March 31, 2015 at 5:25 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Bowser bans D.C. government travel to Indiana

Muriel Bowser, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on March 31, 2015, issued an executive order banning D.C. government travel to Indiana over the state’s controversial religious freedom law. (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Tuesday issued an executive order banning the use of city funds for travel to Indiana in response to the state’s approval of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics say will allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT people.

Bowser’s action follows similar executive orders issued by the mayors of Seattle and San Francisco and the governor of Connecticut.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday also banned “non-essential state travel” to Indiana.

“To ensure a constant voice in policy and practice in the District of Columbia in favor of equal treatment for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, no officer or employee of the District of Columbia is authorized to approve any official travel to Indiana,” Bowser’s order states.

It goes on to say that the travel ban for Indiana would remain in effect “until such time that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is permanently enjoined, repealed or clarified to forbid any construction that would deny public accommodations to persons based on their sexuality or gender identity.”

The orders by Bowser and the two other mayors and Connecticut governor have come at a time when prominent leaders in the business world as well as leaders in the realm of the arts and mainline civil rights organizations have condemned the Indiana law as a license to discriminate in the name of religious freedom.

LGBT rights attorneys have said the law would likely authorize businesses, including landlords, to discriminate against LGBT people by allowing them to cite their religious beliefs as grounds for denying them services.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), who signed the religious freedom measure into law last week, strongly disputes claims that it will lead to discrimination, saying critics have a misunderstanding of the law’s intent and scope. However, he was working this week with the Indiana Legislature to make changes in the current wording of law to “clarify” that its aim is not to sanction discrimination.

“I think the mayor is completely correct in doing this,” said Earl Fowlkes, executive director of the national LGBT advocacy group Center for Black Justice and president of the city’s Gertrude Stein Democratic Club.

“I think it’s important that the rest of the United States sends a clear message to Indiana that state sanctioned discrimination is immoral and illegal,” Fowlkes said.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, called Bowser’s executive order “a principled stand on behalf of equality and justice, and we’re grateful.”

“The chorus of voices grows and with every passing moment becomes something that Governor Pence and Indiana legislators can’t ignore,” Sainz told the Washington Blade.

Bowser’s executive order came one day after D.C. City Council member David Grosso (I-At-Large) released a statement urging the mayor to issue such an order.

“Our government should not support any jurisdiction that displays such bigotry, and the mayor should ban all publicly financed travel to Indiana and stand firmly without LGBTQ public servants and residents,” he said.

In a development that one high-level Bowser administration official said appeared to be purely coincidental, news has surfaced that D.C.’s first elected attorney general, Karl Racine, was in Indiana this week attending a national conference of state attorneys general.

Under a recent change in the city’s election law approved in a voter referendum, the Office of the D.C. Attorney General is independent from the Office of the Mayor and the City Council.

During his election campaign last year Racine expressed strong support for LGBT rights, including marriage equality.

Rob Marus, a spokesperson for Racine, told the Blade on Tuesday that Racine chose to hold to a commitment he made two months ago to appear and speak before a conference of the National Association of Attorneys General in Indianapolis this week.

Marus said Racine was preparing to release a statement late Tuesday explaining that he decided to use his appearance at the conference to push for congressional voting rights for D.C. and to reiterate his longstanding commitment to LGBT equality. The statement was also expected to address the Indiana religious freedom law, Marus said.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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