Gay Marriage, the Manchester Grand Hyatt, and the APA

manchesterLate last month, American Psychological Association president-elect Carol Goodheart sent an email to APA’s Council of Representatives alerting them to a problem looming on the horizon. Several years ago, the APA entered a contract with the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego to be a headquarters hotel for the 2010 annual convention next August. But last year, hotel owner Doug Manchester contributed $125,000 to support California’s Proposition 8 initiative, which ultimately succeeded in banning same-sex marriage in the state.

In her email on behalf of the Board of Directors, Dr. Goodheart requested that “APA Divisions and governance members not boycott the Manchester Hyatt.” She warned that the financial costs of canceling the hotel contract could exceed $1 million. And she proposed that APA instead turn the situation into a “positive educational opportunity regarding the issue of same-sex marriage.”

Dissatisfied with and troubled by Dr. Goodheart’s letter and its recommendations, I sent her the letter below in response to her request for “other actions that APA might take.”

August 31, 2009

Dear Dr. Goodheart:

I am writing to share my concerns and disappointment regarding your letter last week describing APA’s plans for the 2010 Convention and the contract situation with the Manchester Hyatt. In particular, I would like to make several points for your consideration.

1. Your letter seems to me to have failed to inform readers that for the past year there has been an ongoing boycott of the Manchester Hyatt, including protests and picketing at the hotel. And just last month, local LGBT activists and union leaders – also protesting labor conditions at the hotel – announced that they were extending their boycott efforts for a second year. Therefore, in requesting that members book rooms and attend events at the Hyatt, you are encouraging them to cross picket lines – an important political act in its own right. I believe they should know this in advance.

2. In my view, the actions you describe as alternatives to a boycott (e.g., LGBT-related briefing papers, symposia, etc.) should have been part of APA’s convention planning all along – i.e., regardless of issues posed by the Manchester Hyatt. These proposed convention activities in support of equal rights would be just as warranted and indeed necessary whether or not this particular hotel owner had given $125,000 to support a ban on same-sex marriage in California.

3. I am particularly troubled, although perhaps I may have misunderstood you, by your expressed view that these “alternative” actions will enable APA members to “show their support for the critical principles at stake for LGBT members and communities.” I strongly believe that the principles at stake are not simply matters of importance to the LGBT community alone. These principles should legitimately be a source of concern for everyone. I think you will agree that we all benefit from living in a more just society. At the same time, I recognize that your letter offers no clear statement that the APA would actually prefer not to use the Manchester Hyatt.

4. The letter’s claim that APA policy necessitates honoring the hotel contract is overly simple and unsatisfactory. In particular, you offer no indication that APA leadership has thoroughly investigated whether there might be a legitimate basis for breaking the contract without incurring the financial costs you highlight. This is important because there are reports that several organizations have in fact moved events away from the Manchester Hyatt. According to the Lesbian and Gay Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, these groups include the American Association of Law Schools, the San Diego County Pension Fund, GLAAD, the San Diego Association of Realtors, the California Nurses Association, the Conference of Delegates of California Bar Associations, and the International Foundation of Employee Benefits. In this regard, an online letter from the National Lawyers Guild of San Francisco (protesting the California State Bar Association’s decision to hold its upcoming meeting at the Hyatt) notes that a contract might be cancelled “on the grounds that the Hotel most certainly is not living up to its contractual commitment to provide the State Bar with a quiet and non-controversial venue for this meeting.”

5. Even from a strictly financial perspective, I think the cost-benefit analysis is substantially more complex than your letter suggests. One million dollars is indisputably a lot of money – but it is also the worst-case scenario. And we should not lose sight of other key ways that $1 million can be lost, including (1) the loss in dues if 2,500 members or prospective members decide that the APA does not represent their values and therefore choose not to renew or join, or (2) the loss in fees if 3,600 members decide against attending the convention in San Diego for similar reasons. Any potential financial loss linked to the Manchester Hyatt should also considered in context, such as that figure’s relation to APA’s overall operating budget and other assets (including the likely multi-million dollar increase over the past month alone in the value of APA’s investments, due to the recent stock market rally). I would note here as well that APA’s leadership now has a year to take creative steps to insure that no APA staff jobs are lost as a result of any hotel-related financial losses.

6. Your appeal to the ironclad requirements of “APA policy” also seems substantially weakened by clear evidence that APA’s leadership considers policy prescriptions optional in other contexts. For example, almost a full year after last fall’s membership referendum prohibited psychologists from working in national security detainee settings such as Guantanamo Bay, this “official APA policy” has still not been implemented.

To conclude, this is a difficult time for many APA members to accept an argument along the lines of “Trust us, we can be counted on to do the right thing.” Sadly, I think that sense of trust will need significant rebuilding before faith in the APA leadership is fully restored. At the same time, I recognize that APA’s current contract with the Manchester Hyatt poses a complex set of issues and challenges, and that your job here is not an easy one. That said, I think your apparent decision to forgo tough, savvy, and legally-astute negotiations with the Manchester Hyatt is premature, and I believe your effort to forestall a principled boycott of the hotel by APA divisions and governance members is misguided as well.

