In October, 2019, a member of the Oral History Society (OHS) shared with the OHA Council a letter written by the OHS’s LGBTQ Special Interest Group regarding the International Oral History Association’s (IOHA) 2020 conference in Singapore. This letter brings up important issues regarding locations for any association’s annual meeting, and how the sites selected impact who reasonably can attend. In particular, the letter highlights Singapore’s history of criminalizing same-sex relationships and the dilemma LGBTQ people, and their allies, face in deciding whether to travel to Singapore for the meeting.
Choosing conference locations is indeed a challenge. Issues like labor disputes at conference hotels require associations to be careful, forward thinking, and empathetic when deciding where an annual meeting is held. Additionally, in the United States, discriminatory laws in multiple states prompted the California State Legislature to enact Assembly Bill 1887, which prohibits state-funded or state-sponsored travel to states which discriminate “against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.” Currently eleven states are on this list, and the OHA chooses not to hold annual meetings in any of these locations. From an international perspective, given this landscape, it would be reasonable for people to decline to travel to the U.S.
Which is to say, though currently there may not exist a perfect location for an annual meeting, we must do good-faith work to choose meeting locations that welcome all those who make up the oral history community. The OHA supports the OHS’s LGBTQ Special Interest Group in asking the IOHA to make clear to potential attendees Singapore’s laws around same-sex relationships, as well as to be more thorough in its future site selection.
We respect OHA member’s individual decisions to attend, or not attend, the IOHA’s meeting in Singapore. In support of LGBTQ people and their allies who do choose to attend, the OHA will reach out to LGBTQ organizations in Singapore working to make the country safer for LGBTQ people to offer our support. Looking forward to the next IOHA meeting, the OHA will also request its 2022 contribution to the IOHA be used for LGBTQ programming.
Finally, we thank the Oral History Society’s LGBTQ Special Interest Group for their leadership and guidance on this issue.