In recent months, APTA has received both formal and informal requests to boycott states that have discriminatory laws when the association selects sites for conferences and events, ranging from the national APTA Combined Sections Meeting to component events such as the Educational Leadership Conference and the Private Practice Section Annual Conference and Exhibition.
The specifics of these requests differ, but what they have in common is a desire to see APTA live our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Our members see injustice in the world and want APTA to be part of the solution. This is honorable.
In considering these requests, and evaluating the impact of adopting such an approach, the APTA Board of Directors is unified that boycotting states isn’t the best way to live our vision and mission, nor do we believe it to be the most effective way to show our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Consistency: It would be infeasible to apply a discrimination-based ban consistently with sensitivity to all who suffer from discrimination. Some members have cited as a model California’s AB 1887, which prohibits state-funded travel to 12 states that have laws deemed to be discriminatory on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. What’s often overlooked about AB 1887 is that it applies only to laws enacted since June 26, 2015, and ignores similar laws enacted earlier. The Human Rights Campaign’s 2020 State Equality Index identified only 13 states without laws it deems to negatively affect LGBTQ people and their families. AB 1887 also ignores laws deemed by other civil rights groups to be discriminatory toward other populations, such as racial minorities and women. The need for progress is everywhere, not only in a few states.
Access: APTA is a national association, and our commitment to inclusion demands that we be thoughtful about access. Since 2011, we have hosted signature national conferences in 22 states. The evidence shows proximity matters. As a recent example, this year’s virtual APTA Combined Sections Meeting set a participation record, surpassing the previous year’s in-person participation in Denver. But while 2021’s total participation increased compared with 2020, participation decreased year-over-year in Colorado itself and in nine nearby states. As that data exemplifies, limiting the states where our national conferences and events can occur will limit who has the best and most affordable access to attend those events — thus creating a new inequity that penalizes members in a boycotted state, including those who are the target of discriminatory laws in that state.
Unintended consequences: The premise of a ban would be to avoid financing discrimination and to create pressure for change. That’s admirable, and our country’s history includes examples of boycotts that have helped generate change. But state-based boycotts may inadvertently harm individuals within and beyond our profession who are subject to the very discrimination being protested. This has the potential to exacerbate inequity rather than improve it. This is more than hypothetical. As a related example: In response to being included on AB 1887’s list of banned states, Oklahoma banned state-funded travel to California. That means APTA members in Oklahoma won’t be able to receive state funding when APTA CSM goes to California in 2023, 2026, and 2029 – an unintended consequence of AB 1887.
Mission and vision alignment: It’s important that we leverage our mission and vision with care. Often our mission and vision statements are cited in brief, using the first few words of each statement – “building a community” and “transforming society.” Both are more precise. Our association’s mission is “building a community that advances the profession of physical therapy to improve the health of society.” Our profession’s vision is “transforming society by optimizing movement to improve the human experience.” In both cases, the emphasis is ours to underline APTA’s “why.” There are multiple civil rights organizations whose primary mission is to eliminate discrimination everywhere, and they are worthy of support. Our core purpose is more specific, and our commitment to DEI must be viewed in that context. Our unique responsibility is to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in our profession and association, and in turn within health care delivery overall. No doubt, there is much work to be done in this regard, and avoiding certain states for our national events does little to advance that progress or help underserved communities. Instead, we are hopeful we can use our national events as an opportunity to advance our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion by showing up in these communities rather than disengaging.
How do we move forward?
In the immediate, the Board of Directors will take the following actions:
- We will ask our new DEI standing committee to make recommendations for living our commitment to DEI at our national conferences, starting with the upcoming APTA CSM in San Antonio in February 2022. We expect their recommendations to include action to make a positive local impact (community outreach to underserved populations, for example) and also a positive professional impact (awareness activities for our attendees).
- We will seek to provide hybrid experiences, as appropriate and feasible, for our national meetings moving forward, and we encourage our components to do the same. The elimination of state funding to attend conferences in various states is a reminder that paying out of pocket to attend national events can be cost prohibitive for some of our members. Last year proved that virtual options increase accessibility. Our expectation isn’t that a virtual experience for APTA CSM matches the in-person experience but that the introduction of a hybrid option will improve inclusivity, and we will collaborate with our sections and academies to make that possible. Investing in hybrid experiences also provides options for individuals who may not wish to travel to certain states for personal reasons.
- We will bring a motion to the 2021 House of Delegates to rescind the position adopted last year related to location selection for the World Physiotherapy Congress. While we appreciate that this position was adopted as a stand against discrimination and for DEI, and with the safety of conference attendees in mind, we feel there is an implied boycott approach that is inconsistent with the approach we’ve described here.
The Board of Directors appreciates our members’ desire for APTA be an agent of positive change. Ultimately, we don’t believe state boycotts by APTA, or its components, are the best way to serve our members, advance our mission and vision, or make meaningful change for diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Site selection has always been a balancing act of availability, attendee affordability and access, and attendee experience. We must add opportunity to that list. We must find ways to leverage our association community at national events to leave each community slightly better than when we arrived. Traditionally, that hasn’t been an area of focus, but we are hopeful it can be part of our legacy moving forward.
Most of all, we must focus on eliminating discrimination and inequity within our physical therapy community, as that is where we have the greatest responsibility and influence.
-- APTA Board of Directors
For transparency, here are the future contracted locations for the APTA Combined Sections Meeting:
2022: San Antonio, TX
2023: San Diego, CA
2024: Boston, MA
2025: Houston, TX
2026: Anaheim, CA
2027: Philadelphia, PA
2028: Chicago, IL
2029: Anaheim, CA
Other states with venues that can support APTA CSM include Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nevada, and Utah, plus Washington, D.C.
APTA is also developing a new Leadership Congress event to consolidate our annual leadership meetings, including participation by our Board of Directors, House of Delegates, component leaders, and standing committees. The first two years of this event (2022 and 2023) will be held in Washington, D.C., so we can make improvements to the event in a consistent environment. Subsequently, the plan is to host the Leadership Congress in Washington, D.C., in odd years (leveraging the opportunity for advocacy on Capitol Hill) and in western and central locations in even years.