Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, Utah's first openly gay mayor of a major city, has issued an executive order banning city-sponsored travel to Mississippi or North Carolina in protest of those states' recent legislation striking down or gutting anti-discrimination laws.
"Salt Lake City embraces diversity, and we recognize our success as a community depends on inclusion and protection for everyone," Biskupski said. "Our nation and our local community have come too far to allow our progress to be undermined by desperate laws that seem designed only to limit opportunity and access for certain individuals."
The travel prohibition is in effect until further notice and permits travel only when it is "necessary for the enforcement of Salt Lake City law, to meet prior contractual obligations or for the protection of public health, safety, and welfare," the city said in a prepared statement.
City Hall spokesman Matthew Rojas said he is unaware of any planned travel to North Carolina or Mississippi.
However, Biskupski has asked all city departments to audit all upcoming travel to make sure. Any planned travel to those states will be stopped, except for any that already has been paid for. Travel that has been pre-paid will not be canceled.
North Carolina enacted a state law barring municipalities from passing anti-discrimination ordinances that include protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. It also requires transgender people to use public restrooms corresponding to the gender listed on their birth certificates. Mississippi, meanwhile, approved legislation allowing businesses to cite religious beliefs to deny service to LGBT patrons.
Several cities and states have banned government-funded travel to the two states by way of protest, and a question was raised by Washington, D.C.-based Metro Weekly about Salt Lake City after Biskupski recently was honored as a "trailblazer" during the National Center for Lesbian Rights' annual Palm Springs Garden Party in California, where she told the group that mayors need to take on a bigger role in defending civil rights.
"I have to lead change," she said, according to KHOU, a Houston-based news station. "I have to do the work, and I have to set an example. I have to make sure we are moving in the right direction as a city."
"We all have religious freedom. We live in America," KHOU quoted Biskupski. "People using that to oppress groups of people are desperate. They are desperate to somehow be better than everyone else, and, in the end, it will not last. We will all eventually be treated equally."
Salt Lake City passed its anti-discrimination ordinance in 2009, and Utah last year adopted a statewide law prohibiting discrimination in employment and housing. That measure passed with the support of the predominant Mormon church.
In addition to Biskupski's travel ban, the mayor and City Council issued a joint statement urging businesses and individuals concerned about the North Carolina and Mississippi laws to consider moving their companies to Utah.
"Fairness and equality are more than political footballs to be tossed around when politicians put politics over their humanity," said City Council Chairman James Rogers. "We as a city and a council have taken actions over the years to make the capital city a welcoming beacon for all."
The open letter signed by the mayor and all seven council members pointed to the support of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other faiths in approving anti-discrimination legislation as proof "that equality for LGBTQ people and religious liberty are not mutually exclusive principles."
Biskupski said the open letter urging businesses to consider relocating to Salt Lake City will be published online, promoted to businesses in Mississippi and North Carolina, and sent directly to targeted corporations, including PayPal, which have threatened to pull planned business from the states.
Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, who sponsored Utah's 2015 law that prohibited workplace and housing discrimination against gay and lesbian Utahns, said he supports the mayor's executive action.
"One of the great things about America is states are free to take different pathways, different approaches to issues," he said. "What Utah has done regarding inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in our nondiscrimination laws makes us a better state than many others and does gives us a competitive advantage."
Urquhart said he is baffled states are even going down the road of passing restrictive laws.
"It gives some politicians a boost in their base, but it certainly doesn't do the state any good," he said. "There's absolutely no upside other than in people's political calculations, and usually governments at least have some motivation beyond just raw political aspiration."
Robert Gehrke and Christopher Smart contributed to this story