In 2019, North Carolina attempted to push through a bill that would force trans individuals to use the bathroom of their sex assigned at birth, rather than their current gender. It was only a few years ago, but there was mass outrage in a way that seems unthinkable today. Most notably, the National Basketball Association threatened to pull their annual all-star game. Eventually, thanks to the efforts of the NBA, other organizations, and public pressure, North Carolina lawmakers relented and repealed the bathroom part of their bill.
This year, the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) is hosting their annual conference in Tampa, Florida in August. According to MAA, the contract was signed in 2018 and the organization did consider moving the conference out of Florida. But the costs of moving would be so burdensome that they have decided to go forth with the conference in Tampa. Here is their statement on the matter.
“As noted in the MAA Code of Conduct, the MAA is dedicated to the practice of equal opportunity, treatment, participation, and outcomes for all regardless of gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, race, color, national or ethnic origin, religion or religious belief, age, marital status, disabilities, veteran status, field of expertise, or any other reason not related to scientific merit. We recognize that recent legislation passed in Florida and ever-expanding legislation from California present hurdles – some insurmountable – to some of our members…
…the MAA did give serious consideration to moving MathFest 2023 out of Florida, beginning in late 2021. … The financial penalty for breaking the contract was not tenable – its scale exceeded the MAA’s meeting and event expenses in 2021 and the amount budgeted in 2022. Given the Board of Directors’ fiduciary responsibilities to the association, the conversation about moving the meeting was deemed moot..”
While I appreciate that MAA is at least outwardly performing uneasiness with legislation in Florida, there are a couple things I’d like to point out.
First, they don’t actually say what the specific laws are that gave them pause about hosting the convention in Florida. And I assume the nod to California was concerning California’s “don’t do business with certain states” law. Putting these two states in the same denunciation, with no specificity, only serve to muddle what the laws are.
Second – and crucially – there’s a clear misunderstanding and underselling of what’s happening with this statement, “unlike past eras where enforced segregation prohibited members of our community from participating in some of our meetings, these laws do not prevent members of our community from attending MAA MathFest, nor do they limit our members’ ability to freely express their views while in attendance nor to engage in peaceful protest.” (emphasis, very much mine)
I’m not sure when this statement was written, but a couple weeks ago Florida introduced a bill that would make using a bathroom that doesn’t align with assigned sex at birth a felony crime. To me, not being able to use the bathroom for fear of arrest makes it unable for someone to participate. Another bill was introduced that would make kidnapping legal if the child being kidnapped is suspected of receiving gender affirming care. So trans and families of trans children could attend MAA Mathfest, but there is the possibility they will be arrested or their children might be legally kidnapped. To me, this indeed “prevent[s] members from attending.” To me, this is not “moot.”
MAA is not the NBA. Moreover, the NBA chose to host this past year’sl all-star game in Utah, which just passed its own round of anti-LGBT laws with no pushback. The NBA, like nearly all education organizations, are in full retreat when it comes to pushing back on laws that target the identities of non-cishet and non-white individuals.
I understand MAA’s budget is limited and signed contracts are sticky. I can’t even say that they’re making the wrong decision by not moving the conference from Florida (I would question the decision to have it in Florida in the first place; anyone that’s been following the rise of anti-LGBT+ legislation could have predicted this). But I would ask MAA to get specific:
- Exactly what laws are giving it pause? Name and shame those laws.
- What contingencies is MAA putting in place? Again be specific: are they providing gender neutral restrooms? Are they working with the ACLU to cover potential legal fees?
I would like to think MAA is deeply engaged in these conversations. However, this conference is occurring in a backdrop where curriculum publishers and educational organizations are offering any meaningful pushback to Florida’s laws targeting LGBT+ teachers and students.
MAA isn’t the only organization guilty of trying to stay as neutral as possible to increase their market share. Curriculum publishers are adapting their textbooks in the hopes that Florida will accept them. It’s worth noting, in this particular example, Florida didn’t say, “change this and we’ll adopt your textbook.” Rather, textbooks are falling over themselves to accommodate a series of ambiguous laws, which feels worse.
Florida has banned several math curricula for incorporating too much social emotional learning. Florida has also banned books from school that include representation of LGBTQ+ individuals. Florida has also banned books that make white people feel uncomfortable (typically under the boogeyman of CRT)..
It’s time to ask the hard question, why isn’t Florida banning your curriculum? I mean, there’s significant precedent that books with too many examples of social inequities or minority representation get banned. So either, your curriculum is A) flying under the radar, or B) not offering significant examples or enough diversity of representation to get folks’ attention. Maybe that’s intentional; maybe that’s an unintentional byproduct of math curriculum that has been historically whitewashed. You’re not offering math problems about social inequities or climate change because, well, you never have before.
Education organizations, non-profits, curriculum publishers, and freelance consultants have, by and large, have offered zero pushback on laws that deteriorate the dignity of students and teachers. Some argue that it’s not the place of capital to influence laws. I suppose that’s a defensible stance, considering all the harm that has taken place at the hands of capital-informed laws. But at what point are we in danger of watering down our message in search of a new customer base? If you are doing business in Florida, what are you doing to push against book bans, art bans, and a concentrated effort to remove LGBTQ+ identity from schools? Other than limp statements or tweets? Will you keep your messages and actions of social justice, representation, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion just vague enough, just race-neutral enough, just white washed enough so as not to draw too much attention from overactive school boards?