While the official theme of the American Society of Association Executives’ Annual Meeting may have been “What Inspires,” it was the answer to that question that seemed to resonate throughout the event, held August 12–15 in Toronto. As ASAE President and CEO John Graham, CAE, said in his opening remarks, “What inspires me? You do. You, the members of the association community.”
And it’s vital that the association community stands by, and stands up for, everyone in that community and the members it serves, especially, Graham said, when “some currents in our own nation seem to be causing some to feel less welcome. … At ASAE, our board and our membership have been united in opposing discrimination in any form and for any reason. That principle has animated much of our public policy work in the past year.”
Among ASAE’s advocacy issues has been the travel ban proposed by the Trump Administration that is facing legal challenges for targeting majority Muslim countries. While ASAE supports “appropriate security and vetting of international travelers, Graham said, “we cannot support the idea of a travel ban, especially a ban aimed at those of particular nationalities or faiths. The same is true for vetting so extreme that it discourages visitors who want only to attend a conference or tour our cities.”
Discriminatory practices are not just unwelcoming—they also cause economic damage. Just the proposal of the travel ban has already had a chilling effect on travel to the U.S., especially for scientific and medical organizations. “This is not only bad for the image of the United States, but for our economy and for the free flow of ideas upon which our industries and professions depend,” Graham said, adding that ASAE will continue to fight against the imposition of a discriminatory travel ban.
ASAE also will continue to oppose state legislation that removes protections for the LGBTQ community, such as the North Carolina “bathroom” law that was repealed earlier this year. ASAE is monitoring similar legislation pending in other states, including Texas’s Senate Bill 3, which would restrict transgendered individuals from using certain public restrooms. During a press conference on August 14, Graham said he had just heard that SB3 was unlikely to leave committee in the Texas legislation. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the bill will not see the light of day and that Texas will remain the free and open place it is today,” he said.
ASAE will continue to keep a watch on potentially discriminatory legislative developments on the state and federal level, along with tax reform, the federal budget, and healthcare—all of which also can have a significant impact on associations and their members. At last year’s Annual Meeting, Graham introduced several diversity and inclusion initiatives, including a clause ASAE was now using in its meeting contracts to protect the organization should its host destination enact a discriminatory law.
The general session keynoters also spoke about the importance of inclusiveness. Businesswoman and author Nilofer Merchant kicked off the opening general session by encouraging the audience to find the unique value each person has, their “onlyness.” Rather than hide that to conform to others’ ideas of what’s normal, find others who share that unique quality to band together and cultivate ideas into actions, she said. Closing keynoter and celebrity chef Jeff Henderson, in addition to cooking up some sweet and savory fois gras on stage, shared how he learned about the most diverse crew you can imagine—from street thugs and murders he worked with as a drug dealer and in prison, to his fellow inmates from Wall Street and the Mafia. Everyone has something to teach you if you open your mind to them—after all, he learned table etiquette from his fellow inmate and Mob boss John Gotti. “Successful people don’t chase money,” he said. “They chase relationships.”
The host city of Toronto also was proud to display its embrace of all the many types of people who live in and visit “Canada’s downtown.” As Tourism Toronto President and CEO Johanne Belanger said at the press conference, more than half of the city’s population was born in another country, so diversity—and inclusivity—is baked into Toronto’s DNA. There even was a “Pride” food stand at The Classic, a fundraising gala for the ASAE Foundation held at the Rebel nightclub, which featured selfie opportunities with rainbow-clad characters along with some tasty and colorful cole slaw.