Dear Fellow AAAR Members,
I write this letter to report on our conference planning activities for 2017. In 2013, AAAR made a decision to hold the 2017 Annual Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, at the Raleigh Convention Center. In March of 2016, the North Carolina legislature passed House Bill 2 (HB2), and the governor of the state signed it into law. One element of the law eliminates anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the state, and another element requires that people use public restrooms based upon their gender at birth. In April, the governor backpedaled, putting some anti-discrimination protections back in place, but standing firm on the restrooms part of the legislation. In early May, lawsuits were filed on each side by the US Department of Justice and the North Carolina governor and leaders of the state legislature, ensuring that there would not be a quick resolution to this situation.
The AAAR Executive Committee began to discuss this concern by email and teleconference in early May, deciding that we should discuss this with the entire AAAR Board of Directors, and at the same time, investigate the city of Raleigh’s position on HB2 as well as the possibility of moving the meeting to another location. On June 14th, the AAAR Board discussed this in depth by teleconference.
Factors in support of staying in Raleigh are AAAR’s purpose as an organization, the positions taken by the city of Raleigh and the Raleigh Convention Center to welcome all people to their city, the large number of AAAR members in North Carolina, and the financial losses that would be incurred should AAAR relocate the conference. AAAR’s purpose, as stated in our Bylaws, is to advance the discipline, and to “facilitate the exchange of information among its members and other disciplines” and the organization is explicitly prohibited from advocacy. Factors in support of a move are the state of North Carolina’s overtly discriminatory position, which can be argued limits AAAR’s ability to facilitate the information exchange if we hold our meetings in locations where LGBT members may not feel welcome, where members may not feel welcome if any member of AAAR is experiencing discrimination, or where members may be prohibited from traveling by their employers. After careful review of information provided by the city of Raleigh and the Raleigh Convention Center (see raleighconvention.com for their statement, with a link to the Raleigh City Council’s statement against HB2), as well as the financial impact associated with relocating the conference from a venue where we have already signed contracts with non-refundable deposits, the Board voted to remain in Raleigh for 2017. This was by no means an easy decision, and it was not a unanimous decision.
In a less polarized political environment, one could envision that the state of North Carolina might rescind HB2 prior to our conference. However, there is a strong possibility that this will be a long fight. Should HB2 remain in place in 2017, the position of the Board is that AAAR respects personal decisions made by members whether or not to attend the conference. We, as individuals, are charged to advocate for what we believe in. As decided by the Board in 2014, the 2020 Annual Conference is scheduled to return to Raleigh. Should HB2 remain in place, we will include an open discussion at the AAAR Business Meeting at this year’s Annual Conference in Portland about whether this location makes sense for the organization going forward, given the “facilitate the exchange of information among its members” part of our purpose.
This experience has given me the opportunity to reflect upon the value and meaning of our Annual Conference professionally and personally. The exchange of information happens during the technical sessions, on the breaks, over dinner at the end of the day, and even at the airport heading home, and I look forward to it as a highlight of my year. That said, I look forward to seeing you in Portland in October!
Sheryl Ehrman, AAAR President