Thursday, January 12, 2017

Thinking About Boycotts

Would you share your restroom with
this woman?
Both the American Astronomical Society and Women in Astronomy IV are scheduled to meet in Texas this June.  Austin, where the meetings will occur, touts itself as LGBT friendly on its Visitor Center web site:
You don't have to look for rainbow flags or limit yourself to one small part of Austin if you're interested in experiencing everything that the city's large and diverse LGBT community has to offer. Unlike many places, which have only one or two areas known as 'gay districts,' Austin's LGBT residents are truly everywhere. And proud of it!
But dangers lurk in the Texas State Capitol in Austin. According to the Texas Observer,
SB 6, authored by Senator Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, would nullify trans-inclusive nondiscrimination laws in several Texas cities, including Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth and San Antonio. It would also require the state’s school districts and political subdivisions to adopt policies requiring people to use restrooms and other facilities in government buildings that correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificate. Cities and school districts that fail to comply with the provisions of SB 6 would be subject to civil penalties of up to $10,500 per violation.
Unlike the North Carolina legislation, HB2, which triggered nationwide protests and boycotts of that state, this bill seems to be entirely directed at transgender people who were assigned a male gender at birth but no longer live in that gender. According to the Observer, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, for whom this bill is a top legislative priority, dismissed the threat of economic backlash at a news conference last Thursday, but it is also noted that the Texas Association of Business estimates that SB6 could cost the state’s economy up to $8.5 billion and 175,000 jobs. An organization of businesses named Texas Competes has also made its case for a multitude of economic impacts. And then there is the NCAA Final Four scheduled for San Antonio in 2018. Texas House Speaker Joe Straus has said SB 6 won’t be a priority if it clears the Senate, and with the business backlash against the bill, it seems unlikely to be passed by June. But you never know.

A further cause for worry from the Texas Tribune:
Citing bathroom safety concerns, Patrick first waded into the fight in 2015 as part of his opposition to a Houston ordinance, known as HERO, that would have made it illegal to discriminate against someone based on 15 different “protected characteristics,” including sex, race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Houston ordinance was eventually shot down by voters, but as of last summer there were still 12 Texas cities with populations of more than 100,000 that had some rules or legislation in place to protect residents or city employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
According to The Atlantic, similar legislation is also being considered in Kentucky and Virginia:
Chase Strangio, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who works on LGBT issues, says the lawmakers introducing bills now were “people who are committed to targeting the trans community.”
“We saw last session bills across the country attempting to do the same thing,” Strangio said. “We were overwhelmingly successful in stopping them, and we’re incredibly optimistic that we’ll be able to stop the majority of them this session.”
But the advent of a Trump administration should be favorable for bathroom-bill advocates. The president-elect himself offered vague and contradictory statements about North Carolina’s law during the campaign, but a Department of Justice headed by Senator Jeff Sessions, his nominee for attorney general, is expected to be much less friendly to expansions of LBGT rights.
Interestingly enough, Patrick started the press conference with a quote attributed to Martin Luther King which I would read differently than the Lieutenant Governor intended it:
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
Spoken from the pulpit on March 8, 1965, while King was in Selma, Alabama supporting the fight for voting rights, it would appear to me that Martin Luther King's timeless words encourage us to think before we support places which abridge the rights of members of our profession.

Opposition to HB2 from the federal government was effective in blocking its implementation in North Carolina, but I don't think that we can count on that kind of support from the new Republican administration. Opposition to HB2 by national commercial and nonprofit organizations also helped, and I think that we have to make sure that our local hosts (and other AAS members in Texas), as well as those who run our venue, know that there is a potential problem concerning a national professional organization in a field where Texas has a significant place, and that they pass on that concern to their legislators.

And remember that for now, we're protected in Austin, so we don't want to act prematurely:
DISCRIMINATION means the direct or indirect exclusion, distinction, segregation, limitation, refusal, denial or any other differentiation in the treatment of a person based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age, or disability in a public accommodation.