Q&A: Why Charlotte in 2020

The following questions and answers discuss the factors involved in the decision to relocate the 2018 conference and the selection of Charlotte for the 2020 conference.

How and why did SLA select Charlotte as its 2018 conference location?

SLA selects conference locations based on several criteria, including the following:
• the conference city is easily accessible by air and rail;
• the meeting space is “right-sized” for the conference program;
• the convention center is located in a desirable area of the host city (i.e., within walking distance of several hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions); and
• the hotels near the convention center are reasonably priced.

In 2015, SLA issued a request for proposals (RFP) to solicit bids for hosting our 2018 Annual Conference. Several cities submitted bids; Charlotte’s bid was submitted by the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA), which operates the Charlotte Convention Center. SLA staff evaluated the CRVA’s proposal and determined that it met the logistical and cost requirements for an SLA conference and that Charlotte would be an ideal conference location.

SLA staff then proposed Charlotte as the host city for the 2018 Annual Conference. The SLA Board of Directors, meeting in executive session, approved the proposal.

Why did SLA move the 2018 conference location from Charlotte to Baltimore?
The decision to relocate the 2018 annual conference was made in response to actions taken by the North Carolina General Assembly, the legislature for the state of North Carolina.

In February 2016, the Charlotte City Council voted to expand its existing non-discrimination law to prohibit discrimination based on “marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression.” The new law also allowed individuals to use the bathroom according to the sexual orientation with which they identify, and added gay and transgender people to the list of classes protected from discrimination in Charlotte.

The North Carolina General Assembly reacted to these events by convening a special session and passing a bill, the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act (House Bill 2, also known as HB2 or “the bathroom bill”), that overturned Charlotte’s law. HB2 defined “male" or "female” for public discrimination purposes as being the gender stated on a person’s birth certificate, not the gender with which they identify. HB2 also prevented local governments (such as Charlotte’s) from expanding or enacting their own anti-discrimination policies.

After reviewing the language in HB2, the SLA Board of Directors concluded that the law “specifically countermands our anti-harassment policy” and that its “very tenets . . . strike deeply at the core of service inherent in serving as information professionals and special librarians.” In April 2016, the board approved a motion directing SLA staff to “explore all options,” including moving the conference to another city, if the legislature did not repeal HB2 by May 25, 2016. When that deadline passed without HB2 being repealed, staff began reviewing the other proposals that originally had been submitted for the 2018 conference. Staff ultimately recommended Baltimore as the new location.

Why is SLA reversing course and agreeing to hold the 2020 Annual Conference in Charlotte?
In March 2017, the North Carolina General Assembly repealed HB2 and replaced it with a new law, House Bill 142 (HB142), that eliminated the requirement that people using multiple-occupancy restrooms in public buildings must use restrooms that match their birth certificate.

With the repeal of HB2, SLA was open to re-evaluating Charlotte as a potential conference site. As part of this process, the board and staff took the following supplementary factors into account:
• Businesses, civic organizations, and the LGBTQ community in Charlotte have gone above and beyond to be welcoming and inclusive to all visitors. Many other groups that relocated     events in the aftermath of HB2 have since reconsidered and are scheduling activities in Charlotte.
• The Charlotte Convention Center has single-occupancy restrooms that can be used by people of either gender. The Westin Charlotte—which will host conference activities that are
  not being held at the convention center—also has gender-neutral bathrooms.
• Meeting in Charlotte will allow us to demonstrate that our commitment to expanding access to information is matched by our commitment to supporting equal access to opportunities
   to enhance our careers and skills.

Ultimately, the board of directors concluded that just as SLA did the right thing by saying no to Charlotte for 2018, we are doing the right thing now by saying yes to Charlotte for 2020. This decision also provides us an opening to renew the conversation about the importance of diversity and inclusion in SLA and our communities. For more details, read the Charlotte Announcement Letter from 2018 SLA President Roberto Sarmiento.

I’ve heard that the North Carolina legislature didn’t fully repeal HB2—in other words, current law (HB142) still discriminates against LGBTQ individuals. Is that correct?
Some critics of HB142 say that, even though it eliminated the requirement that people using multiple-occupancy restrooms in public buildings must use restrooms that match the sex indicated on their birth certificate, it is not a “clean repeal” of HB2. They make two main arguments:
1) HB142 prevents Charlotte and other cities and towns in North Carolina from creating new anti-discrimination policies or expanding their existing policies until at least Dec. 1, 2020.
2) HB142 leaves the North Carolina legislature in charge of regulating bathroom usage.

After the passage of HB142, the American Civil Liberties Union (a civil rights organization) and Lambda Legal (an organization that promotes LGBTQ rights) filed a lawsuit against the state of North Carolina challenging the law’s ban on creating or expanding local non-discrimination policies. The lawsuit also claims that HB142 doesn’t explicitly permit transgender people to use the bathroom that reflects the gender with which they identify.

In October 2018, a U.S. judge dismissed the claim that HB142 prohibits transgender people from using bathrooms that reflect their gender identity, stating that “HB142 does not regulate restroom access in any fashion.” The judge did, however, allow the ACLU and Lambda Legal to continue challenging the part of that law that bans cities and counties from enacting transgender-friendly bathroom rules and other anti-discrimination measures.

