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UCLA will play at Oklahoma despite state travel ban for LGBTQ rights

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State A.G. should either ban sports travel to Oklahoma or stop making these hollow threats.

Arizona State v UCLA
Legislators in Sacramento, of course, won’t top the UCLA football team from traveling anywhere it wants.
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has again issued a toothless edict forbidding state travel to a state he claims is dangerous for LGBTQ people. This time it’s Oklahoma, the state that hosts the Women’s College World Series and where the UCLA softball team — with an openly gay coach and out gay administrators — lost Sunday in what was effectively the sports’ Final Four.

Shocker: Becerra is in the middle of a re-election campaign.

No doubt, Oklahoma’s state policies are not remotely LGBTQ-inclusive. While the cities of Norman, Oklahoma City and Tulsa have non-discrimination ordinances that protect sexual orientation and/or gender identity, the state does not. The timing of the new California policy is retaliation for a horrific adoption bill that Oklahoma has put into law, as Oklahoma has had problematic laws for years.

There’s good reason for California to put pressure on a state like Oklahoma to rethink its policies. Yet the weak resolution from Sacramento won’t remotely do any of that.

While seemingly noble, the California policy might be worth something if it had any teeth to it. Instead, state legislators carve out exemptions and are playing a politics-based financial shell game to make high-profile state-funded travel still possible to these banned states — which now include Texas, North Carolina, Tennessee and Oklahoma.

Of course the highest-profile travel most state governments do on a regular basis is that by state colleges’ and universities’ sports teams to play in athletic competitions. This is where lawmakers could actually make a real statement, by making sure UCLA, Cal and other state schools don’t travel to, say, the Univ. of Oklahoma to participate in competitions.

Because travel ban is actually a bunch of political nonsense, lawmakers allow these teams to travel to the banned states anyway, twisting themselves in knots to explain the ridiculous exemptions that free athletics departments to do whatever they please.

Case in point. In 2017 the state had an active ban on travel to the state of Tennessee. When the UCLA men’s basketball team was appointed to a Sweet Sixteen location in Tennessee, they were allowed to participate despite state funds helping cover the cost of their participation in the “banned” state.

This time around is no different. The UCLA football team will travel to the Univ. of Oklahoma to play a game on Sept. 8. No one in Sacramento is going to stop anyone from UCLA going to Oklahoma or any other state they choose. And any time a Cal State or Univ. of California team qualifies for the World Series — like the UCLA softball team this year — it will be full-steam ahead.

Even if the state did stop the teams from going, the host schools would simply fill the spot with another team, costing the offending state zero.

The travel ban has had absolutely no effect, as the first eight states added to the ban haven’t repealed any of the laws Becerra finds objectionable.

It’s unfortunate that politicians in California, like Becerra, have turned LGBTQ rights and sports into political footballs, particularly in an election year. They should either make the policy black-and-white and build a substantial narrative with truly banned travel to these states, or stop with the nonsense, repeal these laws, and work in substantial ways to end bigotry across California, where it continues to persist.