Portland to cut off city travel to states with ‘discriminatory’ laws against LGBTQ

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling (BDN photo by Troy R. Bennett)

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling (BDN photo by Troy R. Bennett)

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling and all eight other members of the City Council announced Thursday afternoon they are introducing a resolution that would restrict nearly all city-funded travel to states with what Portland considers “discriminatory legislation against the LGBTQ community,” like Mississippi and North Carolina.

Mississippi and North Carolina have come under fire in recent weeks for passing laws allowing businesses to refuse service to gay or lesbian customers for religious reasons. The measures have been decried as discriminatory by many, but defended as protecting religious freedoms by their supporters.

Although the Portland council will not officially vote on the resolution until its April 25 meeting, the fact that all members are introducing it together means the vote is a formality.

Specifically, according to a Thursday announcement:

“The resolution requests and recommends that the city manager not expend public funds on non-essential city travel to any state with a law in effect that affirmatively sanctions or requires discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. The resolution does not include essential city employee travel that may be necessary for the enforcement of an ordinance, to meet contractual obligations, or for the protection of public health, safety or welfare.”

While it may seem like there’s a big loophole that might still allow city travel to those states, that language strikes me as legally necessary but descriptive of unlikely circumstnaces.

It’s hard to imagine many scenarios in which a city employee must go to Mississippi to enforce a Portland ordinance, for instance. In fact, Portland employees don’t often travel to Mississippi or North Carolina even for non-essential travel, which might be for things like conventions or professional workshops.

City spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said no travel to the states was planned for the near future, and nobody at City Hall can remember going to either place on the city dime in recent history, either.

So in that regard, it’s a largely ceremonial resolution. But it’s one Portland’s not alone in making, and is an important one given the city’s history.

Portland was the first place in Maine where a gay marriage took place in 2012, reopening City Hall at midnight on the first day they became legal after voters approved legalization. Two months later, the city was named one of the country’s top destinations for gay and lesbian tourists by the publication Travel + Leisure.

“Portland has a long and proud history of turning back discrimination and working to support the rights of all people,” said Strimling in a statement. “We adopted a Human Rights Ordinance back in 1992 to codify our resolve to enforce protections for all people regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. With this new resolution we remain steadfast in our commitment against discrimination, wherever it may occur.”

Boston and Cincinnati are among several other municipal governments nationwide taking such stances, and state governments in Vermont, Washington and New York have banned taxpayer-funded travel to Mississippi and North Carolina as well.

The government decisions also come amid a torrent of entertainment and private sector boycott declarations.

Musicians like Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr and Bryan Adams canceled concerts in the states in protest of the laws, while major employers like Deutsche Bank and PayPal have called off plans to build or expand there.

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.