Selecting a Student Affairs Conference Host City – Examining Ethics

Why are student affairs professionals outraged about NASPA’s 2016 conference location? And why aren’t they equally outraged about ACPA’s 2016 convention location?

Once the announcement of Indiana’s new law titled “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA); otherwise known as #SB101, was passed by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Mike Pence (R) on Thursday, March 26th, student affairs professionals across the nation stated their concern. The reason? One of the major student affairs professional organizations, NASPA, is set to host their 2016 conference in Indianapolis next March (as is the 2015 ASCA Gehring Institute; ACUHO-I and AFA have made statements as well).

There is valid concern that the RFRA is intended to allow businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals and the RFRA and political agenda of the state of Indiana is not congruent with the mission of student affairs. According to ThinkProgress, the RFRA  allows for “individuals who feel their religion has been burdened can find legal protection in the bill “regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding.” In fact, even the Republican legislators who wrote the bill intended it to be used to turn LGBTQ individuals away from businesses and adoption agencies[link].

Please recognize that the wording of the law allows for a local business, for example, to use RFRA as a DEFENSE of their refusal to service a party due to religious concern bu that it could still proceed legally. Josh Blackman’s blog has a helpful legal analysis and Matt Anderson’s blog really breaks it down why the IN law is more threatening than other states’ RFRA laws. President Clinton signed a federal RFRA (1993) but the difference with Indiana’s law is that the term “person” can be applied to larger entities like businesses. Additionally there are 19 other states that have passed their own version of the RFRA – including states the host many higher education conventions, like Florida and Texas [link].

It is interesting that, from what this author has been told and from her recollection, there was little debate about the location of ACPA’s (the other major SA professional organization) 2016 convention in Montréal, Québec, Canada. Sure, there was concern about the cost of affording a passport and travel to a world-class city, but little concern cited for trans* individuals and undocumented individuals.

Why should travel to Montréal be a concern?

To begin with, a passport is required for U.S.-bound individuals. There are a number of undocumented folks who attend ACPA conferences that may be unable to attend (although DACA folks may be able to). For folks identifying as trans*, it is very possible that their photo and assigned gender on their passport may not match up with their preferred gender and how their present themselves. This could lead to confusion and possible malice and harassment by officials who do not understand or even are transphobic; leading to delayed travel and possible ban on travel.

The Montreal Gazette has a section of “Transgender Issues” where current news stories are posted. There have been several violent physical attacks on gay and trans* individuals in recent weeks. Canada Parliament Members (PMs) are currently debating to pass Bill C-279 that would allow gender identity to fall under protected identities but are receiving incredible resistance from folks who ultimately “don’t want a biological male in the same bathroom as their daughters’.

According to the Montreal Gazette there are multiple systemic discrimination issues against trans* individuals, such as “Article 71 in the Civil Code stipulates that in order to alter their gender marker on legal documents, trans people must have undergone “medical treatments and surgical operations” which structurally modify “the sexual organs.” Other conditions include being at least 18 years old and Canadian citizenship” [link].

Yet there is very little outrage against ACPA and Montréal.

Now, I am an ACPA all the way! It is my professional home. Of course what I love about ACPA is it encourages questioning the establishment. Right now, it is questionable why the convention is located in Montréal, where trans* and undocumented folks have difficulty with access. I don’t believe this decision can be changed at this point, so I am not advocating for that, but we need to acknowledge that even if the NASPA 2016 Conference is in a state that actively discriminates against LBGTQ folks, the ACPA 2016 Convention is in a city that actively discriminates against trans* individuals and the location bars undocumented individuals from attending.

As someone I deeply admire (or to be blunt, I fangirl all about zir; GO FALCONS), put it on Twitter; Dr. Dafina Lazarus-Stewart noted how silent folks have been on ACPA compared to how they have been on NASPA and Indiana. And wow. Yes. Already there are multiple conversations going on about how NASPA should/should not pull out of Indianapolis for 2016. There are many conversations in the “Student Affairs Professionals” group [Link 1] [Link 2] [Link 3] and even a petition for NASPA to pull out of Indianapolis (with 496 signatures as of 3/28/15).

So why is there more silence around an issue that affects trans* individuals than there is around LGBTQ individuals?

Ignorance. Bias. Hatred.

The United States is ignorant on trans* issues – even media outlets don’t know how to cover them if they even opt to cover trans* stories. Typically LGBTQ issues in the news center on marriage equality – an issue that are important, yes! But also seen as more “fluffy”; many in the community do critique marriage equality activism as not radical enough and just a more palatable topic for white middle-class/wealthy LGB individuals that doesn’t challenge systems of power.

Historically trans* issues have been ignored. Worse, many people are taught through social systems like religion, family, school, and the media to hate and fear trans* individuals – whether it is a subconscious or conscious thought.

As individuals mostly residing in the United States, the collective ignorance and lack of concern of student affairs professionals for trans* individuals and their human rights is a predictable and verifiable outcome.

Question why you weren’t concerned about ACPA’s location.

Question why, if the news about Montréal is new to you, why you weren’t aware in the first place.

If you are cisgender (you identity with the sex you were assigned at birth), examine your privilege in all of this and educate yourself. I have and I am continuing to do so – because until the T*Circle  wrote an Open Letter to ACPA and I followed up with a friend I had no idea about any of the ACPA Montréal issues affecting my trans* colleagues.

And that is a problem.

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4 comments

  1. I really like this post. My professor went to ACPA this year and brought up the same exact points before NASPA occurred so I had both of them on my mind. None of the conference locations are really good or safe for anyone.

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  2. I think the issues about NASPA and ACPA 2016 conference locations are fundamentally different. ACPA chose Montreal out of a proactive attempt to be more inclusive of our international colleagues and in support of the association’s commitments to be a more globally-focused organization. NASPA didn’t foresee this issue when it picked Indy, but the issue became one they had to respond to.

    What concerns me the most about the criticism regard ACPA’s selection of Montreal is that the criticism continues to come from a place of privilege as a US citizen, transgender or not. Where were these arguments about border crossing problems all these other years when international colleagues have had difficulty acquiring a passport or visa to attend a conference in the US? And what about our transgender international colleagues who have likely experienced the same difficulties in the past that are described now for US transgender citizens who anticipate trouble crossing into and back from Canada? If we’re truly concerned about unjust border crossing matters, we should be concerned about them even when the conference is in the US.

    Please don’t take my comments to mean that I am unconcerned about passport problems for our transgender members…just raising the point that these are not new issues for our members. They occur most years no matter where the conference is held, and to only now raise the concern smacks of US centrism for which both associations are frequently criticized. I can tell you that most of the Canadian colleagues I’ve talked with about Montreal are ecstatic that ACPA is going to be in their country next year as it not only makes their travel much easier but tells them that ACPA is trying to be attentive to its commitment to be an international association.

    My guess is that NASPA will likely stay in Indy given the “clarifications” the legislature made to their law, and I’m thankful they added their pressure to the criticism about it.

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