the passage of the "bathroom bill." Just last month, a Utah man was beaten in Walmart restroom by a man who was upset that he had brought his five-year-old daughter into the men’s restroom and in Connecticut, a 22-year-old woman was harassed for washing her hands in the women’s restroom after being mistaken for a man.
Alexandra Billings, an actress and assistant professor of theater at Cal State Long Beach, testified to the kind of violence that transgender people can be subjected to. The 54-year-old Billings, who transitioned in 1980, said she has been hit, beaten and raped at gun point since the transition.
"I’m not really sure where some of these states think I’ve been going to the bathroom for the past 30 years but it has been in women’s restrooms," Billings said. "I’ve also changed my clothes, been in locker rooms for a very, very long time and nothing terrible has ever happened. However, terrible things have happened to me because of what I am."
She said the vote was less about travel and more about the elected officials standing in solidarity with a community, one that is marginalized and needs the same kind of support that other marginalized communities in this country received in their fight for equality.
"For me it’s a lot less about banning travel and more about me feeling you’re behind the revolution," Billings said. "So, I ask you to be behind our movement, our revolution."