Monday, February 16, 2009

SAA and its LGBT members

NB: The views expressed in this post -- and in all of my posts -- are mine and mine alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the SAA Lesbian and Gay Archives Roundtable or any other organization in which I am involved.

I've been meaning to post about the recent brouhaha that erupted on the Archives & Archivists listserv, which began with some ill-informed and overheated comments regarding a discussion resolution that the SAA Diversity Committee, with the support of the Lesbian and Gay Archives Roundtable, submitted for Council's discussion at its upcoming meeting. However, during the past few weeks, I've had to focus on a high-priority work project. As a result, I haven't had the time or energy to tackle the ever-growing pile of dishes in my sink or the cat-fur tumbleweeds blowing across my floors, let alone devote much attention on this blog. The three-day weekend has given me a bit of critical distance and a chance to catch up, so here goes . . .

The resolution in question calls upon SAA to advocate for equal civil rights, including marriage, for all of its members and for Council, the Diversity Committee, and LAGAR to work together to identify ways in which the organization should do so. Sadly, even before they knew what this resolution entailed (namely, ongoing dialogue), some people were up in arms.

Terry over at Beaver Archivist has superbly made the case for why SAA's concerns should encompass not only the specifics of archival practice (e.g., Encoded Archival Description) but also the conditions under which archivists labor and the broader society in which our work takes place. He also drives home a point that a lot of listserv posters failed to grasp: Proposition 8 is one facet of a much broader effort to deny lesbian and gay -- and bisexual and transgender -- Americans full legal equality.

There are still plenty of jurisdictions in which an archivist or records manager can be fired solely because of his or her sexual orientation, have his or her parental rights challenged, and find his or her carefully structured health care and inheritance arrangements tossed aside. Some SAA members face these pressures on a daily basis, and effort and energy that they might otherwise devote to their work or their professional association is instead diverted to safeguarding their families as best they can; one could argue that these members should seek jobs in friendlier locales, but giving in to discrimination isn't a real solution to the problem. Other members hesitate when registering to attend annual meetings held in certain jurisdictions, knowing that serious injury or illness might separate them -- temporarily or permanently -- from their loved ones. If SAA genuinely cares about the conditions under which archivists labor, it must address the legal inequities its LGBT members confront.

SAA's equal opportunity/non-discrimination policy, which was adopted in 1992, states that:
The Society of American Archivists is a professional organization established to serve the educational and informational needs of its members. SAA promotes cooperation, research, standards, public awareness, and relations with allied professions and thereby advances the identification, preservation, and use of records of enduring value. Because discrimination and unequal treatment are inimical to the Society's goals, SAA hereby declares that discrimination on the grounds of race, color, creed, gender, national origin, age, marital status, family relationship, individual life style [i.e., sexual orientation], and disability is prohibited within the Society. SAA will vigorously pursue a policy of non-discrimination and equal opportunity through its programs, activities, services, operations, employment, and business contracts.
SAA has in the past moved its annual meetings in order to avoid locales and venues that discriminated against certain of its members, and it has taken other steps (e.g., partial reimbursement of onsite child care expenses) that make it easier for members to meet both their family needs and their professional commitments. With a little planning and forethought, I firmly believe that SAA can find concrete ways to build upon these precedents and defend the rights of its LGBT members -- and to do so in ways that also recognize the rights of individual members and repositories of religious bodies opposed to same-sex marriage.

Finally, a word of thanks. Kate over at ArchivesNext wrote a great post on the listserv controversy, which includes solid practical advice on how members can make their views known to Council. She has also started a new Facebook group, I Support Equal Civil Rights for my Gay & Lesbian Archivist Colleagues. Kate is a tireless champion of the use of Web 2.0 in the world of archives, and once again she has driven home the potential of the new tools now available to us. You're the best, Kate!

1 comment:

Kate T. said...

You're no slouch at making the case either! Thanks for the kind words about my efforts. The more people who speak up on this, the better. Righteous indignation (combined with disgust) are not going to help--if you're reading this and share our views and haven't yet written to Council, do it now! Speak up!