Recently, the American Library Association was condemned by the Black Caucus of the ALA (BCALA) for its decision not to move the 2016 Annual Conference from Orlando Florida over concerns that Florida’s so called “Stand Your Ground” law was making Florida an unsafe place to be for persons of color.
The initial statement to ALA and ALA Council was taken by some, myself included, as a demand to move the conference now. That was a mistaken impression, corrected by BCALA itself, in a press release a few days after the initial condemnation.
Conversations followed with the ALA Executive Board and the other ethnic caucuses of ALA that resulted in the statement below:
March 24, 2014
JOINT STATEMENT FROM THE PRESIDENTS OF THE ETHNIC CAUCUSES OF ALA AILA, APALA, BCALA, CALA, REFORMA) AND THE AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION (ALA)
The values of diversity, equity, and inclusion form the foundation of the library profession and our professional associations. Those values have been challenged by the discriminatory enforcement of the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida and the fact that ALA’s 2016 Annual Conference is scheduled for Orlando. The Executive Committee members of ALA and the BCALA Executive Board have actively engaged in conversation to determine the best solution to this challenging dilemma. That conversation has been extended to the Executive Boards of AILA, APALA, CALA, and REFORMA with a decision to issue a joint statement of commitment and action.
In response to BCALA’s concern regarding holding the ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, FL in 2016, the ALA Executive Board thoroughly explored the options for moving the conference. ALA started by clarifying the facts underlying conference site selection, the implications of trying to move the Orlando conference, and the prevalence of Stand Your Ground laws across the United States. The contracts for Orlando were negotiated originally in 2000; the Stand Your Ground law in Florida became effective on October 1, 2005. Cancelling the hotel and convention center contracts would result in a minimum fine of $814,000. Conferences as large as ALA must be scheduled for specific sites and contracts signed at least 7-10 years in advance. At this late date, it would be highly unlikely that ALA would be able to find another site with availability during our window of late June/early July, 2016.
Most troubling is the growing prevalence of Stand Your Ground laws. Twenty-two states have laws that allow for that self-defense provision to be asserted (as of August 2013). An additional 21 states have enacted laws that allow for self-defense within one’s home (called Castle Doctrines). However, each state has implemented and applied the Stand Your Ground laws differently, and it is the interpretation and application of the Stand Your Ground Law in the Zimmerman and Dunn cases, as well as the Marissa Alexander case, that has heightened the urgency for discussion and action.
With that information in hand, our ALA’s Executive Committee and BCALA’s Executive Board decided that the best way to respond to the Florida situation is by turning it into an opportunity to educate, build awareness, and advocate for equitable treatment, inclusion, and respect for diversity. We have agreed on the following actions:
- Town Hall discussions of racial diversity and inclusion in our profession, association, and communities
o Major topic of Membership Meeting at 2014 ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas
o Topic of discussion during Virtual Membership Meeting on June 5, 2014
- Support for conversations and actions at the state level facilitated by state library associations or other organizations within the states
- Formation of a Special Presidential Task Force involving members of the ethnic affiliates and ALA to 1) develop programs and other opportunities for members to learn about and engage in the issue, 2) build strong advocacy and awareness while at the Orlando conference, and 3) develop communications directed toward the public. The Task Force will be formed immediately. The goal is to use the Orlando conference platform to provoke a national dialogue.
- Collaboration with local Black and Hispanic/Latino community members and organizations in Orlando to determine the best ways for ALA members to be supportive of them. This will include compilation of a list of African-American and Hispanic/Latino businesses in Orlando for ALA members to patronize.
- Outreach to national organizations with vested interest in the Stand Your Ground laws to build alliances and collaborative efforts in advocacy and public awareness (e.g., NAACP, La Raza, Urban League).
Most important to all the ethnic caucuses and ALA is the public and honest conversation that will be generated by our actions. We are committed to building more diversity and inclusion among our members, the field of librarianship, and our communities. We invite all members of AILA, APALA, BCALA, CALA, REFORMA and ALA to engage with us in moving toward a more just society.
Barbara Stripling Jerome Offord, Jr. Heather Devine
President President President
ALA BCALA, Inc. AILA
Eugenia Beh Lisa Zhao Isabel Espinal
President President President
APALA CALA REFORMA
To me this seems sensible, we (ALA) acknowledge that we live in a less than just society and we work with stakeholders to make their concerns known to the community at large. We further agree to stand in solidarity with our fellow library workers and patrons regardless of our comfort level. The ethnic caucuses acknowledge that changing a conference venue is rather like steering a supertanker and offer us alternatives when we can’t turn in time.
