Discriminatory North Carolina Restroom Law Prompts Major Scientific Society to Move Annual Meeting

The American Physical Society’s Division of Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics has cancelled plans to hold their 2018 annual meeting in Charlotte, NC due to a new law in the state discriminating against members of the LGBT community

COLLEGE PARK, MD, August 4, 2016 – The APS Division of Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics (DAMOP) has canceled plans to hold their 2018 annual meeting in Charlotte, NC in light of a new law that unfairly discriminates against many members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community.

The law, known as HB2, was enacted in March 2016 and requires people to use public bathrooms that match the gender stated on their birth certificates, potentially putting transgender and gender non-conforming people at risk of arrest and prosecution if they enter a restroom that is appropriate to their gender identity.

APS representatives estimate that the local economic impact of the DAMOP annual meeting approaches $5 million, and note that the move is financially detrimental to the Charlotte area.

“Although we were unhappy that withdrawing from Charlotte would punish the city whose ordinance precipitated HB2,” said DAMOP Chair Steven Rolston of the University of Maryland, “we felt that it was imperative DAMOP and the APS provide a welcoming environment for all members.”

APS is among the leading scientific societies that are actively working to counteract and eliminate discrimination and prejudice against people in the LGBT community. As part of that effort, the Society released a report in March 2016 entitled LGBT Climate in Physics: Building an Inclusive Community. The report includes surveys of people identifying as transgender or gender non-conforming who reported significant issues around finding safe and inclusive workplaces and academic environments. Some of the most aggressive exclusionary barriers they faced involved hindrance of access to appropriate bathroom facilities.

“It is imperative for APS to continue to uphold its longstanding policy of not locating conferences in places where some members would risk legalized discrimination or criminalization for simply being themselves,” said Michael Falk (Johns Hopkins University), chair of the committee that authored the LGBT climate report. “The situation in North Carolina is untenable for trans physicists who would not only be at risk when making use of restroom facilities in conference venues but also at airports, hotel lobbies, restaurants and other establishments in the course of their visit to North Carolina.”

In addition to the restroom-related issues, HB2 preempts all local non-discrimination laws that previously offered some measures of protection for members of the LGBT community. The impact of the law is particularly significant because there are no national legal provisions against many types of discrimination that affect members of the LGBT community.

“As a trans physicist,” said Elena Long, a University of New Hampshire postdoc who was a member of the committee that compiled the LGBT Climate in Physics report, “I am proud of the APS for making this move. It speaks a lot more than words that this is truly a professional society that values all physicists.”

In finalizing the 2018 meeting venue change, DAMOP treasurer Joseph Tan (National Institute of Standards and Technology) will soon sign contracts arranging for meeting facilities in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

See the APS report LGBT Climate in Physics: Building an Inclusive Community.

Contact: James Riordon, APS, riordon@aps.org, (301) 209-3238

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The American Physical Society is a nonprofit membership organization working to advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics through its outstanding research journals, scientific meetings, and education, outreach, advocacy, and international activities. APS represents more than 50,000 members, including physicists in academia, national laboratories, and industry in the United States and throughout the world.