Annual Meeting in Houston - Advocacy

As of August 16, 2017, the Texas "Bathroom Bill" is Dead!

The 2018 AIC Annual Meeting in Houston and the Texas “Bathroom Bill’ – A brief timeline

--July 5, 2017

By Ruth Seyler

On April 1, 2015, after an exhaustive search, AIC signs a contract with the Marriott Marquis Houston to hold the 2018 Annual Meeting in Houston, Texas. By signing a contract during the construction phase of the hotel, AIC receives a more generous space-to-sleeping room allocation than what is considered typical.

On January 1, 2017, Texas State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, introduced Senate Bill 6, which would have required transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings, and public universities based on their “biological sex.” The measure would also pre-empt local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow transgender Texans to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. There was always some doubt as to whether hotels, as places of public accommodation, were included in SB6.

The Texas House of Representatives refused to bring the bill to vote during the regular session, which ended on May 30, 2017. Currently there is no state-wide “bathroom bill” legislation in effect in Texas. Conservative elements in the Texas State Legislature refused to pass some routine “sunset legislation” that would keep some needed agencies functioning unless a “bathroom bill” was passed. Texas Governor Gregg Abbott called for a special session of the Texas Senate beginning on July 18th and lasting up to thirty days.  “Bathroom Bill” issues are included in the lengthy draft agenda for the special session. It is still not clear which of the many agenda items will dominate the special session. It is considered highly likely that a new bill with elements of SB6 will be introduced.

AIC is working closely with the Houston CVB and the Marriott Marquis Houston, both of which are opposed to the legislation, to monitor the situation. The Marriott Marquis Houston has told AIC had we can designate a gender-neutral restroom, should that be needed.

Executive Director Eryl Wentworth is an active member -- as are several other AIC staff members -- of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), which has taken a stand against the Texas Senate “bathroom bill SB6.” ASAE represents 7,400 organizations and more than 35,000 individuals who collectively select the vast majority of association conference locations in the country. Through ASAE, we have a stronger voice in support of equity and inclusion in Texas than does AIC on its own.

The AIC is reaching out to its allied organizations in order to garner additional voices of support for AIC members who will be affected by the passage of SB6.

On June 12, 2017, the Board approved and released a statement acknowledging the situation. This statement was distributed to all AIC members.

On July 18, 2017, AIC's Equity and Inclusion Working Group made the following statement:

"Some AIC members have questioned the degree to which AIC engages in advocacy activities, in particular, those that relate to social or political issues.  While all of us can agree that the AIC must advocate for the conservation and preservation of cultural heritage, there is less consensus on how the AIC should support its members beyond promoting our primary occupational goals.  Drawing upon our mission statement, the Equity and Inclusion Working Group (EIWG) would like to reaffirm our commitment to the tenet that AIC is “the national membership organization supporting conservation professionals.”  As such, we need to acknowledge that pending legislation in Texas has the potential to discriminate against AIC members, due to their gender identity.

Historically in the United States, discrimination against segments of society in issues of public accommodation has been fought on the grounds of civil rights.  Landmark legislation has resulted including the Civil Rights Act, Title II of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title III of 1990.  If enacted, Texas Senate Bill 6 (SB 6) (commonly referred to as “The Bathroom Bill”) will infringe upon the rights of AIC members who attend the 46th Annual Meeting in the course of fulfilling their normal professional duties. No attendees should feel that they are being denied basic civil liberties in public accommodations or that they are not welcome or not safe. The AIC's Core Value of Equity and Inclusion emphasizes this aspect of our organization.

Should legislation similar to SB 6 pass in the special session which started on July 18th, the EIWG and Board will work together with the Marriott Marquis to insure the dignity of and best serve all AIC members.

The Equity and Inclusion Working Group

Jennifer Hain Teper (chair), Heather Galloway, Anisha Gupta, Beatriz Haspo, Tom McClintock, and Kimi Taira"

On August 15, 2017, the Special Legislative session ended a day early at midnight without the bill having come to a vote on the floor.

On August 16, 2017, AIC notified members that the "Bathroom Bill" was dead.

"We are pleased to report that the Texas Special Legislative Session ended a day early. The Texas “Bathroom Bill” (referred to as SB6 in the regular legislative session and SB3 in the special legislative session) died in the Texas House of Representatives. Working together, Democrats and moderate Republicans, refused to allow the bill to move to a floor vote. If you are unfamiliar with this bill or the term “Bathroom Bill” and would like more information, please visit our information page.

There are currently no restrictions on who can use restroom facilities in Texas. The next regular Texas legislative session will not start until 2019 after our Annual Meeting in Houston. Another Special Session could be called at any time by Governor Abbott, but this cannot be anticipated; it is reported to be unlikely. AIC would like to reconfirm that, as contracted in 2015, the 46th Annual Meeting will be held in Houston, May 29 to June 2, 2018.

It was important for AIC to let the legislative process play itself out in Texas. The majority of Texans, who were against the “Bathroom Bill,” were heard. The civil rights of AIC members who attend the 2018 Annual Meeting in Houston in the course of fulfilling their normal professional duties will remain intact.

With the Texas “Bathroom Bill” legislation dead, now is the time for AIC members to come together in support of our professional organization. As a vibrant and diverse membership, we differed on how to respond to the proposed “Bathroom Bill” in light of our contract with the Marriott Marquis Houston. That is to be expected and we respect all our members’ views and concerns.

In the coming months, we hope we can rely on our strong membership base to attend the 2018 Annual Meeting in Houston and thereby show support for our members in Texas. For more information on the meeting, please visit our Annual Meeting webpages.

In addition, as an organization, we need to turn our attention to the upcoming fight over the 2018 federal budget and funding for conservation, collections care, and the arts. Please watch your email for federal advocacy alerts."

Advocacy – How You Can Get Involved      

AIC has reached out to members in Texas and asked them to contact their state representatives. We believe this will be the most effective route. However, I realize that many members outside of Texas would like to make their voices known. Below is a link that lists all of the state representatives for the city of Houston (note it lists U.S. Congress members first, please skip this section).

If you would like to advocate against legislation similar to SB6 – please select several of the state reps from Houston to call or email (let’s not all select the first several listed)

Here are a few talking points for your emails, phone calls, and meetings:

  • Make it personal – Explain the value of having the AIC Annual Meeting in Texas, both from an economic sense (1,400 attendees), and how it can strengthen the local arts and historic preservation community.
  • Make it about the pocketbook – The Texas Association of Business (TAB) estimates that the passage of the legislation could result in the loss of $8.5 billion in GDP and more than 185,000 jobs in the first year.
  • Make it about local independence – One of the most disturbing parts of the legislation proposed during the regular session (SB6) was that it would nullify existing local antidiscrimination laws, thereby forcing all cities in Texas to comply with state law, disregarding the views of many residents. 
  • Make it about responsibility – TAB President Chris Wallace states, “The so-called Texas Privacy Act won’t make restrooms any safer for men, women, and children, and it will do far more harm to them than good. This legislation will needlessly jeopardize jobs, investment, innovation, and tax revenue for our state, and it sullies our reputation as an open, inclusive, and welcoming state. It is also wholly unenforceable and unsupported by any public safety evidence, and will create situations that invade the privacy of Texans from all walks of life.”