Cartoon avatar of Charles Sprayberry

Choosing to Attend US Conferences

If you don't follow US politics, several states, particularly in the South and Midwest, have been passing abhorrent legislation designed to discriminate and harm various groups of people. A microcosm of America's deeper slide into theocratic fascism has been making decisions on whether to host or attend conferences in these states. I've recently been wrestling with the same questions as I decided whether to attend a conference in Texas, a state notorious for passing these types of laws.

This question hits close to home for me. I've lived in Alabama for over 20 years of my life, including more than 17 years starting from the age of 8. If you're not familiar with Alabama it is like a smaller, shittier, poorer Texas. I have always felt like an outsider here. I'm not a Christian. I'm not a physically strong manly-man. Alabamians waving a Confederate flag are celebrating an indelible stain on this nation. I'm a bleeding-heart liberal in a land of Trump-supporting conservatives.

I'm an "other" in a place that don't take kindly to others.

This has been my experience as a straight, white, male. I can only imagine what it is like for members of marginalized groups in these areas... unfortunately, that includes basically everybody that isn't a straight, white, male. I empathize a great deal with people who find themselves stuck in a community that doesn't welcome them or is outright hostile towards them.

I never found a support system in Alabama. Few people made me feel included while I've lived in the South. It has made me feel incredibly alone. I feel, because of my lived experience, if we simply abandon these states we're also, by definition, abandoning marginalized people that live there and don't have an option to move or leave.

My family are those people. I was those people.

Because of that, if I'm going to boycott an entire state I need to be sure, damned sure, that the boycott is gonna be effective. Denying dollars can certainly be an effective form of protest. However, when you start dealing with economies the size of Texas and Florida that becomes a far trickier equation.

There are a lot of companies either headquartered in Texas or have significant operations there. Did you know that Foxconn employs a massive amount of people in Houston? Or that Dell is headquartered there? Or American Airlines Group? Or a whole slew of other corporations you've almost assuredly provided money to at some point. A portion of that money made its way to the state governments you're trying to boycott. Effectively boycotting a state like Texas is gonna require a lot more than not traveling to a conference.

In addition to that, the people that support these monstrous laws do not care if you ignore them. They will gladly continue to pass their horrendous legislation while you stay at home. You know what does bother them? Showing up and protesting vociferously against their discrimination. Disrupting the status quo and their concept of "civility". Openly loving the people they hate.

I'm going to that conference in Texas. Not to support the state government or the awful laws they've passed. But, to support the marginalized people who are stuck there. The people who are undertaking the massive challenge of fixing the corrupt system. It sounds idealistic, and perhaps is, but if I can show just 1 person the love and support never shown to me in Alabama then it'll be worth it.

Ultimately, if you choose not to go to a conference in states passing unwelcoming, harmful laws I respect your decision. I understand your point of view and the desire to restrict the amount of money these governments receive. For myself, and a lot of others, the question is far more nuanced with no easy answers.