Monday, May 19, 2008

The politics of conferencing

Well, this is an interesting conundrum. The Chronicle has an article about the debate going on in the American Political Science Association (APSA) about an upcoming conference in 2012 scheduled for New Orleans. The "gay and lesbian activists" are raising concerns and asking for a change of conference venue due to the extremely harsh nature of the Lousiana anti-gay defense of marriage amendment (DOMA) that "forbids state agencies to recognize 'marriage or the legal incidents thereof' for homosexual couples." This could mean that a gay man in a domestic partnership in New Jersey who falls ill at the conference could not depend on hospitals to recognize the rights of his partner.

That is a very real concern, I suppose, but aren't there similar DOMAs in states all over the country? HRC notes that as of January of this year,"39 states have DOMA-like laws and three have state constitutional amendments that define marriage as between a man and a woman." So, we only hold conferences in Massachusetts, California, New Jersey, and Hawaii--along with five others in the northeast and DC? I mean, that could be okay, I suppose, if not a little redundant after a while. And those of us who live in the Midwest will be paying VERY HIGH plane fare to get to all these coastal conferences. And we lose the opportunity to learn about new places, experience different cultures, and get some good travel in.

And I am not sure that all the change of venue makes sense or is appropriate. A durable health care power of attorney is recognized throughout the US. You can identify anyone as the power of attorney. We should all have these if we travel, even if we are lucky enough to be married queers in Massachusetts. (I say this acknowledging that as I travel now, I have not completed even the most basic necessary legal paperwork--will, power of attorney, etc. I know, I know...It is on my to-do list. Note to the gf: Honey, should you need this, this blog is a declaration that you have my healthcare power of attorney!!)

But I want to ask the (predominantly white???) queers in APSA: What about helping out the economy of the ravaged New Orleans community? What about going and participating in some community development and rebuilding in low-income, predominantly black communities? If you would volunteer to go as a part of a work team, why wouldn't you go for a conference? And you can even focus on the needs of LGBT folks. Queer folks in New Orleans need support and community as well. But more important to me, we need to be allies to one another--not just focused on queer issues. The experiences and needs of low-income straight people in New Orleans matters to me, and I need to sometimes make decisions that focus more on their needs than my own. I am especially moved by the recent writing of the Urban League and others on the travesties of Katrina and the ways they have differentially affected low-income African American residents. Our government has not done what is needed; shouldn't we go and do what we can, and educate ourselves about what needs to be done, so as to better advocate for these residents?

Perhaps this is different for me, because I am not from California or New York, where those quoted happen to live. I am in the heart of a red state, and our relationships are already unrecognized. We live with these issues every day.

My own discipline has an upcoming conference in New Orleans, and I will most certainly attend. (Perhaps that will spur me to complete the damn paperwork.... Yet, my own state does not promise me legal protections or recognize my relationship. So, traveling will not make a difference in this way.) It does offer a way to contribute to the New Orleans economy, to join in on some service projects while I am there, and to see myself in solidarity with people in need. And perhaps I can raise awareness about the issues facing LGBT people in New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana with my straight allies while I am there!


Jennifer said...

Very thoughtful and thought provoking post. I really like what you said about being an ally to others--to sometimes choose to put other communities, especially those who are disenfranchised, ahead of our own immediate concerns.

Durable power of attorney should be something we ALL do (queer and non-queer alike) especially because Terry Schaivo's case really shows that even if you are a straight married couple, parents can come in at the 11th hour and the state can reinterpret your wishes for its own political use.

(off of soapbox now).

Anyway, New Orleans certainly needs an infusion of people and cash and lots of other resources, so I hope that there are other conferences who support the community (I know MLA cancelled at the last minute a while back, which caused some consternation to many).

profkemp said...

This lesboprof, who is a native New Orleanian (was not living in N.O. at the time Katrina hit), urges the larger academic community to do two things:

1. Attend your professional conventions in N.o., which desperately needs the money.

2. Venture of the hotel AND away from Bourbon Street. Will it really kill you to do a day of cleanup, or to offer a brief visit to a local high school class? Find out what you can do in half a day or a day, and make a contribution. Get some perspective on the ongoing educational issues facing New Orleanians. You might also consider finding out what the local gay community needs and wants--and offering your expertise, support, money, time AFTER you go back home.

3. Check all paternalism and preconceptions at the door.

And you can still have a good time, cher!

profkemp said...

OK, so that's three things. Obviously math is not my area.