Saturday, May 7, 2016

Inclusion and the 2017 Citizen Science Association Conference

Photo Courtesy: James Willamor
It seems like not too long ago since we all met in San Jose for the last Citizen Science conference.  But time quickly moves on and planning is actively underway for the next conference to be held next February, 2017.  CitSci 2017 promises to be full of useful information and interesting people, but there are many obstacles to overcome first.  Including politics.

Sadly, completely outside of anyone's control from our field, the State of North Carolina recently passed HB2, the so-called "Bathroom Bill" requiring people to only use the bathrooms assigned to their biological sex, and eliminating many legal protections for lesbian, gay, and transgender people.  To quote the CitSci 2017 planners:

The bill flies in the face of the principles on which we are building this association, those of supporting inclusion, diversity, and personal freedom. It also throws a huge monkey wrench into planning a conference where everyone feels safe and welcome. The legislation and ensuing counter-actions in protest both compromise the opportunity for this conference to be safe and inclusive, goals that we strongly value, as do our host partners.

As a private citizen living outside of North Carolina, this bill troubles me with its attempts to not only stigmatize a vulnerable transgender population, but to actively tell local governments that it is illegal to protect entire swaths of people.  This is a highly dangerous proposition and one I personally can't support.  It certainly makes me not want to spend money in that State.  But should we sacrifice the many good things that can come out of the conference because of the law?  Are we hurting our many allies in North Carolina who don't support the law?  Can we be an agent of change through our examples of openness and inclusion?  These are no longer hypotheticals but real questions with serious consequences (on both sides).

Everyone is wrestling with this question, including the conference planners.  They take their jobs seriously and seem to be struggling with a course of action.  But they don't need to decide alone.  They have set up a survey for all members (and other potential conference goers) to let their own voices be heard.  Let the association know whether you are planning to attend, whether the NC law prevents you from attending (either legally or ethically), whether you'd like to see the conference moved, and any alternative solutions to the problem.  While I don't think it is binding they want to hear from us all, and I applaud them for taking this step.  So please help them by reading their detailed concerns here and taking the survey.  Decisions must be made soon so please provide your thoughts as soon as possible.  We all appreciate it.

Where do I stand?

In my humble opinion, this law is based on the assumption that allowing transgender people into the bathroom of their choosing will threaten the safety of others.  But there is no evidence that this is the case, and as far as I've seen, there have been NO reported cases of transgender individuals attacking or otherwise harassing people in the bathroom.  As a citizen science organization I believe we should hold tightly to relying on facts and honest inquiry as the basis for making laws, and this bill represents neither of those.  It comes only from mean-spiritedness (by some) and fear (by others).  But not from any real threat.  Unfortunately the logic argument has already been lost, so I can't see how keeping the conference in the State will change any hearts of minds; that ship has already sailed.  So that is why I personally voted that we move the conference.  Even if it costs a bit more, or involves extra hassle, it is an important step and one that will have more impact than staying and attempting to lead by example.  This type of ecoomic pressure has worked for other State laws and it is (sadly) time we do the same.

But what's your opinion?  Please let the association know so that whatever the decision, we can start acting to help the situation and people stuck in it.

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