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North Carolina bathroom bill becomes issue for SUNY swimmers

New York's stand for LGBTQ bathroom rights in North Carolina is being felt by some SUNY student athletes.

The good news for the 13 swimmers and divers is that they qualified for the national Division III swimming and diving championships.

The bad news is the meet is in Greensboro, N.C., and New York bars unnecessary travel to the state. The athletes from three SUNY schools – Geneseo, Brockport and Cortland – are being allowed to attend the meet, but they cannot fly into or stay in hotels in North Carolina.

That means most will fly into Roanoke, Va., and stay in a hotel about an hour's drive from the aquatics center. They will have no place to rest each day between preliminaries in the morning and finals in the evening, unless they drive back to the hotel 50 miles away. The meet takes place March 20-23.

And that did not sit well with state Sen. Patrick Gallivan, R- Elma, when he heard about it. His district includes Geneseo.

"Besides being stupid, there's no doubt it puts them at a competitive disadvantage," he said.

Competition at this level is tight, and in an event like the 50-yard freestyle, the difference between first place and 20th place is fractions of a second.

Gallivan is calling on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to reconsider his executive order and allow the students to stay in North Carolina to fully participate in the event.

North Carolina passed the bill in 2016 that required people at government-operated facilities to use bathrooms that correspond to the gender on their birth certificate, which would not allow a transgender person to use the restroom of the gender he or she identifies and lives as.

After the bill passed, a number of companies said they would not do business in the state, other states banned travel to North Carolina, and the NCAA pulled its championships out of the state. A year later, the state legislature repealed the controversial bill, but it also prevented local governments from passing non-discrimination laws on bathroom access until 2020. The new bill has been challenged in court for discriminating against the LGBTQ community.

Cuomo's executive order bars publicly funded or publicly sponsored travel to North Carolina. SUNY schools do not foot the bill for attending the championships, but are reimbursed for airfare, hotels and food by the NCAA, according to Gallivan and one of the coaches.

But the governor is holding to the ban.

"In New York, we do not support blatant discrimination, bigotry and bias. 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," Richard Azzopardi, a senior adviser to the governor, said in an email.

Gallivan said the circumstances have changed since the executive order was put in place and the original bill was rescinded.

"Putting political interests above community interests is wrong," Gallivan said. "It's irresponsible and incredibly unfair."

SUNY Geneseo issued a statement supporting the ban.

"The members of SUNY Geneseo’s swimming and diving team are fierce competitors, and while the logistics of attending the meet will be challenging, the college supports the executive order that protects the rights of the transgender community. We have every expectation that with the perseverance and grit our team has demonstrated all season, our student-athletes will do well in the NCAA DIII national championship," the statement said.

A GoFundMe page, apparently started by an alumnus of the college, raised more than $5,000 "to secure the necessary funds to allow these athletes to stay within a reasonable distance to the championship venue," according to the page. It is not clear whether the money will be used to house the athletes in North Carolina.

Also supporting the ban is Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat and the only openly LGBT member of the Senate, who tweeted "North Carolina’s bathroom bill is as offensive and discriminatory now as it was in 2016. Grateful to @NYGovCuomo for standing up for LGBTQ+ New Yorkers, and not compromising on our state’s core values.”

News staff reporter Tom Precious contributed to this report.

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