Embracing inclusion: Why the AUR moved annual meetings out of Tennessee, Texas

The Association of University Radiologists (AUR) rescheduled its 2018 and 2019 annual meetings after learning the states they were to be held in—Tennessee and Texas, respectively—had passed legislation considered discriminatory toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals.

Three of its members have now written a thorough explanation of that decision, sharing it as a case study in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

“As our political landscape becomes more polarized with states creating conflicting laws intended to uphold citizen rights, medical organizations may find themselves involved in conversations and decision making far removed from their professional society missions,” wrote Martha B. Mainiero, MD, department of diagnostic imaging at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, and colleagues. “Because the AUR was in such a position this year, our narrative may benefit other medical organizations, inside and outside of the field of imaging.”

In 2017, the group realized that members from California could not be reimbursed for travel or meeting expenses due to the state’s bill that prohibits reimbursements for travel to states with “anti-LGBT” legislation in place. At this time, they were only focused on the 2018 annual meeting in Tennessee, but they later discovered the scheduled meeting in Texas for 2019 would create the same issue.

Mainiero was the AUR’s president at this time, and the group’s board of directors (BOD) quickly held a conference call to weigh its options. The BOD then examined the situation from all angles, seeing how it may impact the AUR financially to carry on with the meeting in Tennessee and what kind of penalties may result from canceling at such a late date and moving the meeting to a new location.

A key part of this conversation, the authors noted, was that the theme of the 2016 annual meeting had been “Diversity, Inclusion and Cultural Competency in Academic Radiology.”

“At that meeting, the society discussed the importance of recognizing and overcoming our own biases; how to make our organizations more inclusive; and how to educate the next generation of radiologists to be more culturally competent,” the authors wrote. “The BOD considered the focus on diversity of the 2016 meeting, as well as the number of University California members in leadership positions who were vital to the annual meeting.”

The BOD then determined they thought the meeting should be moved if it could be done without a severe penalty, but Mainiero did want to hear from others in the AUR before anything was 100% final. She emailed members, asking for feedback, and received responses from both sides of the issue. Sample comments included “This is political, radiology should be above that” and “Thank God for the AUR and their commitment to keeping EVERYONE, including me, safe in this dark period in gender and sexuality relations in our country.”

After looking over all member responses, and working out a way to cancel its contract with the hotel without a penalty, the AUR went forward with rescheduling the 2018 annual meeting from Tennessee to Florida.

“Although the AUR was able to move its planned 2018 national meeting to a new venue successfully with less than a year’s notice, such a move may not be possible or financially feasible for all organizations,” the authors wrote. “Contract language, financial ramifications, and alternate venue availability vary in each situation and need to be carefully considered.”

Later on, after Texas was added to the list of states impacted by California's legislation, the AUR also rescheduled its 2019 meeting from Texas to Maryland.

Mainiero et al. concluded their case study by emphasizing that all medical and scientific organizations should be aware of California’s legislation regarding travel reimbursement to certain states. They also highlighted the importance of open, honest communication.

“We acknowledge the need to both respect and listen to the diverse range of passionate opinions that professional organization members will have concerning religious freedom and antidiscrimination legislature,” the authors concluded. “Such knowledge and proactive engagement can task organizational administration to be mindful of their organization’s deliberative sentiments regarding potentially discriminatory or polarizing policies and laws when choosing future meeting locations.”