Even if HB142 doesn’t regulate bathroom usage, doesn’t North Carolina law still violate SLA’s anti-harassment policy?
Our anti-harassment policy states, in part, the following:
SLA is committed to providing a safe and equal space for professional participation for all of our members, partners, and event attendees. We believe that everyone has the right to professional interaction without fear, intimidation, or belittlement, and that everyone has the right to fair and equal participation and treatment.

By repealing HB2, the state legislature essentially “turned back the clock” on Charlotte’s anti-discrimination policies to where they stood when SLA originally selected Charlotte as the location for the 2018 Annual Conference. With the elimination of HB2’s bathroom regulation and the commitment by Charlotte to provide a safe and welcoming environment, the board is confident that all SLA members will enjoy a positive conference experience that is free of “fear, intimidation, or belittlement” and conducive to “fair and equal participation and treatment.”

Was money a factor in the decision to approve Charlotte as the 2020 conference location?
By relocating the 2018 conference away from Charlotte, SLA stood to incur financial penalties of up to $450,000. The board of directors knew of these penalties before making their decision, but felt strongly that they could not expose SLA members to possible threats to their physical or emotional safety.

After the board made its decision to withdraw from Charlotte for 2018, the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, which operates the Charlotte Convention Center, reached out to SLA to try to reschedule the conference for a future year. The CRVA was receiving requests from many organizations to cancel meetings and events in the aftermath of HB2 and was anxious to limit the financial impact on the convention center and nearby hotels and restaurants.

The board of directors made clear that rescheduling Charlotte as a conference location was contingent upon the North Carolina General Assembly repealing HB2 and its odious bathroom provision. HB2 violated the letter and spirit of SLA’s anti-harassment policy; as long as it was in force, Charlotte was not a potential conference destination. With the repeal of HB2 in March 2017, SLA was amenable to booking Charlotte for a future conference.

By agreeing to host the 2020 conference in Charlotte, SLA will avoid the financial penalties it stood to incur after relocating the 2018 conference. The deciding factor in the 2020 decision, however, was the repeal of HB2, not the potential loss of money. The safety and dignity of our members will always be our first and foremost consideration.

If the North Carolina General Assembly approves any further restrictions affecting the LGBTQ community prior to the 2020 conference, will the conference location be moved again, or is SLA committed irrevocably to Charlotte?
The safety and dignity of our members and their equal access to professional opportunities and interaction are not negotiable. While we do not anticipate the state legislature taking any actions that might affect our 2020 conference, we will respond accordingly should that occur.

Does the board understand that hosting the 2020 conference in Charlotte might preclude some SLA members from attending because they work for state or city governments that prohibit their employees from traveling to North Carolina for business?
A handful of state governments—those of California, Connecticut, Minnesota, New York, and Vermont—prohibit their employees from using public funds to travel to North Carolina on non-official business because they believe HB142 discriminates against LGBTQ individuals. Some cities, including Atlanta, San Francisco, and Seattle, do so as well. These prohibitions can affect not just employees at state and local agencies, but also those who work in public universities.

While the percentage of SLA members who might be affected by these prohibitions is small—fewer than 5 percent, according to our analysis of SLA 2017 and SLA 2018 attendees—we recognize the hardship this will entail for them. We encourage government employees in these states and cities to review the travel restrictions to determine whether there are exceptions that would enable them to be reimbursed to attend SLA 2020. For example, California’s travel ban, imposed by Assembly Bill 1887, provides for two relevant exceptions:
1) to participate in meetings or training required by a grant or required to maintain grant funding; and
2) to complete job-required training necessary to maintain licensure or similar standards required for holding a position, in the event that comparable training cannot be obtained in California or a different state not subject to the travel prohibition.

Did the board of directors consult any members of SLA’s LGBTQ community or members who might be affected by a travel ban prior to making the 2020 decision?
The board reached out to several SLA members, including the Diversity, Inclusion, Community, and Equity Caucus (DICE), the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, & Transgender Issues Caucus, past SLA presidents and board members, and members who were active in the discussion about relocating the 2016 conference from Charlotte. Conversations with these members have been positive and the LGBTQ Community has offered their support for SLA and the Annual Conference.

Will SLA be offering any opportunities at the 2020 conference to support LGBTQ issues and promote inclusion and diversity?
As at all SLA annual conferences, the programming at SLA 2020 will focus on topics affecting special librarians and information professionals and on helping our members acquire the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in today’s workplace. This focus has stood the test of time and made SLA conferences must-attend professional development events since our association was founded in 1909.

One topic that has received growing attention in recent years is the importance of diversity and inclusion in our work environments. We take for granted that enhancing access to information promotes learning and knowledge and leads to better decisions and outcomes; what we must also recognize is that fostering diversity and inclusion does likewise, while also enhancing the professional culture of our organizations.

With this in mind, we are working with the city of Charlotte and the local LGBTQ community to develop opportunities for SLA 2020 attendees to support diversity initiatives. The SLA 2020 Annual Conference Advisory Council will also participate in this discussion.

Registration for SLA 2019 will open in late 2019. Stay tuned for more info.