By John Hardin, June 4, 2009 in Outside the Classroom
A few months ago, the American Historical Association Executive Director Arnita Jones stated that at the 2010 annual meeting, the association will "seize the opportunity to create a significant teaching moment." This made sense to me and seemed agreeable, after all, the AHA is committed to teaching, why pass up a "significant teaching moment." Yet, then I read what that moment will be, and what they intend to teach.
The 2010 annual meeting of the AHA will be at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego; a hotel owned and operated by Doug Manchester, who made a $125,000 contribution to support Proposition 8 in California, which outlawed same-sex marriage. Upon learning of this connection, the AHA Council resolved, with counsel from LGBT activists, to boycott the hotel. Then, upon learning that a boycott would cost them a boatload of money, they resolved instead to form an LGBTQ Task Force and give up to $100,000 to support proposed initiatives. Thus, the teaching moment will be gender "discrimination" and the lesson will be historical perspectives on marriage and the AHA’s commitment to "equity and equal rights." It is this latter commitment that most troubles me.
The AHA states that it is committed to "equity in the workplace and equal rights regardless of race, ethnicity, religious belief, disability, gender, or sexual orientation." It claims that it is therefore obligated not to support a hotel that opposes same sex marriage. However, this assumes that same sex marriage is a human right, which is exactly the point of controversy and debate across the nation. The AHA has already taken a side on this political issue. As well, this moment forces the AHA to choose whose rights they will actually defend. If Manchester’s opposition to same sex marriage is based in his religious beliefs, should the AHA not defend his rights? In opposing Manchester, is the AHA not violating its commitment to equal rights? As a historian and member of the AHA, if I oppose same sex marriage out of religious conviction, can I be denied support by the organization? Is that not a violation of my rights and the AHA commitment to equity?
This case also raises questions about the purpose of the AHA. The AHA exists to be a "leader and public advocate for the field." Yet, how does its adoption of a partisan political position, on a highly divisive issue, promote the field of history? Does it not in fact injure the discipline by suppressing freedom of thought and expression? The AHA claims to be "the professional association for all historians." Yet, can it represent all historians as long as it readily denounces the beliefs and convictions of many Americans?
Perhaps what we learn from this teaching moment is that the AHA cannot live up to its purposes and principles. Perhaps it has to choose a side, and it has chosen the left. Or, perhaps I am just over-reacting.
- All quotations are from the "AHA Resolution on the 2010 Annual Meeting in San Diego" released on January 05, 2009.