In this issue’s lead Plenary story, David McMillin writes that even as the world marked Pride Month, there are more than 70 countries where it is illegal to be gay.
And while such laws may not always be enforced, they are a serious consideration for event organizers trying to ensure that all attendees feel safe at their meeting or conference. I’ve heard of at least one company that canceled a program in a Caribbean country because of its criminalization of LGBTQ people.
While our first concern should be to bring our attendees to destinations where they feel welcome and accepted, as an industry we must carefully consider the consequences of boycotts and bans and other weaponization-of-travel actions. Will they change minds? Or will they only hurt local economies — including workers in hospitality and other sectors that support events?
We have a tremendous opportunity to use our face-to-face events as a platform to help build bridges. At every event, our community must lead the charge to create inclusive experiences. We have a global platform where we can create a respectful space for diverse perspectives, where we can learn from each other, share ideas, and find common ground.
During PCMA Convening Leaders 2019 in Pittsburgh, for example, we learned what it was like to walk in the shoes of tennis icon Billie Jean King, who did not feel comfortable about being gay until she was in her 50s. The actor Geena Davis, another keynoter at Convening Leaders, urged us to become aware of implicit biases, describing all the work she does to address gender imbalance. Other events have worked to combat racism or battle stigmas linked to disabilities or disease, through education sessions and speakers.
Convene last month wrote about ageism, often called the “last acceptable prejudice.” Ashton Applewhite told Convene that “no prejudice makes sense. They’re all irrational and they’re all wrong.” And, she might have added, they are rooted in fear. It’s okay to be fearful, we all have fears, just as we all have biases. One of the side benefits of attending events is that it takes people out of their daily grind and they become more receptive recognizing those fears and biases and to having an open mind.
When Convene spoke with Warren Berger, author of A More Beautiful Question and The Book of Beautiful Questions, earlier this year, he said just that. “If you think about what an event is,” he said, “it’s a time when you step back from the daily routine. And it’s a time when you want yourself to think differently. You want to be more reflective, you want to be more open to ideas.”
Each year, Pride Month reminds us to pause and reflect on inclusion. But the issues we as a world face go beyond LGBTQ rights. Let’s break down the barriers and have the dialogues needed to create understanding. And I — as I’m sure you do — look forward to the day when we no longer have to set aside a month to promote equality.
Sherrif Karamat, CAE, is President & CEO of PCMA.