Gay Marriage, the Manchester Grand Hyatt, and the APA

manchesterLate last month, American Psychological Association president-elect Carol Goodheart sent an email to APA’s Council of Representatives alerting them to a problem looming on the horizon. Several years ago, the APA entered a contract with the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego to be a headquarters hotel for the 2010 annual convention next August. But last year, hotel owner Doug Manchester contributed $125,000 to support California’s Proposition 8 initiative, which ultimately succeeded in banning same-sex marriage in the state.

In her email on behalf of the Board of Directors, Dr. Goodheart requested that “APA Divisions and governance members not boycott the Manchester Hyatt.” She warned that the financial costs of canceling the hotel contract could exceed $1 million. And she proposed that APA instead turn the situation into a “positive educational opportunity regarding the issue of same-sex marriage.”

Dissatisfied with and troubled by Dr. Goodheart’s letter and its recommendations, I sent her the letter below in response to her request for “other actions that APA might take.”

August 31, 2009

Dear Dr. Goodheart:

I am writing to share my concerns and disappointment regarding your letter last week describing APA’s plans for the 2010 Convention and the contract situation with the Manchester Hyatt. In particular, I would like to make several points for your consideration.

1. Your letter seems to me to have failed to inform readers that for the past year there has been an ongoing boycott of the Manchester Hyatt, including protests and picketing at the hotel. And just last month, local LGBT activists and union leaders – also protesting labor conditions at the hotel – announced that they were extending their boycott efforts for a second year. Therefore, in requesting that members book rooms and attend events at the Hyatt, you are encouraging them to cross picket lines – an important political act in its own right. I believe they should know this in advance.

2. In my view, the actions you describe as alternatives to a boycott (e.g., LGBT-related briefing papers, symposia, etc.) should have been part of APA’s convention planning all along – i.e., regardless of issues posed by the Manchester Hyatt. These proposed convention activities in support of equal rights would be just as warranted and indeed necessary whether or not this particular hotel owner had given $125,000 to support a ban on same-sex marriage in California.

3. I am particularly troubled, although perhaps I may have misunderstood you, by your expressed view that these “alternative” actions will enable APA members to “show their support for the critical principles at stake for LGBT members and communities.” I strongly believe that the principles at stake are not simply matters of importance to the LGBT community alone. These principles should legitimately be a source of concern for everyone. I think you will agree that we all benefit from living in a more just society. At the same time, I recognize that your letter offers no clear statement that the APA would actually prefer not to use the Manchester Hyatt.

4. The letter’s claim that APA policy necessitates honoring the hotel contract is overly simple and unsatisfactory. In particular, you offer no indication that APA leadership has thoroughly investigated whether there might be a legitimate basis for breaking the contract without incurring the financial costs you highlight. This is important because there are reports that several organizations have in fact moved events away from the Manchester Hyatt. According to the Lesbian and Gay Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, these groups include the American Association of Law Schools, the San Diego County Pension Fund, GLAAD, the San Diego Association of Realtors, the California Nurses Association, the Conference of Delegates of California Bar Associations, and the International Foundation of Employee Benefits. In this regard, an online letter from the National Lawyers Guild of San Francisco (protesting the California State Bar Association’s decision to hold its upcoming meeting at the Hyatt) notes that a contract might be cancelled “on the grounds that the Hotel most certainly is not living up to its contractual commitment to provide the State Bar with a quiet and non-controversial venue for this meeting.”

5. Even from a strictly financial perspective, I think the cost-benefit analysis is substantially more complex than your letter suggests. One million dollars is indisputably a lot of money – but it is also the worst-case scenario. And we should not lose sight of other key ways that $1 million can be lost, including (1) the loss in dues if 2,500 members or prospective members decide that the APA does not represent their values and therefore choose not to renew or join, or (2) the loss in fees if 3,600 members decide against attending the convention in San Diego for similar reasons. Any potential financial loss linked to the Manchester Hyatt should also considered in context, such as that figure’s relation to APA’s overall operating budget and other assets (including the likely multi-million dollar increase over the past month alone in the value of APA’s investments, due to the recent stock market rally). I would note here as well that APA’s leadership now has a year to take creative steps to insure that no APA staff jobs are lost as a result of any hotel-related financial losses.

6. Your appeal to the ironclad requirements of “APA policy” also seems substantially weakened by clear evidence that APA’s leadership considers policy prescriptions optional in other contexts. For example, almost a full year after last fall’s membership referendum prohibited psychologists from working in national security detainee settings such as Guantanamo Bay, this “official APA policy” has still not been implemented.

To conclude, this is a difficult time for many APA members to accept an argument along the lines of “Trust us, we can be counted on to do the right thing.” Sadly, I think that sense of trust will need significant rebuilding before faith in the APA leadership is fully restored. At the same time, I recognize that APA’s current contract with the Manchester Hyatt poses a complex set of issues and challenges, and that your job here is not an easy one. That said, I think your apparent decision to forgo tough, savvy, and legally-astute negotiations with the Manchester Hyatt is premature, and I believe your effort to forestall a principled boycott of the hotel by APA divisions and governance members is misguided as well.

Thank you for your time and attention to my concerns. I look forward to any response you might care to offer, and I welcome your sharing this letter with others who might be interested.

Sincerely,

Roy Eidelson, Ph.D.
APA Member since 1982
President, Eidelson Consulting (www.eidelsonconsulting.com)
President, Psychologists for Social Responsibility (www.psysr.org)
610-513-8685

UPDATE: In a reply to my letter, Dr. Goodheart expressed her hope that more information on APA’s plans will be available for the membership sometime in the next two weeks.

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