UCLA will face off against Kentucky this Friday in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. In doing so, they’ve already dealt a blow to the university's moral stance on LGBTQ rights.
That’s because the team will be playing in Memphis, TN—despite a California law that prohibits publicly funded travel to states with discriminatory laws targeting gay and transgender people.
As recently as December, a UCLA spokesperson told the Sacramento Bee that the university would not schedule games in the five states—North Carolina, Kansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee—covered by California’s travel ban. Tennessee made the list because the state passed a bill that allowed therapists to deny services to LGBTQ patients.
But earlier this year, UCLA decided that post-season play was acceptable, telling the Wichita Eagle that they wouldn’t deny their student-athletes “the right to participate in postseason play.”
Of course, it would be a blow to the students if they couldn't play in what might be the pinnacle of their athletic careers. But why make such overtures to the LGBTQ community in the first place if you're not willing to take a stand when it really matters—that is, when it would be the most visible?
The Sacramento Bee captured UCLA’s position perfectly:
On one hand, leaders from UC and California State University campuses have said they will not schedule games in states on the banned list. On the other, they have noted that they do not use public funds for certain athletic events, and they retain the choice of attending marquee events.
It should be noted that UCLA may not be using state funds to take their team to Tennessee, which would make the move perfectly legal. Still, it's telling that the university is all for taking a stand for the LGBTQ community—unless, you know, it's March Madness.
We've reached out to UCLA for comment. We'll update if we hear back.
A UCLA spokesperson sent the following statement about the controversy to Fusion:
AB 1887 [California's "religious freedom" travel ban] provides a number of exceptions where state-funded travel will be allowed to states that are otherwise on the attorney general’s list.
Additionally, AB 1887 does not prohibit all travel to states on the attorney general’s list. AB 1887 prohibits the use of state funds to pay for travel to a state on the attorney general’s list except where one of the statutory exceptions applies. It does not affect travel that is paid for or reimbursed using non-state funds. The UCLA Department of Intercollegiate Athletics does not receive any state funding.
With that said, UCLA and UCLA Athletics are fully committed to promoting and protecting equity, diversity and inclusion as set forth in the University's Principles of Community: http://www.ucla.edu/about/mission-and-values.
While AB 1887 allows for the fulfillment of contractual obligations incurred prior to the law's implementation - UCLA Athletics will honor its obligation in this regard - moving forward, the athletic department will not schedule future games in states that fail to meet the standards established by the new law.
Should the NCAA assign us to a tournament bracket in a state affected by AB 1887, as is currently the case with men's basketball being placed in the South Regional, we will not deny our student-athletes the right to participate in postseason play.
Not every UCLA student shares the university's view. I spoke to UCLA senior Eli Manzanero, the co-director of the campus group, Queer Alliance. Manzanero, who is non-gender binary and uses "they/them" pronouns, told me that, whatever the legal fine print, UCLA's decision carries symbolic weight.
"Despite the technicality, it’s still sending a message," Manzanero said. "It’s choosing to compromise by not honoring the boycott to the states that are not protecting queer and trans people, or are even oppressing them through their policies."
Manzanero admitted that they didn't watch college basketball, but said sports shouldn't be an excuse to compromise, particularly for a campus that views itself as progressive.
"That progressiveness is not enough for LGBTQ students," they said. "[Sports] has personal meaning to other people, but human rights will always trump any type of sports-related thing."