Meeting Mentor Magazine

December 2018

Cover Story

Planners Assess Risks From
Local Laws Seen as Discriminatory

A tug of war in local politics sets up potential risks for meeting planners. A new North Carolina law on the one hand is seen as discriminatory to the transgender community, and on the other hand as advocating for religious liberty. Stuck in the middle are meeting planners. Some hold contracts in locations where their audience may be uncomfortable meeting, while others may be pulling back from considering these sites in the future.

It started with Charlotte’s non-discrimination ordinance protecting public accommodations for members of the gay community. Then, state legislators passed in under 12 hours House Bill 2 (HB2), which Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law. It bans transgender people from using the bathroom of the gender they identify with. Cities and counties cannot loosen that restriction. The law also nullifies local ordinances protecting gay or transgender workers, and makes it unlawful for cities to expand those laws.

The outcry was immediate. PayPal canceled expansion plans in the state. Big employers, including American Airlines, Dow Chemical and Apple, criticized the law. Cities like Los Angeles and states like New York passed bans or restrictions on public employee travel to North Carolina. The U.S. Department of Justice Department (DoJ) challenged the state over the law, Gov. McCrory responded with a lawsuit, and DoJ sued North Carolina. Recently, a law proposed in the state legislature aims to protect everyone in the state against “discrimination in all walks of life.”

Charlotte, as North Carolina’s most populous city, reported event cancellations and potential bookings at risk at $86.5 million: 7 cancellations, 36 groups concerned/hesitant and 13 groups lost in final selection phase. The city responded by initiating an “Always Welcome” campaign to showcase the diversity and inclusiveness of its community. “The CRVA will remain steadfast in its work to protect and advance the visitor economy and monitor the situation,” said Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority CEO Tom Murray. “Ensuring that our visitors feel welcome is our top priority, and we’ll continue to advocate for the open and inclusive city that Charlotte is.”

After serious consideration, the May meeting of the American Public Transportation Association Bus & Paratransit Conference and Roadeo at the Charlotte Convention Center went on as planned. “The decision was not made lightly, and we know it will not please everyone,” APTA said in a statement. “One chief reason we decided to proceed is to support the City of Charlotte, which has long had a track record of creating an environment that not only values diversity, but strongly embraces it. APTA is committed to being inclusive and does not condone discrimination of any kind against anyone who works for, or uses, public transportation.”

The American Association for Laboratory Animal Science also decided to move forward with its national meeting at the Charlotte Convention Center this fall. “I am hoping the issues behind such legislation will be settled soon through respectful deliberation in the media, public forums, the courts and additional legislation if necessary,” said Ann Turner, Ph.D., CAE, FASAE, AALAS executive director. “Our association’s mission is education of the professionals who care for the animals involved in research studies. We are concerned about our members who reside in and work for entities in states and cities that have issued travel restrictions to North Carolina. We implore those states to reconsider this restriction on professional development for their residents. And we hope the hotels in Charlotte will take these restrictions into consideration in the event of attrition.”

AALAS has encouraged members to send letters opposing the law to the governor and key state tourism and commerce executives, and urged those considering boycotting the meeting to instead voice their protest while in Charlotte. The organization will revisit its scheduled 2020 meeting in Charlotte after the 2016 meeting concludes. It is also considering cancellation language around discrimination issues for future contracts. — Maxine Golding

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