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AHA Members Back Move to Embarrass but Not Boycott Anti-Gay Hotel Owner at Next Convention

UPDATE: It's official: AHA will make an issue of gay marriage at its San Diego meeting.

This could be awkward. The AHA is on its way to adopting as official policy a plan to embarrass the owner of the hotel where next year's 2010 convention will take place. The owner of the hotel, Doug Manchester, made a $125,000 contribution in support of California Proposition 8, the recently-passed measure that forbids gay marriage in the state. At Sunday's Business Meeting gay activists won support for a resolution to embarrass Manchester by hosting at his hotel "a series of panels and special events that will address issues of equity and place questions of marriage and family in historical perspective." A working group will be established to facilitate this effort. The resolution includes a provision to set aside a minimum of $62,500 to support initiatives "in this vein proposed by the working group, Program Committee, or LGBTQ Task Force." If matching funds aren't found the AHA will increase its own spending up to $100,000.

The Business Meeting turned back a more extreme measure to boycott the hotel, the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, after AHA officials pointed out that the cost of breaking the association's hotel contract could exceed $700,000. Barbara Weinstein, past president of the AHA, who offered the substitute plan to embarrass the owner, noted that whether the organization boycotted the hotel or not the owner would be enriched. Therefore, she argued, it made more sense to stage a series of gay marriage panels to draw public attention to the hotel owner's conservative agenda.

Her plan, co-sponsored by Teofilo Ruiz, the just-retired vice president of the Research Division, won nearly unanimous approval from the seventy or so members present at the meeting. The measure now moves to the Council of the AHA for final disposition. Unless it is approved by the Council it is not considered the official policy of the organization. The convention will split its activities between the Hyatt and the Marriott, located across the street. History job interviews will be conducted at the Marriott.

The measure to boycott the hotel was proposed by a representative of the labor group UNITE-HERE. He claimed that the hotel treats its workers poorly, making housekeepers clean up to thirty rooms a day. The standard is sixteen even for non-union hotels, he said.

Several gay members of the AHA backed the boycott, arguing that they shouldn't be forced to choose between their profession and their ideals. Other gay members stood up to defend the compromise resolution offered by Weinstein. A co-founder of the Lavender Union, James Graham, said that he rose in defense of the compromise even though some of "my sisters and brothers in the gay and labor movement might not agree with me and feel that I am betraying some principles. But I learned over the years, first as a Quaker upraising I learned I had to boycott everything all the time [laughter] that boycotts are tactical questions, not questions of principle. And as I understand it, there is not an ongoing labor dispute or an organizing drive at this time. ... So we are not talking about crossing a picket line."

Blanche Wiesen Cook, the Eleanor Roosevelt scholar, noting that she had "been an activist in the LGBT movement since I was two ... and I really cannot stand that we have one group left in this country to hate," joined in support of the compromise, saying that the AHA had a chance to help educate Americans about the issues raised by gay marriage. Karen Altima said that the AHA was in a position to embarrass Doug Manchester "with a raft of panels and workshops ... significantly more than if we get a single newspaper article saying the AHA boycotted." She added on a triumphant note: "I am amazed that the American Historical Association is willing to ante up as much as a hundred thousand dollars after taking a twenty-five percent hit in the market this fall. So I think we should see this as an extraordinary gesture."

And with that the previous question was called and the resolution was approved.

This is the third time in recent years that either the AHA or the OAH has been called on to boycott a hotel over an issue involving questions of social justice. In 2005 the OAH moved the location of its convention to San Jose to avoid crossing union picket lines in San Francisco. The move cost the organization hundreds of thousands of dollars. In 2000 the OAH boycotted the Adam's Mark Hotel in St. Louis after serious charges of racism were filed against hotel management. This boycott also cost the organization a substantial amount of money. The meeting location was switched to Saint Louis University.

Note: As the result of a new AHA policy HNN was not allowed to videotape the Business Meeting proceedings.

Related Links

  • HNN Hot Topics: Gay Marriage

  • AHA Press Release: It's official ... AHA will make an issue of gay marriage at its San Diego meeting

  • Inside Higher Ed: Historians Reject Proposed Boycott

  • Boycott Resolution