January 19, 2017
Dear members of the SIGMOD/PODS Community:
On January 16 (Martin-Luther-King Day in the USA), the SIGMOD Executive Committee decided to move the ACM SIGMOD/PODS 2017 conference out of North Carolina to a new, still undecided location. The decision was made unanimously by the Committee following extensive discussions with the SIGMOD Advisory Board.
The SIGMOD/PODS community is open and inclusive. It embraces all forms of diversity, including diversity of gender identity. Our commitment to these fundamental principles would have been in question if we held the SIGMOD/PODS 2017 conference in North Carolina, hence the decision to move.
The decision was triggered by North Carolina’s HB2 bill and the decision of North Carolina’s policy makers not to repeal HB2 in December 2016. With its decision, the SIGMOD organization follows the example of many other organizations (science, industry, sports, and arts) to move major events that were planned to take place in North Carolina to other locations. A total of 68 international companies (including many companies that employ members of the SIGMOD/PODS community around the world) and several states of the USA have protested and taken a stand against HB2. The Department of Justice of the United States has filed a lawsuit against HB2 and the state of North Carolina.
It has also come to our attention that many members of the SIGMOD/PODS community, including some of our senior leaders, have already decided to not attend any conference in North Carolina to show solidarity with the LGBTQ community. A conference without full participation and with only limited discourse between the members of the community is undesirable. Furthermore, many of our industrial sponsors are likely to not want to be affiliated with conferences held in North Carolina. We do not wish to strain our relations with our sponsors and friends from industry.
This decision has many practical implications for which we need your help. We are actively working to find a new venue and will announce the outcome as soon as possible. In the meantime, please hold back with travel arrangements. Changing the venue might also involve changing the dates. If you have already made travel arrangements, please contact us. We are also looking into issues related to visas. We apologize for any inconvenience this decision may cause and will try our best to alleviate any resulting difficulties.
We thank the North Carolina local organizing committee, led by Rada Chirkova and Jun Yang, for all the work that they have done so far. Rada and Jun have graciously accepted to continue to serve as general co-chairs of the relocated conference. Without their help, relocation would not have been possible. The Program Committees, led by Dan Suciu and Floris Geerts, will continue to organize the program as planned. We are extremely thankful to all volunteers for their commitment.
The decision to relocate the SIGMOD/PODS 2017 conference was not taken lightly. It was made after an intense debate over the last two weeks from which it became clear that there was no easy solution to the issue that had emerged. We truly hope that this decision will help unite the SIGMOD/PODS community, sending a message of inclusiveness and respect for one another.
SIGMOD Executive Committee
K. Selcuk Candan
Christian S. Jensen
Jan Van den Bussche
Comments are closed
If we don’t want “our commitment to fundamental principles”
to “be in question” then maybe it would be a good idea to
organize SIGMOD/PODS 2017 in China, where it was held in 2007 ?
Doesn’t China have more severe human right issues than the bathroom law of NC? But I guess the sponsors won’t be against this. Anyway almost all of them have brunches in China which have not been closed and might not be forever.
I paid for a membership to a data management SIG, not a political bully pulpit. Please let us stick to the scope of the ACM constitution and SIG mission.
Thank you for bringing up a possible misconception that this may be a political decision. I am not involved in SIGMOD decisions, but I am aware that the ACM has made a commitment to non-discrimination, and hosting a conference in NC would be against that policy. It is imperative that SIGMOD supports its members — which is what this decision is doing — and such support is not a political statement. While you didn’t sign up for a political organization, you did sign up for the SIG accepting all of its policies, including the policy of non-discrimination.
I am opposed to all discrimination, including discrimination against North Carolina. The people you are trying to retaliate against are only guilty of having legislators who passed a piece of worthless nuisance legislation with no practical implications… something that leaves them in pretty good company in my experience.
The positions expressed in this decision and statement clearly go beyond non-discrimination, and into the territory of political activism on behalf of a special interest.
The standard North Carolina is being held to here is higher than that of other places SIGMOD is held. If that is not discrimination, what is?
If we’re not part of the solution, we’re part of the problem.
A rational critique of one particular approach to a problem should not be conflated with a lack of commitment to solving the problem.
How we treat people, how we vote, what we teach our children, and the causes to which we donate time and money demonstrate good problem solving techniques. Throwing tantrums, punishing a large group for the actions of a few, applying double standards, and adopting alarmist points of view without checking the practical facts are examples of bad ones.
If the EC can cite a specific shortcoming, some way in which the Raleigh Convention Center’s facilities can’t comfortably meet the needs of a diverse group of people, then I would support changing away from that particular venue.
(To Chuck Bear:) Well, the shortcoming is the bathroom bill. Suppose you have a transgender conference-goer. He/she would be forced, by law, to use the bathroom of his transitioned-from gender instead of his transitioned-to gender.
Now, granted, having to break that law is a minor nuisance; and it’s quite unlikely to be enforced; and the conference organizers could have declared they will ensure safety for violators of the law instead of moving the conference. And there is a strong argument to be made regarding violations of human rights in other venues (in and out of the US). Still, it’s not entirely unreasonable to make this call.
As an analogy, think of the case of a bathroom law forcing segregation of white and “colored” people, or Jews and non-Jews etc.
It turns out the law specifies no enforcement mechanism or penalties, hasn’t been used, and is otherwise a puff piece designed to win political points or something. Even the hypothetical scenarios involve checking birth certificates, which nobody carries around. Anyway, very sad to see the ACM SIG get suckered into divisive American politics and self-sabotage its own conference due to an unenforceable law that wouldn’t have had any practical impact.
Phil Bernstein pointed to Tiananmen Square as precedent for taking into account political issues when choosing a venue, but the fact is that this is a huge shift for the SIGMOD/VLDB community. VLDB was held in India last year. After this move, it seems impossible to justify having a SIGMOD India, where discriminative, nation-wide anti-sodomy laws remain on the books: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_India
While I think that the decision to move out of NC was justified, let’s not pretend that it is anything but a sea change in the community’s politics. India, which arguably takes far more morally reprehensible position regarding LGBT rights, was almost universally acceptable to the larger SIGMOD/VLDB community a few months ago.
Thank you SIGMOD EC for doing the right thing!
I don’t want to go into a discussion about the law and whether it’s right or wrong but I see many issues with this decision:
1. This move would set a precedent on where to hold SIGMOD (or any other DB conference). Why this bathroom law is now seen as important to “our commitment to fundamental principles”? SIGMOD and other DB conferences were held in places with, sometimes more serious, issues. So why now and what’s next? Are we going to establish a list of blacklisted states/countries? Assume that Trump goes on with his plan to build the wall with Mexico or ban all muslims from entering the US, are we going to stop having SIGMOD in the US? and so on …
2. Why wait until 4 months before the event to make this change while this bill has been passed in March 2016. While it was being challenged but, it failed to be repelled in December 2016.
3. For most people outside the US, this looks like more of a US-centric issue and how such issues are debated in the US, which can be foreign to many including people from “western” countries.
I’m on the SIGMOD advisory committee and support the decision. I can’t speak for the Executive Committee, but let me offer my personal perspective on the good questions you ask, all of which came up during our discussion:
1. This decision does add precedent, in that we’re backing out of a planned venue. However, SIGMOD and VLDB have both been careful to avoid locations where the government sponsors discrimination. The difference here is that the conference was planned before the law was passed. In answer to your hypothetical scenarios, in my opinion, a wall with Mexico would not be a SIGMOD problem, but if there were a ban on Muslim visitors to the U.S., I would support moving the conference outside the U.S. until that ban was lifted.
2. A suggestion to move the conference was discussed at the business meeting at SIGMOD 2016. Given the difficulty of moving, the officers decided to wait, and hope that the repeal initiative would pass. When the initiative failed, many leading database researchers made a personal choice to boycott the conference. As the extent of that boycott became known, and given the many other high-profile organizations that were pulling out, SIGMOD leadership decided to reconsider.
3. Half of the SIGMOD Executive Committee and many advisory board members live outside the U.S., and many U.S.-resident members are not native-born Americans. The international perspective was certainly considered.
“As the extent of that boycott became known, and given the many other high-profile organizations that were pulling out, SIGMOD leadership decided to reconsider.”
So the decision to relocate was motivated, at least in part, by monetary considerations. Why am I not surprised? Would the SIGMOD executive committee have arrived at a similar decision to not locate the conference in China, because of its human rights violations? Probably not. Because there’s way too much money in China!
Actually, after the Tiananmen Square protests many years ago, the VLDB Board did pull out of a conference plan for China.
The decision to move from NC was made in spite of financial considerations, not because of them. It would have been less costly to stay, since moving from NC entails a substantial cancellation fee of the hotel contract.
Now we’ve a new problem. It’s not the blanket ban yet but if you’re a DB researcher from 7 muslim countries, you will most likely not (well maybe not at all) be able to attend SIGMOD if it’s held in the US. Isn’t this discrimination? What should we do?
The “right thing to do” is to not hold any DB conference (and I hope other communities will join) in the US until this ban is lifted.
I fully support this decision.
I support this decision. Can we expand the scope to larger issues – like bias against diversity from the head of country, to move the conference to say, neutral Switzerland! That will be a bigger statement.
EPFL in May would be a good place for SIGMOD!
Experienced people who can offer an actual possibility of locally organizing SIGMOD/PODS are welcome to contact me. We are doing all we can to get good options.
This was the right thing to do and I’m proud of SIGMOD executive committee for making the call. I was impressed by the thoughtful discussion of pros and cons that went on between the advisory board and the executive committee, and the hallway discussions at CIDR.
To be clear: thanks to the NC legislature, there is no “apolitical” move here for a scientific organization. At this point, staying is just as political as leaving. None of us asked for this choice, but we do have to make it.
We’re in good company–SIGMOD is joining many other non-political organizations including the NBA, NCAA, and ACC in heading elsewhere.
Special kudos to our friends Jun Yang and Rada Chirkova for sticking with their roles are organizers despite the situation we all find ourselves in. Organizing a conference is a TON of work, and being graceful when that work has to be abandoned requires genuine class. Thanks, you two!
Here is the e-mail I sent to the SIGMOD executive committee a week or so ago…..
In my opinion, choosing one of the “non North Carolina” options is the “right thing to do”.
I would strongly suggest we take the moral high ground. As I said previously to Donald, I
will not attend a North Carolina conference.
If the $100K loss is a problem, I will personally spearhead a fund-raising effort to solve that
Ditto for any state that passes a bathroom bill in the future.
If necessary, having a distributed conference in 2017 would be an interesting option to try.
Your heart is in the right place on the issue. However this was not the right thing to do in my opinion. This kind of thing should be handled the old fashioned way, by letting the courts fix it. Already well underway, fortunately.
Instead, it sounds like you are saying that 100k that could have been used to pay for a dozen people to the conference was instead used to make a political statement. The other practical consequences of the EC decision will be to bolster the attention-seeking egos of the legislators that perpetrated this, while hurting hard working hotel employees and my esteemed North Carolina colleagues who wanted and played no part in all of this.
I’m back to where I started. I joined a data management SIG, not a PAC.
Precisely, which is why I will not be renewing my SIGMOD membership. ACM SIGs have mostly managed to remain immune to divisive politicization; no longer. This announcement conveys a short-sighted decision that changes the nature of SIGMOD and sets a bad precedent.
Possible good choices for SIGMOD are – places with many convention facilities (in my order of preference) –
Atlantic City, or
campuses of some companies – Google NASA campus, Microsoft.
and finally, Trump Tower in Washington DC is another good possibility.
I support it. Bold steps and proud of SIGMOD committee. Not everyone will be happy and not everyone can be made happy in any decision of this type. I may also lose some “friends” by putting my comment here .. but so be it 🙂
I appreciate and value SIGMOD’s moving the May Conference from North Carolina. I know that it is difficult, time-consuming and costly, but your admirable effort demonstrates the professional leadership that I respect. ACM has been a leader in similar efforts in the past, such as its decade long commitment to fighting for the rights of computer scientists around the world, led by my colleague Jack Minker.
Your decision should be widely reported as an inspiration to other computer scientists and professionals in many fields.
Wonderful gesture, in support of human dignity.
A big ‘thank you’ to Rada and Jun, for their hard work, and their gracious agreement.
I support SIGMOD’s decision and am glad to see the organizers of a computer science conference taking a courageous and risky stance.
I agree with Joe Hellerstein’s comment: there is no apolitical decision that the SIGMOD committee could make. Keeping the conference in North Carolina would amount to endorsing the North Carolina state legislature’s decision to use its power to endanger a vulnerable minority group — which is intrinsically a political decision.
Leaving politics out of it is a non-option.
— Tim Chevalier, App Engine Datastore SRE at Google (institutional affiliation for identification, not endorsement)
The apolitical stance is that technological progress leads to economic progress leads to social progress. Despite fits and starts, with twists and turns, the better off people are the better they treat each other. Every corner of the world we’ve decided to shun or sanction has fared worse on all dimensions compared to similar cases where we decided to continue to engage.
You don’t pick a side, you just lead by example and expect cooler heads to ultimately prevail.
Will SIGMOD stop receiving research papers from researchers affiliated to NC institutions? (i.e Duke, NC Chapel Hill or NC State?
Moreover, will SIGMOD stop receiving papers form researchers from Russia, India, Singapore , where discrimination is not prohibitted.
Does SIGMOD decision makes sense?
I didn’t hear anything about SIGMOD not accepting papers… but I suppose people could choose not to submit them. Their loss though.
Different question… at least 9 states now have antiboycott laws, which would prohibit their public agencies from doing business with anyone who is engaged in a boycott of a jurisdiction in which they can trade freely. These laws are of course very untested, but on the surface, since the states can do business with NC, and SIGMOD is boycotting NC, then SIGMOD may not receive public money from Arizona, Rhode Island, Colorado, Illinois, and so on.
I think that many people are like “Chuck Bear” and they joined ACM SIGMOD for technical reasons. But it is really important to remember that professional societies represent their members and must uphold high standards. Taking a stand against discrimination is the right thing to do and I applaud this decision. Are there other situations where ACM SIGMOD did not take a stand. Possibly … but that is additional justification for taking a stand now. Was there a monetary aspect to the decision? I am sure that there was. Does that make this decision bad? No. Like many other commenters, I am proud to be an ACM SIGMOD member.
To me, professional standards mean that we treat each other well, and that we would not do direct business with someone who treats people badly. But the party we canceled business with was the Raleigh Convention Center, not the NC legislature. Despite repeated asks, nobody has said what RCC was not doing to keep our group comfortable, or who RCC has wronged. To me, inconsistent application of standards, non-transparent decisions, fiduciary failure, and punishing the wrong people are unprofessional behaviors, and we are guilty.
No matter what, after a number of indirections, we will be doing a favor to someone who doesn’t have standards we find acceptable. You all do know that the jets we fly in to get to conferences burn a petroleum product, and that the market is global, so some of your money goes to all kinds of regimes guilty of any number of infractions against women, minorities, and so on? Should we just stay home?
If you’ve had your paper accepted to SIGMOD/PODS 2017, please consider pulling it and not attending, to voice your dissent against political hooliganism!!!
By changing venues at the last minute, the organizers have not only shown their disregard to those who already made their travel plans early, but they have taken a political stance on an issue that has nothing to do with computer science research. This sets a dangerous precedent.
As others have pointed out, it is extremely morally hypocritical to boycott North Carolina but not China — a country that has wide spread severe human rights abuses.
Or do you suppose that forcibly harvesting organs from Falun Gong members is less egregious than a law that says what public bathroom you’re supposed to use‽‽
Let us not forget that in recent years, SIGMOD has been in Indiana and Utah. Neither of these two states is exactly LGBT friendly. Both strongly opposed gay marriage until the Supreme Court overturned their laws. This is how America works. If you think North Carolina is doing something sinister, then fight them at the federal level, but understand that we live in a democracy and not everyone agrees with you.
Consider also that North Carolina is one of the bluest states in the South. They voted for Obama in 2008 and nearly voted for him again in 2012. But in 2016, they went for Trump. Why is that? Might it be because they didn’t like being bullied by self-righteous hypocrites?
Perhaps it’s a little bit too easy to shake your finger at North Carolina, without considering that there is a legitimate discussion to have about what bathrooms transgender people should use.
If you have no clue what that discussion is, please read this article: http://thefederalist.com/2015/11/23/a-rape-survivor-speaks-out-about-transgender-bathrooms/
Women have every right to feel nervous about sharing a bathroom with someone who has male anatomy. Please consider that there is no objective way to determine if someone is transgender or not, but you can determine if they have male anatomy or not. Already, there have been a number of incidents where women have been victimized by transgender bathroom policies. Therefore, you can argue that North Carolina is protecting women from discrimination.
You might also consider that Washington, a very liberal state and home to some major tech companies, is in the process of creating their own version of North Carolina’s HB2. I somehow doubt SIGMOD will be boycotting Seattle when that happens, just as I doubt that the tech companies who are bullying North Carolina are going to do anything when it’s in their own backyard.
In short, SIGMOD has not made itself more inclusive by taking a stance on divisive political issue that does not represent the whole community. If it boycotts North Carolina, I will have to boycott SIGMOD.
Perhaps you don’t have any transgender friends or colleagues. I do–they work down the hall from me, and I drink beer with them in the evenings, and we hang out in our spare time. Some of them have spent decades presenting as their gender in public. Some of them have had their bodies surgically altered to match their gender, others haven’t. I cannot imagine anything more humiliating or cruel then telling them to go to the wrong bathroom.
I am sure that they would be hesitant to go to a conference that forced this on them.
Given the history of violence against transgender people, I think that asking a person who identifies and is legally and socially recognized as a woman, and who has spent living decades as a woman, to go into a men’s bathroom is really problematic.
I just read the article you posted. As far as I can tell, the woman who was raped–and my heart goes out to her–was not raped by a transgender person. I’m not convinced that she knows any, since she is concerned about “men.” She refers to several cases of creepy men in women’s bathrooms carrying cameras and wearing wigs. The problem in those scenarios is not the gender of the person carrying the camera: it’s the fact that they are CARRYING A CAMERA AND BEING CREEPY.
A word of advice: if you are ever in a bathroom with a creepy person, leave, and call the police.
And as for your concern about Washington’s HB1011, it is a symbolic measure put together by the state’s conservative minority, and will be overturned as rapidly as last years’ was; if it is not, it will be lobbied against, and vetoed by the liberal governor.
Washington tech companies have been on the forefront of human rights actions. When gay marriage was on the Washington ballot, Microsoft made a clear statement that they see it as good for business; Jeff Bezos donated a large chunk of money.
Washington State has already prohibited state employees from travelling to North Carolina, so the choice to have SIGMOD there would actually mean that researchers from UW would be unable to attend.
While I am an employee of Microsoft, these comments are, of course, my own thoughts.
If SIGMOD is to move anyway, what do people think of moving it outside the United States? Given the recent American immigration policy changes, it may be impossible for some people to attend if the conference is in the US.
Perhaps SIGMOD should consider moving the conference out of the United States entirely, given the recent changes to immigration rules. What I have read suggests that some of our fellow researchers could now have trouble coming to the United States, and hence could not attend a conference here.
I do agree with Julian Dolby about having the SIGMOD conference outside the United States this year. Many researchers, practitioners, and developers may have troubles to attend the conference in the United States because of the recent immigration rules. We still have enough time to move it to a more suitable venue in Europe or Asia.
Two days ago, president Trump signed an executive order that blocks travelers to USA from seven muslim-majority countries (Iran, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen).
I want to believe the Committee’s call for openness, diversity and equality is genuine and authentic and the conference will be relocated entirely out of USA.
Quite clearly, Julian Dolby is right: the international scientific community is per definition international and should thus be inclusive of researchers from all countries, as far as possible. It should thus not be conceivable to arrange an international conference in a country that bans part of the research community from attending. By deciding to move the meeting out of NC, the EC has already taken a step in the right direction and taken a stance against discrimination. The logical follow-up is to move the meeting out of the US completely. As long as Trump’s ban on travellers from several Muslim countries is in effect, unfortunately no international conferences can be arranged in the US. Let’s hope the ban is lifted asap (or declared unconstitutional), but in the meantime it’s our moral obligation to take a stance for the international research community and boycott conferences in countries blocking part of our community from attending.
Given US is not an option anymore, it would be helpful if the sigmod committee could provide a list of countries deemed suitable per the policy of ACM.
I support moving the conference to a more neutral country.
SIGMOD executive committee took a path little bit sooner than required and cannot now retreat.
Let us try
After May 12th 2017, there might be a possibility.
Many US universities have told international students to put travel plans on hold after Trump ban. If SIGMOD venue is outside of US this year, I don’t think many of them will be able to attend.
I urge the committee to not move the conference outside the United States.
Many universities in the US have told international students to hold their international travel plans completely even if they are not from ban affected countries.
Many people will not be able to attend the conference if it is outside US. Just like NIPS this year petition by Dr.Yoshua Bengio, you can have a US venue and a virtual transmission venue outside US.
“Many people will not be able to attend the conference if it is outside US.”
Many people are not able to attend the conference since it’s in US. What makes you think those people are less important?