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

Historians in the News

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

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    More Comments:

    Robert Lee Gaston - 1/11/2009

    They are doing it with the money that they were supposed to spend doing what their charter says they should be doing.

    R.R. Hamilton - 1/11/2009

    Mr. Chamberlain said,

    "Even if it were constitutional to ban same-sex marriage, I would hold that it would still be unjust to do so, as there is no evidence that same sex couples are inferior to heterosexual couples in forming the core of a family in all its myriad legal and social obligations."

    Of course it's constitutional to ban same-sex marriage, just as it's constitutional to ban, say, brother-sister marriage. As for your contention that "there is no evidence that same sex couples are inferior to [opposite sex] couples in forming the core of a family in all its myriad legal and social obligations", that is an argument for you to make to a legislature, not a court.

    Andrew McMichael - 1/10/2009

    In this economy, where is the AHA going to come up with $62k, or $100k? I can't imagine that they have that money just lying around.

    Oscar Chamberlain - 1/7/2009

    "It is not necessary to be anti-gay in order to favor limiting marriage to opposite sex couples"

    Perhaps that can be true, but as you do not state what your argument against legalizing same sex marriages is, that is hard to judge.

    Even if it were constitutional to ban same-sex marriage, I would hold that it would still be unjust to do so, as there is no evidence that same sex couples are inferior to heterosexual couples in forming the core of a family in all its myriad legal and social obligations.

    Richard Cook - 1/7/2009

    Isn't forcing the AHA membership to support the "punishment" of an individual for exercising his rights of political speech an odd way to assert the rights of gays to marry? And if any AHA members oppose gay marriage, should their dues be used against their will to support a position they oppose? This might be the most foolish position the AHA has taken since the Hisorians Against the War days.

    Furthermore, hosting panels about marriage in history with the explicit intent to embarrass the hotel owner implies that the panels will not be truly historical, but rather ideological. I'll be anxious to see the panels that demonstrate the historical trend of same-sex marriage that we Westerners overturned in order to saddle society with heteronormity.

    Craig Michael Loftin - 1/7/2009

    I hate to be the one to break this to you, Mr. Beatty, but gay people are a part of history and even a part of the historical profession. But since you quit the AHA, then you don't have to deal with us awful people. Good for you.

    John D. Beatty - 1/7/2009

    Why does the AHA do it in public? What does this "anti-gay" issue have to do with history?

    Glad I quit the American Hysterical Association years ago...

    R.R. Hamilton - 1/6/2009

    It is not necessary to be anti-gay in order to favor limiting marriage to opposite sex couples.

    Moreover, there is no equal protection argument for same-sex marriage. In order for there to be one, there would have to be laws that provided that SOME people (say, whites, women, or straights) could enter into same-sex marriages but OTHER people (non-whites, men, gays) could not. Laws that ban same-sex marriage ban it for ALL people, not just gays. Obviously this is not the only "arbitrary restriction" we have on marriage. Like the others (banning, for example, brothers from marrying sisters), laws against same-sex marriage are applied without discrimination.

    People who think anti-same-sex marriage laws are "discriminatory" mistake the government's interest in marriage. Government does not give certain blessings to marriages in order to "honor the love" of the union. If that becomes the rationale for supporting same-sex marriage, then opposition to honoring any other romantic attachments (like the siblings who want to marry) becomes nothing more than a REAL act of rank discrimination. Then there WOULD be an "equal protection" argument to make.

    Robert Lee Gaston - 1/6/2009

    Your actions may actually be good for Mr. Manchester’s business. Not everyone is quite so “right thinking” as the members of the AHA. I have not heard of a gay marriage proposal has never passed in on a state-wide ballot. You should remember you are advocating a minority position that a great many people in your universities and local school districts find to be quite extreme.

    Your actions may also offend some of your own members, the ones who pay your dues. I read:

    “The American Historical Association (AHA) is a nonprofit membership organization founded in 1884 and incorporated by Congress in 1889 for the promotion of historical studies, the collection and preservation of historical documents and artifacts, and the dissemination of historical research. As the largest historical society in the United States, the AHA provides leadership and advocacy for the profession, fights to ensure academic freedom, monitors professional standards, spearheads essential research in the field, and provides resources and services to help its members succeed. The AHA serves more than 14,000 history professionals, representing every historical period and geographical area. AHA members include K –12 teachers, academics at two- and four-year colleges and universities, graduate students, historians in museums, historical organizations, libraries and archives, government and business, as well as independent historians.”

    I did not see the part about advocating political or social agendas that please our more left-wing members.

    Oscar Chamberlain - 1/5/2009

    "giving money to support heterosexual marriage"


    Placing same sex couples on a lower legal footing than opposite sex couples does nothing to protect the marriages of the latter.

    Heterosexual marriage began declining as a lifelong commitment in the US in the 19th century, when greater physical mobility allowed one member of the couple (usually but not always the male) to get away.

    The fact of abandonment as a growing issue led the legislatures to slowly loosen the legal restrictions on divorce from the mid 1800s to the advent of no-fault divorce in the mid 20th century. Longer life spans and the growing financial independence of women also added to the trend.

    All of this occurred long before gay rights became an important issue, and I have not seen one shred of evidence to suggest that placing the bond between same sex partners would do anything to further the deterioration of the bond. If anything the controversy is forcing Christian communities to ask themselves why their faith has failed to slow or reverse the trend toward multiple marriages among their own congregations and to look for solutions within those communities.

    Nancy REYES - 1/5/2009

    the fact that giving money to support heterosexual marriage is now considered "anti gay" says more for the bigotry of the intellectual community than it does about the guy making the donation.

    Intellectuals are supposed to understand nuance; but boycotts and criticism such as this suggest that the issues will never be truly discussed...either from a biological, psychological, anthropological or behavioral background. Hint: it's the (male) promiscuity that is at issue.

    The reason is that marriage is more than sex: it is the way most societies make it safe for women to have children, and for the sick and elderly to be cared for.

    People who aren't part of the PC culture know this (which is why blacks and Hispanics were those who backed traditional marriage at the highest rates).

    Oscar Chamberlain - 1/5/2009

    I see your point. However, I don't think a boycott would have been any more effective in generating publicity. Each approach would get at most one to two stories on the local news.

    A more significant action would be to eliminate Hyatt from consideration for future convention locations.

    Craig Michael Loftin - 1/5/2009

    As one of the signers of the original petition to boycott Manchester's Sheraton, I have very mixed feelings about this resolution. I am delighted that the AHA is willing (at least at this moment) to spend as much as $100,000 to support gay initiatives. Personally, I feel such support of lgbtq history in the AHA is long overdue, and this makes up for much the prejudice and bigotry gay and lesbian historians have had to deal with for decades (until the 1990s, pursuing a gay historical topic was generally regarded as career suicide). But I fail to see how a bunch of panels and workshops will really "embarrass" Manchester in any significant way. He is still cashing all of our checks and will still use our organization's funds to support anti-gay causes. I doubt Manchester will even be aware of these panels or what is going on. As long as he gets paid, why should he care one bit what happens at these panels? It's not like he is going to be hanging out at the conference or listening to anything anyone says. I think these panels are a great idea for intellectual and professional reasons, but I am not convinced Manchester will lose on wink of sleep over this.
    I was not able to attend AHA this year; perhaps someone who attended the meeting can explain to me and others more specifically exactly how these programs will serve to "embarrass" Manchester.