"Cancelled due to legislative hate and stupidity"
April 27, 2016 11:11 AM   Subscribe

As a conference organizer, what are ways to prepare for the possibility that the state where the event will be held may pass a "bathroom bill"?

I am part of a group helping to plan a professional conference to be held in the southeast US in 2017. As matters of principle and attendee safety, both for the organizers and the folks likely to attend the event, if the state legislature were to pass an anti-trans bill along the lines of North Carolina's HB2, we would move or cancel the event.

What are ways to prepare for that possibility? For example, is it possible to get an event cancellation insurance policy that would cover legislative action that leads to a boycott? What about hotel and venue cancellation clauses? The event attracts about 400 to 500 attendees, but the vast majority of its funding will be from attendee registration fees and sponsorships; there's no big sum of money to fall back on.
posted by metaquarry to Law & Government (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I am in an organization that faces this issue regularly as we are always planning our conferences. Really, the only safe thing is to plan on going to a state that doesn't have a crazy legislature. We haven't planned anything in places like the Carolinas, Mississippi, Alabama, or Arizona for years. Safe bets would include states like those in the Northeast, Illinois, Ohio, California, New Mexico, Washington, etc. In general blue/purple states are the way to go.
posted by bearwife at 11:19 AM on April 27, 2016 [10 favorites]

Absolutely, you can request this clause in your contracts with hotels and vendors. Perhaps if would encourage folks who wouldn't otherwise write their legislative bodies to get in touch with the representatives.

Now, making this request doesn't mean it will be included in your contract. You'd also have to word closely because if just passing the law is enough to cause cancellation, the contract would need to say that.

feel free to also get in touch with the county commission and any city officials to let them know you are looking forward to having your event in their area, but that if the law changes you will back out, and that you will advertise that backing out on social media. Remind them that their communities will suffer tangibly from such laws.
posted by bilabial at 11:22 AM on April 27, 2016 [8 favorites]

Hotel and venue cancellation clauses are usually baked into the contract and related to the schedule of fee payment. No penalty if cancelling at X days before, 10% penalty at Y days, etc. The event planning business in general is extremely queer-friendly (and highly populated by queer men especially) so you miiiiiiiight have a decent chance at someone being sympathetic and helping you write that into the contract. I strongly suggest, if you don't have one already, hiring a professional event planner (look for someone with a CMP designation) to handle a lot of the details. It's easy to get tripped up, and when you're dealing with hundreds of people you want to make sure you nail everything down.

W/r/t sponsors, you'd want to be 100% sure ahead of time that they are 100% onboard. For sponsorship contracts you definitely want someone with experience handling the negotiation and contracting. A lawyer would also be a good idea.

I can connect you with a friend who freelances and is certified, if needed. No idea about her rates--memail me if you want to be put in touch.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:22 AM on April 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

Safe bets would include states like those in the Northeast, Illinois, Ohio, California, New Mexico, Washington, etc.

Indeed. Las Vegas is pretty much purpose-built for conferences; Reno/Tahoe provides similar. You could also consider urban "islands" such as Austin, Texas; Memphis, TN; New Orleans, LA, etc.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:46 AM on April 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

You could also consider urban "islands" such as Austin, Texas; Memphis, TN; New Orleans, LA, etc.

Except that state laws -- the ones passed by North Carolina and, less recently, Indiana -- are often designed to supersede local civil rights ordinances. Fortunately, various business interests prevailed here in Indiana to get he so-called "religious freedom" bill amended, but there's no guarantee that a friendly urban island would be unaffected by these awful laws and much reason to believe they would.

I'd go with a non-crazy state -- and I'd still make it clear, in social media and elsewhere, that your choice of venue is strongly influenced by whether your attendees perceive the state as a welcoming space.
posted by Gelatin at 12:52 PM on April 27, 2016 [7 favorites]

(Though New Orleans does seem to be a reasonably safe choice; its new governor is a Democrat, who is unlikely to sign any hateful legislation into law.)
posted by Gelatin at 12:54 PM on April 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Indeed. Las Vegas is pretty much purpose-built for conferences; Reno/Tahoe provides similar. You could also consider urban "islands" such as Austin, Texas; Memphis, TN; New Orleans, LA, etc.

I can tell you that I, as a state employee in a blue state, I am specifically not allowed to attend any conference in a state that has passed such a law. It doesn't matter whether said event happens in a 'liberal island' of said state. So that is not going to save you. Just avoid red states completely if you want to be sure that everyone can attend.
posted by overhauser at 1:48 PM on April 27, 2016 [7 favorites]

Consider Washington if you can; every city of decent size has good convention facilities, the surroundings are spectacular, and the blue-leaning population in the Puget Sound region outnumbers the red population of the rest of the state. Our legislature can't even fund schools properly, so a bathroom bill probably wouldn't make it out of committee.
posted by lhauser at 2:06 PM on April 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Conferences in Washington nearly maximize the amount of travel for a US-national conference. Holding events all over the country means people, especially small-institution or early-career people, are likelier to go. And if the state they're in is getting threatening, that seems even more valuable.

The specific insurance rider sounds like *such* a great idea, and so useful to many -- Bruce Springsteen, for instance -- that I would write one of the national LGBTQ organizations and suggest cooperation in making it a Thing.
posted by clew at 3:00 PM on April 27, 2016

You can certainly write it into your contracts; however, if you need to execute that clause it will leave you without a venue for your conference. If you decided to cancel the conference after attendees had paid their fees how would you handle refunds?

Advice to go to Vegas or similar is sound. Many airports have direct flights, and there are hotel/food options at every price point. Your conference may be better served by staying away from states considering this type of legislation entirely.
posted by 26.2 at 3:49 PM on April 27, 2016

I believe the Joint Math Meetings were pulled out of Colorado in the early 90s following anti-gay legislation. That's a much bigger ship to turn around, though I'm not sure how much lead time they had (assuming I'm remembering correctly and they did pull the JMM). You might try tracking down your local mathematician over the age of 45 (in the hopes they know how to figure out who was organising) or so or talking to the AMS, MAA or SIAM.

In any case, this is a problem that people have dealt with before. It's just a matter of finding them.

(I think people here are woefully underestimating how enthusiastic people can be about beating up on trans people--the "northeast" is hardly a guarantee of safety. A Democratic state legislature will help, but there are some pretty dumb Democrats out there. Hilariously, because the Texas legislature meets for as little time as possible, careful scrutiny of the calendar might mean that you could get the conference in before they can possibly pass legislation. That's also not a serious suggestion. I'm just amused that running out of time killed their legislation for two years.)
posted by hoyland at 4:27 PM on April 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

« Older Transport options in LA without a car--cabs, Uber...   |   This plant is in our yard. It's probably a weed.... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.