Planning for our second conference of the Citizen Science Association, scheduled for February, 2017 in Raleigh, NC, has been under way for more than one year. In fact, the planning started as soon as the last conference ended. Getting 1,000 people together in one location for a valuable and meaningful experience is a huge undertaking. We’ve hired a conference planner, signed contracts, and built a relationship with local partners including the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, North Carolina State University, and the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau —and volunteers on our Program and Local Host Committees have already invested hours of thought and work.
A successful conference requires all of this. It also requires a welcoming environment, which we believed we had in North Carolina. Then came the so-called “bathroom bill”—HB2—which is most widely known for imposing restrictions on use of state bathroom facilities based on biological sex at birth, but which also has deeper implications that limit legal protections against discrimination for the LGBTQ community. 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.
Doing nothing is not an option, but our choices are difficult. Some members and working groups have urged us to leave the state until the law changes. Others have urged us to be creative in ways we can support and welcome everyone at our planned conference despite HB2. Still others have suggested the conference can be an active affirmation that science, including citizen science, benefits from and welcomes people from all backgrounds (please also see a brief overview of the complex options we face).
Figuring out how to move forward in this environment is challenging. The CSA Board and the Conference Program Committee, along with members of our Ethics and Integrity, Diversity, and Equity Working Groups, already have spent hours discussing our options; we have also consulted with our local host committee. We feel strongly that our community should be aware of the complexity of this situation, including the potential for significant financial penalties if CSA backs out of signed contracts.
We also feel strongly that people affected by our conference decisions should have the opportunity to weigh in as we wrestle with options available, and may very well be able to help suggest alternative approaches. As we make our decisions—which must happen by mid-May—we would like input from this community. Specifically, we are interested in input that a) helps us gauge the impact of this legislation on our conference, and b) generates creative and positive options for consideration.
We have put together a brief online form that offers confidentiality and also helps us compile and track ideas and potential impacts. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO PROVIDE YOUR INPUT. We will provide a summary of all responses. Please take the opportunity to weigh in on this issue. We need all responses by Friday, May 13th, to inform our decisions and start putting solutions in action.