This past weekend, I made a whirlwind trip to Portland, Oregon to speak at my first-ever Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) conference, the nation’s largest academic conference of Asian American Studies scholars. I was honoured to be included as part of a round-table discussion on Asian American feminism, sexism, sexual violence, and toxic masculinity; and, I was deeply moved by the fact that such a difficult subject attracted a full room of young scholars, academics and activists at 9:45am on a Saturday morning. I was even more excited to learn that the AAAS community is seeking to revive a focus on AAPI feminism at upcoming conferences.
I’ve already made many arguments about why we need AAPI Studies. The engaging, thoughtful, and supportive environment at AAAS is only the latest reason that I believe our community desperately needs to do more to support our Asian American Studies academics and scholars.
This past weekend, I attended my first AAAS conference; I certainly hope it will not be my last. For one thing, I am particularly impressed by the announcement this week that the AAAS board has decided to take a stance in support of the LGBTQ community, and to withdraw their 2018 conference from Tennessee where the state legislature has attempted to pass a spate of anti-LGBTQ legislation in the past year.
In the most recent state legislation session, Tennessee lawmakers attempted to pass a bill that would have prevented the state from recognizing same-sex married couples. The bill was drafted and introduced in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling last year that state bans denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples were unconstitutional, effectively striking down a state ban in Tennessee of gay marriage. Two Republican Tennessee legislators then introduced the so-called “Natural Marriage” bill, which calls the Supreme Court’s earlier decision “lawless” and would prevent married same-sex couples from receiving legal recognition by the state.
The same week that the “Natural Marriage” bill was introduced, legislators also introduced a second bill — SB0771 –aimed against the trans community. Modeled after other so-called bathroom bills including the controversial North Carolina measure which launched a boycott of the state by the LGBTQ community and allies. The bill would force users of public restrooms to use the room that reflects the gender listed on their birth certificates rather than the room that best reflects their gender identity; bathroom bills have been widely denounced as an attempt to criminalize, erase, and endanger members of the trans community. In Tennessee, the Tennessee House Education Administration and Planning Committee passed a bathroom bill in 2016 that would restrict bathroom usage in public schools and state university restrooms and locker rooms; that bill was then brought before the Tennessee State House earlier this year.
Following heated backlash, both the “Natural Marriage” bill and SB0771 have been postponed until the 2017-2018 legislative session.
In response to Tennessee legislators’ efforts to pass anti-LGBTQ bills this past year, the AAAS board voted this week to withdraw the 2018 AAAS conference from their planned conference site in Nashville, Tennessee next year. This is a strong show of solidarity by AAAS for the LGBTQ community, and a demonstration of our support of LGBTQ folks within the AAPI community. To hold the 2018 AAAS conference in Tennessee would be endangering and marginalizing for AAPI LGBTQ people; those who would want to attend the 2018 conference would be forced to travel to a state that seeks to outlaw their existence. I applaud AAAS for choosing instead to withdraw the conference from Tennessee, and instead to stand against Tennessee’s efforts to legislate bigotry, intolerance and hatred.
However, by voting to withdraw the 2018 AAAS conference from Nashville, the 2018 AAAS conference is now in dire financial straits. Half the conference budget must be spent to break the Association’s contract with the Tennessee hotel that had been the intended venue for next year’s event; without a new source of money to replace this lost budget, the conference is in danger of not taking place.
AAAS has launched a fundraiser today to seek donations to support their withdrawal of the 2018 conference from Tennessee. They are hoping to raise $60,000 from the community to offset the costs of the move. As of the publication of this post, they have raised nearly $14,000 — mostly in small donations from private individuals. This is an impressive sum, but hardly enough to ensure that AAAS takes place next year.
I have already donated, and I am asking you to join me this week in giving what you can to AAAS in helping them to withdraw from Tennessee over the state’s efforts to pass anti-LGBTQ legislation. Please give some money if you can, and please share the fundraiser with your network.