9 May 2017

Update to Meetings Policy: Sexual-Orientation and Gender Minorities

Stephen Unwin JPL

Last fall I wrote a couple of articles about the AAS Meetings Task Force that I chaired, and the challenges of making our meetings affordable, enjoyable, and scientifically productive. You can find these news articles, and a copy of the AAS Meetings Task Force Report on the archive of AAS email news digests.

The Meetings Task Force looked at the myriad factors that go into making our meetings productive and affordable for members and logistically feasible for the AAS meetings staff in the Executive Office. One of the factors that the Task Force discussed, but which was not prominent in the recommendations, was to ensure that AAS meetings are welcoming to all attendees regardless of identity issues like race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender expression.

The AAS Committee for Sexual-Orientation and Gender Minorities in Astronomy (SGMA) is concerned with all aspects of the workplace environment for sexual-orientation and gender minorities (SGMs), including at AAS meetings. SGMA has worked closely with the AAS Council and with the leadership of our Divisions on the best wording for a policy. At a recent telecon meeting, Council voted to adopt a policy for the selection of meeting locations to include these concerns:

In the absence of a nationwide anti-discrimination law covering sexual orientation and gender expression, it is the policy of the AAS to locate its meetings in cities where all LGBTQIA attendees are welcomed and accommodated. If laws change after contracts are signed, the AAS will do everything that it can to enable those discriminated against to participate fully in the meeting.

This policy applies to all meetings which are associated with the AAS, including meetings of the Divisions. The statement serves three objectives. First and foremost, it seeks to ensure that our meetings are as open and welcoming to SGMs as they can be. Second, as a public re-affirmation of the non-discrimination policies already in place, and to make it clear that we intend to actively follow them. Third, it provides guidance to meeting planners that SGM considerations must be properly included in the choice of meeting locations.

What does this mean in practice? State and local laws, many of which have been in the news recently, vary widely, so it’s not possible to generalize — see hrc.org/state_maps. In some cases, cities have different laws pertaining to discrimination from the states in which they are located. The policy will certainly eliminate a few locations. When it comes to the details of negotiating contracts for a specific venue, the Executive Office staff (and Division leadership, for Division meetings) will consult with SGMA as needed for clarification on potential issues. It’s normal practice for the AAS staff to consult with the relevant Committee or Working Group for help on specific issues.

Finally, as announced in an earlier AAS News Digest, major changes in AAS governance are underway, following approval in January 2017 of the Governance Task Force Report. The current Bylaws and Policies are being extensively revised. This new policy on meetings will be included in the revised official Policies.

Steve Unwin
AAS Council
Meetings Task Force Chair