jimkenney
Photo: Ilana Wurman / The Daily Pennsylvanian

Following the passage of anti-LGBT legislation last month in Mississippi and North Carolina, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said city employees would be banned from traveling to those states on official business until the laws are repealed.

A month later, the laws in Mississippi and North Carolina as well as the city’s travel ban are still in force. Kenney extended the order to two additional states for similar reasons.

Kenney — who took office as mayor on Jan. 4 — first announced a ban on all non-essential city-funded travel by Philadelphia officials to these states on Apr. 20 in response to the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act in Mississippi and the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, commonly called “HB2,” in North Carolina.

The Mississippi law allows businesses to refuse service to LGBT customers for religious reasons, while the North Carolina law, which includes a clause requiring transgender individuals to use bathrooms consistent with the gender listed on their birth certificates, eliminates many anti-discrimination protections for LGBT individuals.

“By issuing a non-essential travel ban to those states, we take a stand against bigotry and prejudice happening in those states, and in cities and states nationwide,” Kenney said in a press release on Apr. 21. “I will continue to actively welcome any and all people, businesses, organizations and events who no longer feel welcome in their state because of these discriminatory laws.”

The mayor said in a statement issued to all city employees that he would reconsider the travel ban if or when North Carolina and Mississippi repealed the discriminatory laws. Essential travel for public health or safety reasons is still permitted if it is pre-approved by the Philadelphia Managing Director’s Office.

Three weeks later, on May 9, Kenney extended the travel ban to the state of Tennessee following the passage of Senate Bill 1556, which allows mental health professionals to reject LGBT individuals as clients. The ban has also been extended to the city of Oxford, Ala., where transgender individuals can face jail time for using a bathroom that does not correspond to their biological sex.

The mayoral administration “will continue to stand up with and for LGBT people by using everything within our jurisdictional power to send the message that hate and discrimination against people for who they are or who they love is intolerable,” the city’s LGBT Affairs Director Helen Fitzpatrick told the Chattanooga Times Free Press on May 10.

Fitzpatrick previously stated that the mayor’s travel ban was not meant to punish either the people of these states or their legislatures.

“[We are] using every method we can to communicate to the legislators charged with representing them that this biased, un-American legislation must go,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement.

Kenney’s decision has been part of a concerted advocacy effort as mayor against discrimination targeting Philadelphia’s LGBT community. He recently supported Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf’s anti-discrimination executive orders and posted “I believe in Jesus, and I love your suit! Keep being yourself,” on Facebook to a lesbian student in Pennsylvania who was kicked out of her high school prom for wearing a suit.

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