Dear ATIXA community,
The ATIXA team would like to provide some information about our upcoming conference located in the state of Florida. We are a mission-based association that holds deeply our values of equity on the basis of sex, gender, inclusion, safety, and belongingness for all. While we abhor the wave of anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation in many states, please know that we do not have a viable option of moving this conference to a location that better mirrors our values. ATIXA contracts several years in advance with conference locations so that we can keep costs predictable and provide an accessible and inviting destination for our attendees. As a result of cancellations due to COVID, we were forced to renegotiate event contracts we had entered into in 2019 and before. We will certainly consider state and local laws when making future contract decisions, but acknowledge that we’re going to be in Florida for the near future.
While we cannot always quickly or easily pivot locations that have been planned years in advance, we can and do commit to working with local activists directly serving the communities in which we host events, and using our presence in the state to sound our protest. For example, during our January training event, we partnered with The onePULSE Foundation in Orlando, FL to demonstrate our shared values and support their work to address equity for all. We also understand that many Florida residents and businesses do not support such targeted legislation and we applaud them. We will always support local organizations that share our vision and mission, even when we do business in a state or location that does not honor our values.
The Florida “Parental Rights in Education” bill itself is somewhat misunderstood because of the inflammatory “Don’t Say Gay” labeling that has been attached to it. The bill is not entitled “Don’t Say Gay.” It explicitly limits teaching about gay relationships and transgender status to students in grades K-3. There is some potentially ominous language that requires any teaching about these subjects to be age-appropriate for students who are not K-3. Still, the issue will be in how Florida seeks to enforce the meaning of “age appropriateness” once the bill is enacted. Speaking about this, some pundits have asserted that we should not be teaching kids that young about gay sex, but this plays precisely into the mythology around the bill. School districts in Florida aren’t teaching eight-year-olds about gay sex. But, any bill that prohibits teachers from addressing the fact that gay relationships exist is abhorrent, just as would be any bill that prohibited schools from addressing heterosexual relationships.
Students that age who are gay or transgender sometimes know it already, and education that is inclusive of the diversity of genders and relationships can normalize those feelings. Florida may want to try to inhibit that normalization as public policy, but we know from research studies that doing so can be very harmful to students’ mental health as they mature. Many Florida students have parents who are gay and/or transgender. Florida will soon learn that pretending in schools that gay and transgender people don’t exist won’t make them go away, and this law won’t force anyone back into the closet. Under Title IX, if schools are educating about hetero-normative relationships, it can be discriminatory to refuse to teach about same-sex relationships explicitly. We expect a tide of litigation against this pernicious law, depending on how it is enforced, and Title IX may play a key role.
Both in this statement and when we are in Florida for our conference, we will issue a resolution that calls on the state, the governor, and the legislature to repeal the anti-LGBTQIA+ elements of this bill. We encourage all Florida citizens to reject the authority this bill creates to bring private causes of action against those who violate the provisions. Suing school teachers is going to drive good teachers out of a state that is already running short of high-quality teachers. Creating private rights of action to reshape education to your values may seem like a good idea, until the party whose values are not yours is in power, and legislating contrary to your values. A future administration could create a private right of action against any teacher who does not teach about LGBTQ+ rights, or critical race theory, or any number of other social justice issues.
Legislating values is bad for business, and ATIXA will be observing enforcement of this bill with a view to where we choose to host our conferences in 2025 and beyond. While we must adhere to contractual obligations for the next three years, as we move forward in selecting future locations, our priority will continue to be cities where all of our members feel included, welcomed, and accepted. We will share further details on local organizations we are supporting as we get closer to the conference. Stay tuned at https://www.atixa.org/opening-soon-atixa-2022-conference-with-pre-and-post-conference-trainings/
You are always welcome to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or feedback.
Brett A. Sokolow, J.D., ATIXA President
Megan Calel, M.A.O.M., ATIXA Executive Director
Megan Birster, Executive Director, TNG Training Operations
Michelle Issadore, M.Ed., Executive Vice President, TNG Association & Training Operations
Marti Kopacz, M.B.A., TNG CEO