There’s a kid at school that my kindergartener son doesn’t like to play with … because he bites (literally, not figuratively). I tell my son he doesn’t have to play with someone who bites.
Lately I’ve been hearing the same thing from a lot of people in the meeting industry: “We don’t want to do business with X because they bite” (figuratively, not literally). I would like to say the answer for them is as simple as it is for my son, but alas, our grown-up world is so much more complicated.
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I’m referring, of course, to the destinations that are choosing to pass legislation that is viewed by many as discriminatory. The most visible and contentious at the moment is North Carolina’s Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act (HB2), known by its not too attractive nickname, “The North Carolina Bathroom Bill” (some lawmakers’ mothers are so proud).
Indiana did it. Arizona tried. Georgia thought really hard about doing it, but likely bowed to economic pressures from groups holding big conventions in Georgia, The Walking Dead, and, oh, a little company called Disney.
Almost 10 years ago, the National Council of La Raza, an Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization chose to move their 2009 annual conference out of Kansas City after the mayor appointed an active member of the extremist Minuteman Civil Defense Corps to a city commission.
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The point is that this isn’t a new issue. As with many things in our industry, it will continue to rear its ugly head in various forms.
In the meantime, what is the planner who is concerned about discriminatory laws to do? I offer three suggestions.
1) Do your homework.
Know what kind of legislation is brewing in cities in which you are considering meeting. Don’t expect destination marketing organizations to lead with, “Oh, by the way, our legislative branch in all its wisdom has this discriminatory doozy in the works!”
Pick your issues (race, religion, persons with disabilities, sexual orientation, union, etc.), find the appropriate source(s) for information and assign someone to monitor them as you would any threat.
A good source for LGBT information by state: Lambda Legal.
2) Set an organization-wide policy.
Establish anti-discrimination and inclusivity as part of your organization’s governing documents and policies. Reference and quote this policy in your RFPs and contracts.
3) Add language to contracts.
Include in your RFP or “Required Contract Terms” contract language. My preference is to add the passing of discriminatory legislation to my reasons for termination of the contract without liability within a certain number of days after the passage of such law/statute/ordinance.
This is easy to say and can be much more challenging to get done. Remember, negotiations are just that—you ask for the language and the other party decides whether they are willing to give it to you and if so, in the form you want. In a negotiation like this, getting it in the contract depends on a number of issues including whether there is already some such legislation brewing (high risk) and the value of your meeting as a piece of business.
The situation is, to me, somewhat different and possibly more clear-cut for organizations such as the NAACP, whose very mission is to “eliminate race-based discrimination.” In this case, discriminatory legislation may rise to a level that frustrates the very purpose of the organization’s meeting and should be put in a Frustration of Purpose clause.
If it doesn’t seem fair that you can’t just “get out of a contract” in a state you feel is discriminating, think for a moment about the hospitality businesses and workers there who are harmed. Terminating “without liability” doesn’t mean terminating “without cost to anyone.” Suppliers are often hurt by these laws, too. As I tell my son, take care of yourself, but be a good friend.
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