Updated: The ACA should move its 2017 conference out of Tennessee

Updated May 10, 2016: They’re moving the conference. A written statement from President Thelma Duffey is here, and a video from CEO Richard Yep further explaining the decision is here.
Updated April 29, 2016: The ACA has released a statement on HB1840 and asking for patience as their leadership weighs its options for the 2017 conference. The full statement is available here.
Updated April 28, 2016: Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed the “religious freedom” bill allowing counselors to freely discriminate, and directly contradicting the ACA Code of Ethics. The ACA should move the conference. My original post, published April 21 under the headline “What should the ACA do about its 2017 conference?” follows. -bc

Tennessee capitol - public domain image via Wikimedia CommonsThe American Counseling Association has been vocal in its opposition to pending legislation in Tennessee that would allow counselors to turn clients away based on any personal belief, even if the refusal to treat is discriminatory in nature. They have said that the bill directly contradicts the ACA Code of Ethics and must be vetoed by the Governor.

If the bill passes, however, it puts the ACA in a quandary: Their 2017 conference — for which registration is currently open — is scheduled to be held in Nashville.

This is not the first time that a mental health association has faced a difficult decision when it comes to the location of a conference. (I’ve written about the dilemma before when discussing religious-freedom bills that would similarly allow therapists to freely discriminate.) But the ACA’s challenge is especially difficult given how soon the conference is, and how extreme the proposed law is.

Should the ACA decide to go ahead with the Nashville conference, surely many counselors who otherwise would attend will choose not to. A boycott of government-funded travel to the state is a possibility (see the boycotts of North Carolina in response to their passage of an odious anti-transgender law), which would mean that public university faculty and public mental health employees who might otherwise have their conference and travel fees paid for by their employers would need to foot the bill on their own. Many would simply not go.

On the other hand, moving a professional conference is no small endeavor. Professional conferences and the linked blocks of hotel space are typically booked years in advance, and the sponsor organization may need to pay significant cancellation fees if they pull out at the last minute. Those costs may make the notion of relocating or cancelling the conference a non-starter.

Despite those potential costs, the ACA says it is currently “weighing options regarding the location of the 2017 Conference & Expo.” Surely they are hopeful that the Governor will veto the bill and the conference will be able to go forward as planned. Unfortunately, if Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signs the bill, none of the options ACA faces are good ones. Move or cancel the conference and face tremendous costs, or keep the conference in Tennessee — supporting the economy of a state that enshrines counselor discrimination in law — and risk regular attendees staying away.

The deadline for the Governor to decide on the bill is next week.