Berkeley City Council adopts item to place sanctions on states deemed to discriminate against LGBTQ community

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Francesca Ledsema/File

At its regular Tuesday meeting, Berkeley City Council unanimously adopted an item that places sanctions on states such as North Carolina and Mississippi deemed to have legislation that discriminates against the LGBTQ community.

The item discourages the creation of new contracts with companies headquartered in North Carolina or Mississippi and urges the city manager to consider discontinuing existing contracts with companies based in these states.

Additionally, the item bans city-funded travel to any state that enacts potentially discriminatory laws regarding LGBTQ individuals.

In March, North Carolina passed a law stipulating that individuals must use restrooms that correspond to their biological sex rather than to their self-identified gender. Additionally, the law invalidates a local ordinance in Charlotte that prohibits discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation.

Similarly, Mississippi passed a bill in April that allows businesses to refuse service to LGBTQ individuals on the basis of religious freedom.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who proposed the item, stressed that by targeting corporations, the city of Berkeley could help economically pressure states to change potentially discriminatory legislation.

“It’s more powerful to use their own business people to lobby them,” Worthington said. “They’re going to listen to their own businesses more than they listen to us.”

According to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko, an analysis determining how much the city spends on funding travel to such states or how many contracts the city has with corporations headquartered there is underway. On the city agenda, however, the item’s financial implications were determined to be “minimal.”

Eugene Bardach, campus professor emeritus of public policy, expressed that while he believed the item could “conceivably” economically damage corporations headquartered in these states, he questioned the morality of that damage.

“The firms have not obviously done anything wrong,” Bardach said in an email. “They just happen to be located in a state whose policies aren’t what we might wish. So what’s the justification for hurting them?  None.”

The item’s passage emerges amid City Council’s history of boycotts and divestment. In the 1980s, Berkeley was one of the first cities that divested from South Africa during apartheid.

More recently, Berkeley became the first city in the nation to divest funds from 200 fossil fuel-producing companies in July 2013.

“I think it’s important for cities and counties to take a stand,” Worthington said. “And just one city by itself doesn’t really mean all that much financially, but the combination of many different cities taking part could fuel change.”

Additionally, with the adoption of the item, the council supported an assembly bill that would prohibit state-funded travel to other states deemed to have legislation that discriminates against the LGBTQ community.

Jessica Lynn is the lead city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jessicailynn.