By MICHAEL HILL and DAVID KLEPPER Associated Press
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Opposition lawmakers urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday to reconsider his ban on New York state-funded travel to North Carolina, so a group of state college swimmers and divers won’t have to stay in neighboring Virginia during an upcoming NCAA championship meet.
The Democratic governor signed the ban on nonessential state-funded travel to North Carolina after lawmakers there voided a Charlotte ordinance that would have enabled transgender people to use restrooms aligned with their gender identity.
The ban means that the 13 swimmers and divers who qualified for this month’s Division III championship in Greensboro, North Carolina, would have to travel more than an hour from a hotel in Virginia to the competition site.
The ten athletes from the State University of New York at Geneseo, two from the College at Brockport and one from SUNY Cortland could be put at a competitive disadvantage, according to Republican lawmakers who called for the Democratic governor to rescind the 2016 executive order.
“It’s incredibly unfair,” said Republican state Sen. Patrick Gallivan of Erie County, who said it would be wrong of Cuomo to “make a political statement on the backs and lives of these student-athletes.”
Several cities and U.S. states had imposed similar restrictions on publicly funded travel to North Carolina after the passage of that state’s law. The law was replaced in 2017, but some state and city travel bans persisted amid complaints that the new law continued to bar local governments from passing nondiscrimination ordinances until December 2020.
The NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference moved some championship events out of the state in response to the law. And this is not the first time New York athletes have been directly affected. In 2016, the University at Albany men’s basketball team cancelled a trip south to play Duke.
But the current case prompted lawmakers in Albany to weigh in.
Still, Cuomo is not backing down, according to Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to the governor.
“In New York, we do not support blatant discrimination, bigotry and bias,” Azzopardi wrote in a statement emailed to reporters. “Standing up for equality is not a fad and as long as this anti-LGBTQ law remains in effect, New York tax dollars are not going to be spent there.”
Officials at Geneseo and Brockport said their students will be ready to compete and expressed their support for the ban.
A few public university teams in states with travel bans have devised a legal workaround by paying for trips with revenue generated through ticket sales, donations and sponsorships rather than direct state funding.
An online GoFundMe fundraiser to help the Geneseo team to stay in North Carolina has raised more than $5,000 since Tuesday. The organizer of the fundraiser said Thursday he’s talking with school officials about accepting the lodging money for the team.
“They want to go and represent the State University of New York system in a positive light, and commuting over an hour really isn’t going to help them do that,” said Clint Sugnet, a 2009 Geneseo graduate who was on the swim team.
Cuomo issued similar bans on state-funded travel to Indiana in 2015 and Mississippi in 2016 over laws in those states that critics said would allow businesses to discriminate against gays, lesbians and transgender people. The ban on travel to Indiana was later dropped after lawmakers there revised the law. The ban on travel to Mississippi stands.