Austin might follow the example of cities such as New York and Atlanta in banning city employees from nonessential travel to and business with North Carolina and Mississippi, after those states passed controversial legislation affecting gay or transgender people.
North Carolina’s law, enacted in March, says transgender people may only use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender at birth, while Mississippi’s law allows individuals, government workers and businesses to deny services to people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender based on their own religious views.
These laws have prompted significant backlash from cities, companies, entertainers and tourists who have decided not to visit either state until those regulations are rescinded.
This past week, Austin’s Human Rights Commission endorsed a resolution that recommended Austin join 17 other cities in boycotting those states. Ultimately it would be the City Council’s decision whether to do so.
The resolution “asks the Austin City Council to boycott both Mississippi and North Carolina by banning official travel to and business with these states, except in cases where the public health and safety are concerned” until the laws are changed.
The advisory board’s recommendation also said that if the City Council approves the resolution, Mayor Steve Adler should write a letter encouraging the NBA to move the 2017 All-Star Game away from Charlotte, N.C.
“What these states have passed is not what this city is about,” said Human Rights Commission member Paula Buls, who co-sponsored the resolution. She added that if similar state legislation is passed in Texas, Austin’s own ordinances protecting its LGBT community would be affected, such as the gender-neutral bathroom ordinance that went into effect in January 2015.
Austin took a similar step in 2010 to show its opposition to another state’s laws. Austin passed a resolution ceasing all city government-related travel to Arizona in response to state legislation there that expanded that law enforcement powers to detain people suspected of being in the United States without authorization. In the year before that travel ban went into effect, Austin sent 48 employees from six departments on various business trips to Arizona, at a total cost of $47,908.
Austin officials didn’t have similar figures available last week for the amount of city travel to or business with Mississippi and North Carolina.
Austin’s travel ban to Arizona is still in place, city spokesman Bryce Bencivengo said. Even so, Council Member Ellen Troxclair went to Arizona for a conference last fall.
Troxclair, who wasn’t in office when a previous council approved the Arizona travel ban, said nobody told her about it when she booked the trip. When she looked at the resolution upon her return, she didn’t think it applied to City Council members.
“The resolution is specifically addressed to the city manager and those who report to him, which we don’t. We’re very separate entities,” Troxclair said.
Human Rights Commission member Garry Brown, who co-sponsored the latest resolution, said that he would support keeping such a ban until the controversial laws in Mississippi and North Carolina are repealed.