The Philadelphia Marriott Downtown’s decision to host the Moms for Liberty national convention has lawmakers asking questions, and raises important risk management issues for meeting professionals to consider.
Moms for Liberty, a controversial far-right advocacy organization, is known for supporting book bans on topics of racism, slavery, sex, and gender identity, and for pushing anti-trans policies in schools. The group’s “Joyous Warriors Summit” convenes at the Marriott June 29 to July 2.
On April 20, three Democratic Pennsylvania legislators, State Sen. Nikil Saval and State Reps. Mary Louise Isaacson and Ben Waxman, wrote to Ken Reed, general manager at the property, expressing their disappointment in the hotel’s decision to host the group. Moms for Liberty, they wrote, is “widely recognized for its divisive rhetoric, discriminatory practices, and promotion of harmful policies that target vulnerable communities, especially the LGBTQ+ community. This organization has a history of spreading misinformation and advocating for discriminatory policies that undermine the values of inclusivity, diversity, and respect for all individuals.”
In their letter, the lawmakers urged the hotel to reconsider hosting the event and posed three questions:
1. Why did Philadelphia Marriott Downtown choose to host Moms for Liberty’s national convention?
2. What criteria or guidelines does your hotel follow when deciding which organizations are allowed to host events at your premises?
3. How does your hotel ensure that the organizations hosting events at your hotel align with the values of inclusivity, diversity, and respect for all individuals?
Reed responded to the lawmakers, pointing to U.S. civil rights protections. In the letter, he noted that “it’s important to consider longstanding legal standards which prohibit places of public accommodation from discriminating on the basis of certain traits or beliefs.”
Reed added that, “Our accommodation of certain guests or groups cannot be seen as support for or an endorsement of any particular set of beliefs. As a hotel that provides accommodations and event space to the public, we must serve people from all walks of life, with all points of view, equally—even when the views they espouse may be far from our own values. Please know that our hotel will decline business that would break the law, or otherwise pose a threat to the safety of the public, our guests, or our staff.”
Sen. Saval released a statement to Philadelphia Gay News in response to Reed’s comments, vehemently restating his case against Moms for Liberty and ending this way: “Absent any decision by Moms for Liberty to change locations, I look forward to welcoming the group to Philadelphia—with protests.”
What If Your Group Was Booked There?
The Philadelphia Marriott Downtown has 1,408 guest rooms and 93,211 square feet of meeting space. Moms for Liberty is hoping to draw 650 to the event, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, so the contentious, high-profile event might be sharing the hotel with other groups.
For meeting professionals, the situation is a good reminder of several site-selection and risk-management best practices.
Industry lawyer Joshua L. Grimes, Esq. of Grimes Law Offices, LLC, says it’s important for planners to protect themselves in the contracting stage. If a group is concerned about others who might be in a venue at the same time, the planner “should ask for disclosure of other groups at time of contracting; and also the right to approve any other groups using function space that the venue may want to book at any time afterwards.”
The approval of those other groups cannot be withheld without good cause. However, Grimes notes that “‘good cause’ can expressly include competitors, or groups that are contrary to the meeting group’s mission or policies, such as DEI. Venues are known to agree to this, particularly if a group is using nearly all of its function space.”
Grimes emphasizes that merely asking a venue to disclose other groups does little, without a right to reject the other groups as well.
“In today's world, nothing should be taken for granted. If there is function space in a venue that a group is not using, they should assume the venue will book that space with another customer. So, if a group has a list of competitors or other potential users that would interfere with the successful conduct of its event, the group should negotiate for the right to approve other users and thereby ensure that no issues arise.”
Another essential step: Review your organization’s risk management procedures and policies. If you’re sharing a hotel with a group that’s likely to draw protestors, you’ll need to communicate with attendees about protocols and safety. Grimes notes that “if another group in the same function space will cause a group to incur additional costs for security, it’s fair to ask the venue to pay those costs, or to share them.” Planners, he says, should also be mindful of other possible impacts, such as the need for attendees to enter and exit the venue by a particular door, or excessive noise interruptions.
Hell No, We Won’t Go!