Mayor Greg Fischer | Courtesy of Metro Government

Mayor Greg Fischer has asked the attorney general of California to exempt Louisville from the state’s new ban on publicly funded travel to Kentucky, arguing that the city deserves a waiver because it is inclusive and does not discriminate against the LGBT community.

Last week, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced that Kentucky was one of several states to be banned from official state-funded travel due to laws that he said discriminated agaisnt LGBT people. He specifically cited Senate Bill 17 — passed into law by the Kentucky General Assembly this year and going into effect this week — which “could allow student-run organizations in colleges and K-12 schools to discriminate against classmates based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

In Fischer’s letter to Becerra, dated Sunday, he thanks the California attorney general for speaking to him the day before “about our dilemma in Louisville” resulting from the travel ban, repeating his case that “Louisville is a forward looking, inclusive city that has scored a perfect 100 on the Human Rights Committee scorecard for two years in a row.”

“Please consider exempting cities like Louisville from your travel ban,” wrote Fischer. “It is my belief that cities like ours should be rewarded for inclusive behavior, not penalized; a waiver would highlight our inclusivity and encourage other cities to follow accordingly.”

Fischer added Becerra should let him know “if there is anything I can help with in Louisville or Kentucky” to rectify the situation.

The California ban would apply to any state-funded travel by any agency, department, board, authority or commission of the state or state universities within Kentucky, thus depriving Louisville of any hotel or retail revenue generated from such visits, which would include college sports teams visiting for away games or NCAA tournaments.

Louisville has banned discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity since 1999, the first city in Kentucky to do so.

“Louisville is inclusive and open to all,” wrote Fischer. “We model our city on those values. Additionally, to be a city that grows jobs and economic competitiveness, the global economy demands communities that are welcoming and compassionate.”

Senate Bill 17 was intended by its sponsor — Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London — as a way to protect freedom of religious expression to public schools and colleges, inspired by a controversy in which school officials altered the language in a performance “A Charlie Brown Christmas” to remove religious references. Responding to Becerra’s action, Robinson said there was nothing discriminatory about the bill and he was “highly disappointed that the man would be so stupid.”

As with most bills with a stated intent to protect religious freedom, SB 17 passed both chambers of the General Assembly overwhelmingly — 81-8 in the House and 31-3 in the Senate. Six of those in the House and two of those in the Senate to vote against the bill were from Louisville.

ACLU of Kentucky spokeswoman Amber Duke tells IL that they and the Fairness Campaign had testified against SB 17 when it was before the legislature and “warned of potential harms to LGBT Kentuckians, as well potential harms to people of color and women.” She adds that California’s travel ban “represents an unforeseen consequence of passing potentially discriminatory legislation,” and “should serve as a warning to members of the General Assembly that passing discriminatory legislation not only takes a human toll, but can also have significant financial consequences for the commonwealth’s economy.”

California has also announced state-funded bans on travel to Alabama, Texas and South Dakota due to laws that restrict adoption for LGBT couples, in addition to Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

Spokespersons for Gov. Matt Bevin have not replied to an email seeking the administration’s response to the travel ban.

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]