Thank you for your time and attention to my concerns. I look forward to any response you might care to offer, and I welcome your sharing this letter with others who might be interested.

Sincerely,

Roy Eidelson, Ph.D.
APA Member since 1982
President, Eidelson Consulting (www.eidelsonconsulting.com)
President, Psychologists for Social Responsibility (www.psysr.org)
610-513-8685

UPDATE: In a reply to my letter, Dr. Goodheart expressed her hope that more information on APA’s plans will be available for the membership sometime in the next two weeks.

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3 Responses to “Gay Marriage, the Manchester Grand Hyatt, and the APA”

  1. A Call for Change in APA’s Position on the Boycott at the Manchester Grand Hyatt « Psychologists for Social Responsibility Blog Says:

    […] Dr. Goodheart in her most recent letter (a response to her earlier late-August letter is available here). Thank you for your time, attention, and consideration. We welcome any and all dissemination of […]

  2. Marvin Says:

    Dr. Eidelson:

    I am writing in response to your letter to Dr. Goodheart of the APA. Although I appreciate your concerns, I have some points of contention with the issues that you’ve raised. I have numbered the points below as responses to the corresponding points contained in your letter. You will note that I have not responded to some of the points as I either agree or do not have sufficient information to comment.

    2. From the context of Dr. Goodheart’s letter I believe that she intended that the actions described would be in addition to those typically planned. I strongly doubt that, were the convention not taking place in such a controversial location, no LGBT-related presentations would occur.

    3.) Although it is difficult to state with certainty, I would suggest that you have mischaracterized the statement made by Dr. Goodheart. Certainly as a psychologist you can appreciate the fact that issue salience is not the same for everyone. Members of groups focused on child welfare will be most concerned with issues that revolve around justice for children. Groups investigating the plight of the economically disadvantaged will find issues relating to that topic to be most salient. These two groups easily qualify as espousing principles that “should legitimately be a source of concern for everyone” and that contribute to the welfare of society. I believe that Dr. Goodheart’s response was entirely reasonable as a characterization of the individuals to whom the issues in question are most salient. You are certainly entitled to argue that these are issues about which everyone should be concerned; however, I believe that your implication of her response as biased against (or at least not supportive of) LGBT groups is a strong mischaracterization given the context.

    4. Please note that the California State Bar Association apparently decided that it could not cancel its obligation to the hotel. If an association comprised entirely of legal professionals decided that it would not attempt to withdraw from the contract, I would suggest that an association of non-legal professionals would not have much better luck.

    5. One of the key elements of cost-benefit analysis is the likelihood of the alternatives. Withdrawing from the contract with the Hyatt comes with a 100% likelihood of losing the full amount. The other two alternatives, while certainly possible, are not as probable and therefore must have their monetary value reduced respective to an assigned probability. Further, I would argue that the two alternatives you mention are likely to prove more damaging to the individuals who undertake them than to the APA itself. I would also suggest that the recent stock market rally has not been nearly so strong as to wipe out the impact of the massive downward trend that has occurred over the past several months. Your proposed “likely multi-million dollar increase” would be handily offset by the much sharper losses incurred prior to the recent increase.
    In addition to these responses, I would suggest the following points which you may wish to address.

    A.) Mr. Manchester made the donation, not the Hyatt. Mr. Manchester did not make the donation on behalf of the Hyatt or as an official agent of the Hyatt. He did so as a private citizen exercising his right to political free expression. You are proposing that, as a consequence of his private action, an organization which employs him, but which had no control over his decision, be punished. I wonder, if he were a small business owner, would the same principle apply? What if he were a lower level employee at the Hyatt?

    B.) Who is going to be punished the most by loss of business at the Hyatt? I don’t know the exact answer, but I can say with certainty that it will not be Mr. Manchester. I’m quite confident that he could stop work tomorrow and live comfortably for the rest of his natural life. The people who will suffer are those at the bottom of the ladder; the ones who will find their jobs cut as the hotel tightens its budget in response to these boycotts.

    C.) Mr. Manchester’s contribution to the Proposition 8 fund amounts to approximately 0.3% of the total contributions. That’s three-tenths of a percent. Admittedly, any contribution to the reduction of the rights of another individual is reprehensible. However, as detailed in Dr. Goodheart’s letter, Mr. Manchester also attempted to offer funding to LGBT groups in reparation for his contribution to the Proposition 8 fund. I see this as a significant gesture coming from an individual who is essentially being asked to publically apologize for his personal beliefs.

    To conclude, although I certainly respect and support the struggle for social equality, I believe that the targeted punishment of organizations for the behavior of private individuals is an ineffective method of bringing about social change. I would encourage you to reconsider Dr. Goodheart’s suggestion to make LGBT issues a key focus of the upcoming convention. Seeing an open discussion of these issues in a contested forum such as the Hyatt would bring much needed elements of rationality and forgiveness to a retrenched and bitter debate.

    Thank you for taking the time to consider my concerns. I welcome any ongoing discussion.

  3. A Call for Change in APA's Position on the Boycott at the Manchester Grand Hyatt Says:

    […] Dr. Goodheart in her most recent letter (a response to her earlier late-August letter is available here). Thank you for your time, attention, and consideration. We welcome any and all dissemination of […]


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