Normally, this would not be a genealogy-related story and I would ignore it. However, it became a genealogy story because the National Genealogical Society is planning to hold its annual conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, on May 10 to 13, 2017. Information about that conference is available on the NGS web site at: http://conference.ngsgenealogy.org.
Many companies and non-profits are canceling planned conferences, sporting events, and even business expansions in North Carolina because of the chilling effect of the state’s recently-passed HB2 or the “bathroom bill.” The bill discriminates against LGBTQ citizens and visitors to the state. (LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (and/or questioning) individuals/identities.)
According to this legislation, when you’re in a public building, be it a government agency, a public school, or any other public facility, the gender listed on your birth certificate is the only one that matters. Even those who have had a sex change operation must use the bathroom assigned to members of the sex shown on their birth certificates, not their actual sex today.
There is a lot of controversy over the bill. Companies and non-profits and individuals who believe in the rights of LGBTQ citizens are refusing to hold meetings or sporting events or to expand their businesses into the state. The result is getting the attention of North Carolina politicians and taxpayers: an article by Emma Grey Ellis in Wired lists the financial impact as compiled by North Carolina’s Republican leadership, the Center for American Progress, the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Greensboro Convention and Visitors Bureau, and other agencies. Ellis estimates the total cost to North Carolinians so far from HB2 protests is slightly more than $395 million.
You can read the article at https://goo.gl/AEuFL4.
As of this writing, the National Genealogical Society still plans to hold its conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, next May 10 to 13. The Society has issued a statement about holding the conference in North Carolina. The statement is available at http://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/pressroom/ngs_concern.
The statement says, “At this time, NGS has no plans to move or cancel the 2017 conference. We hope our members and friends will understand that planning a conference is a multi-year undertaking, involving many contractual commitments to other entities and individuals; we need to honor these commitments.”
It also ends with, “The Board respects the individual right of every NGS member to act as he or she deems proper with regard to the North Carolina law or to attending or speaking at the 2017 conference.”
A number of people in the genealogy community are planning to boycott the 2017 conference and are encouraging others to do the same because of North Carolina’s legalized discrimination. The most thoughtful and well-reasoned argument against attending that I have read is They Shoot Gays, Don’t They? On Genealogy and Diversity by Thomas MacEntee at http://www.geneabloggers.com/shoot-gays-dont-genealogy-diversity/.
I especially applaud Thomas’ statement, “I don’t hold it against anyone who does decide to participate in the NGS 2017 conference. I do, however, want everyone to be aware of the issues that are involved.”
If you are concerned with discrimination, or if you are wondering whether or not you should attend this conference, you might want to read Thomas MacEntee’s article at http://www.geneabloggers.com/shoot-gays-dont-genealogy-diversity.
As for myself, I have long supported the National Genealogical Society and especially the Society’s national conferences. I attended my first NGS conference in 1988 and have attended every one since then except in 1995 when I had a family conflict. I have enjoyed immensely the 28 NGS national conferences I have attended.
However, I am withholding my decision about attending the 2017 national conference in North Carolina until the last possible moment. While I am not a member of the LGBTQ community, I do support the concept of full and free legal rights for all Americans. In my opinion, there is no room for discrimination in the United States in the 21st century.
If the U.S. legal system has not struck down North Carolina’s HB2 legislation by May 9, 2017, I will not be at the 2017 NGS Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. I will not be spending my tourist dollars in a state that practices legal discrimination.
I do feel sorry for the folks at the National Genealogical Society who made a significant financial commitment to holding the 2017 conference in North Carolina long before the HB2 bill was signed into law. If the society cancels the conference now, the society stands to lose many thousands of dollars in the various contractual commitments made prior to the law’s enactment. Deciding whether to cancel or to go forward with the conference must have been a difficult decision.
As to your decision of whether or not to attend, I can only echo the statement of the National Genealogical Society, “The Board respects the individual right of every NGS member to act as he or she deems proper with regard to the North Carolina law or to attending or speaking at the 2017 conference,” and the statement of Thomas MacEntee: “I don’t hold it against anyone who does decide to participate in the NGS 2017 conference. I do, however, want everyone to be aware of the issues that are involved.”
I will probably lose a few readers of this newsletter because of this article. I feel sad about that. However, I also feel that sometimes you have to speak up for what you believe is moral and just. This is one of those times.