[Editor’s Note: Over the past few days, I’ve been a part of online social media discussions involving North Carolina’s Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act (aka House Bill 2 2016 – summarized here) and its impact on genealogy industry events such as the National Genealogical Society’s 2017 national conference scheduled to be held in Raleigh, North Carolina. Here are my thoughts on how House Bill 2 and similar legislation could impact genealogy speakers, genealogy conference attendees, and the genealogy and family history industry.]
I’ve made the decision not to participate in the upcoming National Genealogical Society 2017 conference (NGS 2017) scheduled to be held in Raleigh, North Carolina due to concerns for my own safety as well as other LGBT participants. The deadline for submission of presentations passed on April 1st and I just couldn’t bring myself to be a part of this event either as a speaker or an attendee.
This is a personal decision, and in line with one which I’ve implemented since early last year when Indiana passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). I do deliver webinars for organizations in Indiana, but I won’t physically travel through the state since there is a chance that I could be denied access to public accommodations and subjected to other forms of discrimination based on my sexual identity. For these same reasons, I won’t be attending the APG Professional Management Conference scheduled for Ft. Wayne, Indiana in September 2016 or the FGS 2018 Conference currently scheduled for Ft. Wayne as well.
In addition, I know that there are many LGBT allies in our genealogy community and they are struggling with similar decisions. 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.
The NGS 2017 Issue
In no way do I expect NGS to move its 2017 conference to a different venue. I think at this stage in planning, such expectation is unreasonable. Please keep in mind that good, thoughtful people – our colleagues and friends in genealogy – are sitting on the NGS board and I’m sure they don’t take the House Bill 2 issues lightly. NGS is in a difficult situation despite several genealogists voicing their opinion that discussion of House Bill 2 and LGBT has nothing to do with genealogy and is a “political issue.”
I strongly disagree with the view that this is a “political issue.” This is a human rights issue. This is about how I want to be treated and how I want to treat other people. Turn the clock back a little over 50 years and imagine that NGS had a conference in North Carolina or any other US state in the South. I’m sure the conference venue would have had separate restrooms for “colored people” as well as separate water fountains. There would be no lectures on African-American genealogy, and likely no African-American attendees allowed either. Back then, some believed civil rights was a “political issue” and many organizations simply buried their heads in the sand; they opted not to be a part of any solution hoping the problem would sort itself out on its own.
But here is what you and I and other genealogy organizations, as well as NGS, can do:
- Individuals can contact NGS at firstname.lastname@example.org and express your opinion on the NGS 2017 conference and its venue of Raleigh, North Carolina as it relates to House Bill 2 and LGBT rights. Other genealogy vendors and organizations can do the same.
- NGS might consider offering a “virtual presentation” option to those speakers who still want to support NGS and its conference, but have concerns about traveling in North Carolina.
- The NGS board should consider passing a resolution that no future NGS national conference will be held in a venue that doesn’t offer basic non-discrimination provisions based on ethnic origin, sexual identity, gender identity, marriage status, etc.
- NGS may also investigate whether, as a private event, it can institute its own policies regarding anti-discrimination as well as the use of gender-neutral restrooms for transpeople.
So Why Does This Matter?
The title for this post is derived from the movie They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, the title related to horses being “put down” when they break a leg.
As a society we still “put down” those who some deem to be “less than” or “defective.” We just don’t always use guns. We use laws and legalities which makes it seem more legitimate. Remember, this is what Hitler did when he embarked on his insidious plan to eliminate Jews and other “undesirables.” Everything was legal. And good people let it happen because they stood by and said nothing. Until it was too late.
You may not agree with me that there should be sexual identity or gender identity-based protections when it comes to anti-discrimination laws. Read The cunning trick in North Carolina’s radical new anti-LGBT law by Jeff Guo of The Washington Post for a good review of how LGBT people are and aren’t covered by such laws. I just hope that you’ll become more aware of the North Carolina House Bill 2 issues and understand why you won’t see several noted genealogists at the NGS 2017 conference.
©2016, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.