As we prepare for the upcoming 2017 AASHE Conference and Expo, we want to make you aware of two issues we’ve been monitoring for several months. By now, you may be aware of the Texas Legislature’s Senate Bill 6, more commonly referred to as “the bathroom bill.” This bill was not acted upon during the regular legislative session. However, it may be revived if Texas Governor Greg Abbott calls for a special session of the legislature. At the time of this communication, he had not called for a special session, and we remain hopeful that this measure remains dormant for the foreseeable future. [UPDATE: As of June 11, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has called a special session to vote on Texas Legislature’s Senate Bill 6. We will provide more updates as they become available.]
There is, however, an equally concerning bill that was passed; Senate Bill 4, more commonly referred to as the “show me your papers” law. This law, designed to ban sanctuary cities in Texas, will require local police to cooperate with federal immigration authorities and allow police to inquire about the immigration status of people they lawfully detain. Under SB 4, local authorities are prevented from enacting policies that interfere with the duties of federal immigration officials. This state-based immigration law goes into effect on September 1, 2017. Several lawsuits have been filed opposing the law as unconstitutional, and the ACLU has issued a travel advisory for the state of Texas.
Our first inclination was to pull the conference out of Texas. However, the truth of the matter is that AASHE is financially committed to holding the conference in San Antonio. This commitment was made over a year ago to ensure we had the space needed for our event (and before SB4 & 6 were even being discussed), and the financial ramifications of moving the conference would jeopardize the health of the entire organization. Instead, with the assistance of our Legal Counsel, we have created a discrimination clause that will be added to all future contracts (hotels, convention centers, etc.) to protect AASHE financially if discriminatory practices or legislation are put in place after signing.
We recognize that these recent events in Texas may create some apprehension among our attendees and in fact, pose travel constraints for those whose institutions do not allow them to go to states where discriminatory laws are or will be in effect. Be assured that AASHE takes discrimination very seriously and would never want anyone to feel uncomfortable while attending one of our events. To that end, we have been and will continue to take appropriate measures to help provide a secure and productive atmosphere for conference attendees. We have had ongoing conversations with the San Antonio Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, the San Antonio Convention Center and the San Antonio Police Department to assess the impact of the new measure and discuss how we can work together to make all attendees feel safe and welcomed in the city of San Antonio.
The hard reality is this type of law is one of the many reasons why AASHE is so critical. As our world continues to be divided by issues around race, gender and ethnicity, it is more important than ever that we have a forum like AASHE where we confront these issues head-on with open and honest dialogue about difficult and divisive matters. In light of these actions, this year’s conference theme, “Stronger in Solidarity,” takes on even greater significance. It affirms the importance of the issues we will focus on during the conference; how the campus sustainability community can break down walls, build bridges and continue to make progress toward a healthy and equitable future for all.
Please know that AASHE prioritizes our values, diversity being one of them. We also want you to know that our partner suppliers, exhibitors and host institutions are anxiously waiting to welcome you with open arms. We plan to be there in support of our colleagues in Texas and to continue to advance sustainability in higher education. We believe in our conference theme of “Stronger in Solidarity,” and diversity in all its forms.
The discriminatory actions in Texas serve as a stark reminder of why our work is so important. We hope to see you in San Antonio!