Unsurprising and understandably, the joint statement was followed by a demand to include a representative from the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (GLBTQ) Roundtable on the task force. ALA President Barbara Stripling responded that plans to invite representation from GLBTQ were already underway.
After reviewing a very nice e-mail sent to me by Ann Symons who is not only Chair-Elect of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) Round Table but an Alaskan colleague, I’d like to withdraw my characterization of the communication I saw on the ALA Council list as a “demand.” That was too strong a word. Here’s the actual e-mail that prompted my remark:
From: “Hepburn, Peter” <Peter.Hepburn@canyons.edu>
To: Barbara Kay Stripling <firstname.lastname@example.org>, ALA Council <email@example.com>, “firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com>, Jerome Offord Jr <firstname.lastname@example.org>, ‘Isabel Espinal REFORMA President’ <email@example.com>, eugenia_beh <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Lisa Zh <email@example.com>, “firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com>, “firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com>, “firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com>, ‘Michelle Harrell Washington’ <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Cc: Mark Gould <email@example.com>, “firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com>, “Laurie Borman (firstname.lastname@example.org)” <email@example.com>
Subject: [alacoun] RE: Joint Statement from Ethnic Caucuses and ALA
Date: Tue, 25 Mar 2014 20:11:01 +0000
Barbara, thank you for sharing this. It’s a good starting point. The Committee on Membership Meetings is already considering ways in which the conversation can be a core part of the conversations at the virtual meeting and the meeting at Annual.
As the GLBTRT Councilor, I hope that the task force will include some representation of the round table’s membership and of its keen interest in matters related to equity, diversity, and inclusion.
Later that same day, another note was posted to the Council list:
- From: “Matthew P. Ciszek” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- To: Barbara Kay Stripling <email@example.com>
- Cc: “firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com>
- Subject: [alacoun] Re: Joint Statement from Ethnic Caucuses and ALA
- Date: Tue, 25 Mar 2014 17:19:47 -0400 (EDT)
Thanks for the your quick action, in conjunction with the Ethnic Caucuses and the Executive Board, in support of BCALA regarding Florida’s “stand your ground” laws and the discriminatory and racist way that they are applied in that state. This work is crucial, important, and necessary, but I feel that it is equally important that ALA focus on an expansive definition of diversity that includes LGBTQ voices. When appointing a Task Force on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion it is crucial that LGBTQ representation be included as well.LGBTQ people of color are much more likely to be victims of violence than their non-LGBT counterparts. LGBTQ people of color often suffer from higher rates of job insecurity and housing discrimination. Additionally, all LGBTQ people lack protection by anti-discrimination laws in 5 states, including Florida, where ALA conferences and meetings will be held in upcoming years. I would ask that representation from the LGBTQ community be considered on the Task Force on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion to ensure that the Association takes diversity in all forms into account in this important work.I am a firm believer that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and look forward to working with you and the Association in this area. I appreciate your time and consideration.Matthew P. CiszekALA Councilor-at-Large
I think it is fair to say that neither of these posts actually constitute a “demand.” In particular, Peter Hepburn’s email as GLBTRT Councilor seems to simply express the hope the task force would be expanded. While I think Matthew Ciszek’s e-mail could be described as more insistent, he was not speaking as an official rep of GLBTRT.
I apologize for the use of the word “demand.” I also apologize for adding a Q to to the end of the RoundTable. I’ve been hearing GLBTQ a lot and was trying to be inclusive. BUT – I should have actually looked up the Roundtable page to confirm their name.
Finally, I see that I forgot to mention that I do support the inclusion of GLBTRT on the task force. I think Matthew Cizsek’s comments are very well taken.
Although the joint statement calls on state associations to hold their own conversations on diversity I have no position on what actions we in Alaska ought to take. I have forwarded the Joint Statement to the Alaska Library Association (AkLA) E-Council and if you’re a member of AkLA and have an opinion, I urge to you to contact me or another member of E-Council.
Closing on a vaguely related note, this experience gave me the opportunity to read through the site selection criteria for ALA conferences. I found them enlightening and encourage you to take a look through them.