Credit: Rain Mazumder / Mustang News

In 2016, California passed Assembly Bill 1887 to take action against anti-LGBTQ+ laws being passed by other states. The bill accomplished two items: first, it prohibited state agencies from requiring employees to travel to states with discriminatory laws against LGBTQ+ groups; second, it prohibited the use of state funds for travel. 

This bill is still in effect today and applies to all state agencies, including government employees like professors and public institutions — such as the CSU system. At Cal Poly, both faculty and students have been impacted by this bill, as it impacts teaching, learning and academic opportunities. 

Currently, AB 1887 bars state-sponsored travel to 23 states, including Texas, Florida and Indiana. At the start of the bill’s enactment in 2016, only four states were on the no-travel list — Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee — but over time the ban has widened to include nearly half of all states. 

Organizations like the ACLU of Northern California and Equality California have applauded California’s efforts to “denounce [discriminatory] actions publicly and financially.” Similarly, professors at Cal Poly are appreciative of the bill’s intentions and stance. 

“California is making a statement that they are not going to support states with discriminatory laws against LGBTQ+ populations,” psychology & child development professor and Director of the Honors Program Jasna Jovanovic said. “I think most of us are very supportive of what the ban stands for.” 

Like Jovanovic, other faculty members are in favor of the ban, but have been barred from traveling as a result. As the Honors Program Director, Jovanovic hoped to attend the National Collegiate Honors Council Conference in both 2021 and 2022, but it was held in Florida and Texas, respectively, which are both banned states. 

Effect on Professors

Communication studies professors Vincent Meserko and Megan Lambertz-Berndt have been unable to attend the National Communication Association Conference (NCA) since 2020. Large professional conferences, like the NCA, are scheduled years in advance and cannot change locations in accordance with California’s ban.

“Attending conferences gives me the privilege of learning from other scholars in the field, presenting my research to my academic community, and networking with others,”  Lambertz-Berndt said. “After attending a conference, I often take what I gained back to the classroom at Cal Poly.”

Withholding state funds from educators impacts their teaching, as conferences are a source of new ideas for professors and their students. Conferences also create community and allow attendees to form connections that could develop into research collaborations, according to Lambertz-Berndt. 

“One of the things that suffers when you’re not able to travel to conferences, besides presenting your research to others and getting feedback on it, is missing the camaraderie of being surrounded by people in your discipline studying the same types of issues you’re studying,” Meserko said. “Conferences are energizing and spark your intellectual curiosity, so you lose out on a lot of these aspects.” 

For tenure-track professors, presenting research at conferences, building a network and establishing their academic record are important landmarks in the tenure process. When faculty members are reviewed, they are also evaluated on their teaching and research, both of which are impacted by this ban. 

Like many others, Lambertz-Berndt is “in a less supported position financially to attend a conference as an associate professor than [she] was almost ten years ago as a graduate student,” which she thinks “says something.”

If professors are unable to use state funds to present their research and fulfill their tenure track requirements, then this can be a setback in their careers. To counter this, the communication studies department prioritized sending their first-year tenure track professors to conferences by using discretionary funds. These funds are left to the department to allocate for a variety of purposes, but when used for conference travel, it detracts from other potential important uses.

“If you are a professor in the College of Liberal Arts, we all are allocated $1,500 a year to support our professional travel, but those are all state funds, so we haven’t been able to use those,” Jovanovic said. “But if faculty have federal funds or foundation funds to travel, then they can still go to other states.”

There is also an appeals process to acquire state funds, which entails advocating with the Dean’s office about the importance and necessity of attending a conference. In her experience with the appeals process, Lambertz-Berndt said she was denied state funding after making her case to the dean. 

Apart from department funds, professors can apply for federal grants, foundation funds and other private grants. However, these alternatives can be highly competitive and create additional work for faculty. Especially since California is a large state, many educators are seeking out the same funds.  

In the case that professors cannot obtain funding, many may choose to present research virtually. For example, Meserko recorded his research presentation and submitted it to the NCA conference.

“I think it would be better if we did more things online,” Jovanovic said. “The amount of travel people do, and what it does for our environment” is an important consideration, and “we need to make more decisions that [support] the things we believe in.”

Effect on Students

Alongside faculty, students equally feel the effects of the ban as clubs, athletics, research and other areas are impacted. 

While athletics adhere to all the travel ban restrictions, many teams use non-state funds to travel out-of-state. According to the university’s travel policy, if a team has other sources of funding, they can be approved by the Vice President or Provost for travel. 

For example, Director of Athletics Don Oberhelman wrote in an email to Mustang News that the wrestling team was able to travel to NCAA National Championships in Oklahoma because “the NCAA pays for this travel rather than the state or the university.” 

