I didn't Expect to be moved to tears at the Convention Industry Council's Hall of Leaders gala held in August in Boston. But when the first honoree, Bill Boyd, CMP, CMM, CITE, president and CEO, Sunbelt Motivation & Travel Inc., thanked Joe, his partner of 31 years, my eyes filled. Then the second honoree, Bob Dallmeyer, president, RD International, thanked his partner of six years, John. Later, Virginia Lofft, former vice president/publishing director, The Meetings Group, publisher of, thanked her partner, Claire, during her induction speech. Sitting toward the back of the enormous banquet room, amidst hundreds of people, I felt as if they were speaking right to me, as if they were not only acknowledging their relationships but all the others that have remained invisible. Three days earlier, my partner Pat and I had celebrated our 22nd anniversary.
While it may appear that Virginia, Bob, and Bill were only doing what the other honorees did — thanking their spouses — it was an act of courage for them to stand up at an industry event and pay tribute to the importance of their partners in their life and work. By doing so, they made visible and undeniable the contributions gay people make to the meeting industry. Bob Dallmeyer put his comments in historical context, talking about the bad old days when people could be fired because they were gay or lesbian.
Although things have improved tremendously, gay people are still denied many of the rights and protections afforded other U.S. citizens — and this second-class status can affect your meetings. The American Psychological Association announced in July that it would move its 2007 and 2008 governance meetings from Virginia to Washington, D.C., because gay and lesbian staff and members were concerned about the ramifications of the Affirmation of Marriage Act. Passed in 2004 in Virginia, the act prohibits any arrangement orbetween same-sex partners that “bestows the privileges or obligations of marriage.” This can be interpreted to invalidate medical directives. When I talked with Clinton Anderson, director of the D.C.-based APA's Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Concerns Office, he explained that when a staff member's partner was scheduled for surgery in Virginia, the hospital would not give the couple written assurances that their medical power of attorney would be honored. This concrete example increased uneasiness among staff and members about what might happen if they had a health crisis while meeting in Virginia, and they asked the association to change venues. The decision was not made for political purposes, Anderson clarifies, but because the APA wants to make sure volunteers are comfortable and treated well.
I empathize with the APA members' concerns. Even though Pat and I live in Massachusetts, where we are legally married, I worry that should an emergency arise while I'm attending an out-of-state conference, our marital rights will not be recognized. Anderson asks planners to consider whether gay members will have to put their [relationship rights] at risk to participate in meetings. “I don't think it would occur to anyone to ask [heterosexual] married people to do that,” he says.
I hope the examples set by the APA, and Virginia, Bob, and Bill, will encourage others to raise awareness about the leadership role gay people play in the industry and to speak out on behalf of their meeting-related concerns. I know they've inspired me.