Toni Atkins
Sen. Atkins celebrates 2021 Pride at the state capitol. Photo via @SenToniAtkins Twitter

Senate President Toni Atkins introduced legislation Wednesday that would lift California’s travel ban to anti-LGBTQ+ states and replace it with 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 build bridges to unite and unify communities, according to the senator’s office.

“When I was a teenager growing up in rural Virginia, the idea of being accepted as a lesbian was a foreign concept,” Pro Tem Atkins said. “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,” Atkins said.

“At a time when LGBTQ+ rights and protections are being rescinded, and the very words we use are being weaponized, putting understanding and kindness at the forefront is more important than ever,” she said. “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 — 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.

The shift in direction would help further position California as a national leader of inclusivity and support those who have been isolated by state-sponsored discrimination elsewhere, according to the senator’s office.

Atkins, the first woman and first openly gay state Senate leader, has long championed civil rights, gender equity and the LGBTQ+ community.