But not all sports or club teams may have access to non-state funds for travel and must either fundraise, seek sponsorships or forfeit going to certain tournaments. 

Other student activities such as the Cal Poly Debate Team have faced issues with participating in competitions and retaining their partnerships across other schools as a result. 

“We had these wonderful partnerships developed with Morehouse, a historically Black college, to do debates with them,” Debate team Co-Director John Patrick said. “We had established relationships with Vanderbilt in Tennessee and the University of Miami.” 

“When we couldn’t debate with Morehouse and these other schools, we were like “well what do we do now?”’ Communication studies senior and debate team member Brenden Jacoby added. 

While other schools still continue to interact with peers across the nation, Cal Poly’s Debate Team is limited in their ability to engage with others and reach wider audiences.

“If the state of California wants us to insert our better opinions on nefarious ideas, not only are we not allowed to be in those spaces, but we’re not going to get the opportunity to gain those skills and to later on in our life be in those spaces,” Jacoby said. 

This has led to a shift in online debate tournaments, though students feel a disconnect with their peers, competitors and judges within virtual settings. Advocating for issues within rounds, receiving feedback from judges and networking with industry professionals is arguably more difficult to do in a zoom breakout room. The inability to attend in person competitions also hinders students’ achievements and professional advancement, according to Patrick.  

“Individual students who have worked hard to get good at something, so that they can make a name for themselves and then transfer that name into a professional setting once they graduate, aren’t afforded the same opportunities now,” Patrick said. “People work hard so that they can get into the CSU and have options in life, so then for California to shut down some of those options is shortsighted.”

Yet, the debate team is in a unique position since they are an Instructionally Related Activity (IRA), as opposed to a club, and receive funding through student fees. This gives them more room in their budget to cushion extra costs like flying out competitors from restricted states.  

“I can probably figure out how to go to Tennessee, Atlanta, and Miami by hosting an event first and offering to fly out all of their teams here and then getting them to reciprocate by flying us there,” Patrick said. “But to do things that way actually opens the door to less accountable travel practices and more opportunities for grift and corruption.”

This also raises questions as to whether or not the ban is effective at curbing travel if many student activities and athletics are utilizing alternative means to attend out-of-state events. 

For some students, the personal choice to dissent against banned states outweighs potential professional benefits. Club officers from the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) left it up to their members to decide if they wanted to attend last year’s national conference, WE22, in Texas. 

“The national conference is the largest networking opportunity for women engineers,” mechanical engineering sophomore and DEI assistant for SWE Grace Linderman said. “We have corporate sponsors and people who will pay for us to go to these conferences, so it’s not necessarily about the money, but [about] the moral implications of the team traveling to a certain state.” 

When choosing to travel, members are weighing professional benefits against personal ethics. As a result, many club members decided not to attend last year’s Texas conference, including SWE’s own president and secretary.  

“When I’ve talked to people from the club, it’s been very clear that we all feel that it’s backwards of SWE national to hold conferences in places where all of their members aren’t supported,” Linderman said. “Especially since the whole purpose of the society is to advance underrepresented groups in STEM.” 

This has sparked a need for change, and efforts for greater inclusivity are being initiated within the club. Linderman is currently working on a letter to send to SWE’s national organization, detailing the harmful effects of holding conferences in banned states. Their letter calls on the organization to make amends, and hopes to receive at least 50 signatures from other students in SWE across the nation. 

“Having to choose between professional success and the moral implications of traveling to banned states is an unfair position to be in, and it should not have had to come to these individual decisions,” Linderman wrote. Read the full letter here

Reflections and Future Direction

Sentiments surrounding the ban are shaped by its effectiveness and its principled intentions to oppose LGBTQ+ discrimination. Some question the ban’s effectiveness as it was implemented to place pressure on states with anti-LGBTQ+ laws, yet the number of banned states has only grown.  

“This ban is ultimately counterproductive because a lot of these researchers are presenting about supporting LGBTQ+ rights and they can’t actually do it in places that are severely restricting them,” Meserko said. “Another issue is that this could set a precedent, where a conservative state could say we’re going to ban state funds to travel to states like California.” 

Less research limits critical social justice research, which can be key in changing the status quo and ending policies that enable discrimination. 

“A part of me feels proud to reside in a state that is taking an effort to show support of communities (including my own LGBTQIA+), yet it feels like the effort is not well placed,” Lambertz-Berndt said.

As current political discourse heads towards repealing AB 1887, California legislators look to replace the ban “with an advertising campaign [to] promote acceptance and inclusion for the LGBTQ community.” To learn more about AB 1887 and the full list of banned travel states, visit