Fayette County

Mayor Jim Gray asks California to exempt Lexington from travel ban

Mayor Jim Gray at a news conference on June 27, 2017.
Mayor Jim Gray at a news conference on June 27, 2017. ecox@herald-leader.com

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray asked California’s attorney general Tuesday to exempt Kentucky’s second-largest city from The Golden State’s ban on state-funded travel to places with laws that it deems discriminatory against gay and transgender people.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced last week that California was restricting state employees from traveling to Kentucky, Alabama, Texas and South Dakota. “We will not spend taxpayer dollars in states that discriminate,” Becerra said. California already banned state-funded travel to Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee.

On Monday, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer wrote Becerra a letter asking that Louisville be exempted from the state’s travel ban, citing its long history as a welcoming city that has local ordinances and programs that protect the rights of gay and transgender people.

Gray, who is openly gay, followed Fischer’s lead on Tuesday. Gray wrote in his letter that Lexington was one of the first cities in the South to pass a fairness ordinance in 1999. That ordinance bans discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation.

“Our city realizes that inclusive and welcoming values translate into good business and economic prosperity,” Gray wrote in the letter that was also signed by Commerce Lexington CEO Robert Quick and VisitLex President Mary Quinn Ramer.

Josh Mers, chairman of Lexington Fairness, applauded Fischer and Gray for their statements affirming Lexington and Louisville as fair and welcoming to all people.

“Lexington Fairness joins Mayor Gray in saying here, in Lexington, we not only encourage but openly welcome everyone and especially LGBT Californians to come see that fairness is a value held by our city,” Mers wrote.

Tania Mercado, a spokeswoman for Becerra, said the office plans to respond to both mayors’ requests soon.

It’s not clear how many of California’s state workers come to Kentucky for conferences or how much money Kentucky could lose as a result of the travel ban.

California’s legislature last year voted to restrict state-funded travel to states with laws that allow businesses to deny services to gay and transgender people.

The California Department of Justice said Kentucky’s SB 17, which lawmakers approved earlier this year, allows student-run organizations in schools to discriminate against classmates.

LGBTQ groups began raising concerns in March about a provision in the law that makes clear student religious groups can determine rules for membership.

In particular, the law says local boards of education must ensure that “no recognized religious or political student organization is hindered or discriminated against in the ordering of its internal affairs, selection of leaders and members, defining of doctrines and principles, and resolving of organizational disputes in the furtherance of its mission, or in its determination that only persons committed to its mission should conduct these activities.”

Unlike Gray and Fischer, Gov. Matt Bevin’s office reacted with disdain to California’s decision.

“It is fascinating that the very same West Coast liberals who rail against the president’s executive order, that protects our nation from foreign terrorists, have now contrived their own travel ban aimed at punishing states who don’t fall in lockstep with their far-left political ideology,” Woody Maglinger, Bevin’s press secretary, said Friday in a written statement.

It remains unclear if the sports teams of California’s public universities are covered by the ban. If they are, several Kentucky events could be affected.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall