The American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP) intends to move its 2025 meeting, originally planned to take place in Orlando, Florida, to a new location to “ensure the safety of our attendees and reflect our values,” according to a statement ACNP released 28 August.
The move comes after 13 scientists, including 10 ACNP members, wrote a letter to the organization’s leadership in June to request that upcoming meetings in Tampa, Florida, in 2023; Phoenix, Arizona, in 2024; and Orlando in 2025 be held elsewhere, according to David Jentsch and Troy Roepke, two neuroscientists who signed the letter. Jentsch and Roepke say the letter cited recent Florida legislation, including bans and restrictions on abortion; teaching about LGBTQ+ identities; diversity, equity and inclusion programs in universities; and gender-affirming health care. Arizona’s legislature passed several similar bills this year, which the governor has so far vetoed.
The letter also referenced a Florida law that allows health-care providers and insurers to deny people medical care based on “moral, ethical and religious convictions” and the NAACP’s 20 May travel advisory cautioning people of color against travel to the state, Jentsch and Roepke say.
Though ACNP says it is too late to find alternative sites for its meetings scheduled to take place in Tampa and Phoenix, it has pledged not to plan future meetings “in locations with discriminatory laws at the time of contracting.” Over the past 10 years, seven of ACNP’s annual meetings have taken place in either Florida or Arizona.
The policy of paramount concern, Jentsch says, was Florida’s bathroom bill, which passed in May and criminalizes anyone who “willfully enters” a publicly owned bathroom not associated with their sex assigned at birth. “It is a given that you will have to go to the bathroom during the meeting,” says Jentsch, professor of psychology at Binghamton University in New York and an ACNP fellow. “Every time you walk in a bathroom, there’s a real chance of an altercation to occur.”
When reached for comment, ACNP president Sarah Timm declined to specify which laws motivated the change in location, saying the organization is “still working through policy issues.” But in a statement released 31 May after widespread social-media pressure to move the conference, ACNP’s leadership council wrote that it “shares the concerns of many members and attendees that Florida laws do not currently support our commitment to diversity, inclusion and women’s health.”
Other scientific societies are wrestling with similar issues. The Vision Sciences Society (VSS) has hosted its annual meeting in Florida every year since its founding in 2001, aside from virtual sessions during the COVID-19 pandemic. During this year’s gathering in St. Pete Beach in May, the session for the conference’s business matters was “packed” with people discussing whether the meeting should leave Florida, says Sam Schwarzkopf, associate professor and neuroscientist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, who attended it.
“You could sort of sense the shift in opinions” toward leaving, he says. “I think that a lot of people like me, who might have been undecided before, changed their minds.”
But VSS leadership was clear that the move won’t happen right away, Schwarzkopf says: The society has signed a contract with a St. Pete Beach resort that extends through 2025.
Canceling that contract would just about drain the organization’s financial reserves, says VSS president Geoffrey Boynton, professor of psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Similarly, the Society of Toxicology (SOT) has signed contracts with venues through 2030 — including one in Florida and one in Texas, says Roepke, associate professor of animal sciences at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and president of SOT’s Out Toxicologists and Allies group. Roepke has previously discussed alternative locations with society leadership, they say, but SOT hasn’t financially recovered from canceling its March 2020 meeting because of the pandemic.
“Finances have been tough,” Roepke says, so they have focused their conversations with SOT leadership on how to provide legal and medical support for vulnerable attendees at already scheduled meetings — and how to change the selection process for future sites. For example, Out Toxicologists and Allies has developed a “Safe Cities” list, which Roepke says omits locations that put LGBTQ+ people and those in need of reproductive health care in legal jeopardy.
ACNP has not yet developed its own list of alternative locations, but it has announced a “reconstituted” task force to create guidelines to evaluate potential sites. Jentsch is part of the new task force, which he says includes many more LGBTQ+ people than its previous iteration.
“More of us in the driver’s seat is a substantive change,” he says.