Standing by Whose Values?

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

What kind of organization(s) do you belong to? Several years ago, I belonged to the American Library Association, a professional and educational non-profit organization organized along the lines of the interests and support of its membership. In 1974, its membership was just over 34,000. That year, the ALA council ratified a resolution supporting ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.  A 1977 resolution called for future conferences to be held only in states that had ratified the ERA, beginning with the 1981 Annual Conference. This was no small decision for the ALA, since its headquarters was–and still is–in Illinois, a State that had not ratified the ERA. ALA members and the council were essentially putting their money where the best interests of its membership were. More accurately, they had decided not to put their money where their interests were not supported. (1)

Now I belong to another 501(c)(3) educational organization. This organization’s bylaws say that

This corporation shall not discriminate, in the conduct of its programs and activities,
against any person on the basis of age (except those persons under 18 years of age),
race, color, creed, gender, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, or physical or
mental disability, so long as the individual, through his or her own effort, is able to
participate in the program or activity. 

This organization has scheduled its August 2014 International Convention in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. As of this year, Human Rights Watch reported that In violation of international standards against discrimination, Malaysian leaders continue to denigrate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak gave speeches in June and July 2012 in which he asserted that the activities of LGBT people do not “have a place in the country.”

On March 28, the Guardian ran a story by Kate Hodal which said

A government-backed musical in Malaysia that aims to warn young people about the perils of being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) in this Muslim-majority country has sparked controversy over its “state-sponsored bigotry” and potential to incite hatred.

Asmara Songsang (Abnormal Desire) follows the lives of three LGBT friends who throw loud parties, take drugs and have casual sex, thereby incurring the wrath of their religious neighbours, who attempt to reintroduce them to the teachings of  Islam. Those who repent are spared, while those who don’t are killed in a lightning storm.  

While not itself discriminating against members of the LGBT community, the organization has invited its membership to spend money in a country that violates international standards of discrimination—one of which is directly related to sexual orientation.  It has also committed to put its money —and the money of its membership—where one of its own bylaws speaks to a different value.

(1) Cassell, Kay Ann. “ALA and the ERA,” American Libraries, December 1982. p. 690.

Susan Ellsworth

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