Wednesday, November 18, 2015

University of Iowa Schedules LaVerne Cox Public Lecture on the Same Night as the Iowa Caucus

I received an invitation to attend a lecture featuring LaVerne Cox. For those who don't know, Cox is a wildly successful actress and producer, who also happens to be a trans woman. The event is scheduled for 5:00 PM on 02/01/16 at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City. I was planning on attending. I was looking forward to seeing and learning from a high profile trans speaker.

Then I realized that they scheduled this lecture on Iowa Caucus Night. Granted, Caucus begins at 7:00 PM. But volunteers and organizers need to show up early. And there's not a lot of turnaround time from the end of the LaVerne Cox event (roughly 6:30 PM) and the beginning of Caucus -- given that you need to be at your Caucus location and registered by 7:00 PM.

A couple of weeks ago, efforts were made by certain county officials to point out the time disconnect between these two important events. My understanding is that there was no response. So then those concerns became public early this week. A petition was created to push the event up by an hour to offer more time for Caucus goers to attend both events.

Then came push-back from lecture organizers. I changed my online RSVP from going to not (or "Not Interested," as they choice is now listed on Facebook) and explained why I couldn't come. I received a pleasant response:

Someone then attempted to shame Caucus promoters for asking to reschedule this event. We were told that we were being unreasonable for speaking out. We were also told that LaVerne Cox might cancel altogether if there is "any hint of controversy." Here is the full email message that was posted on the Facebook page. It was not explained who exactly sent the email, but here is the entirety of the message:
I just saw the petition. While I understand the sentiment, the petition itself might in actuality, risk eliminating the choice it implies people must make; Caucus or Laverne. The agent has let us know that if Laverne’s management hears of any hint of controversy with any of her public appearances, she is likely to cancel. She is very sensitive to negative publicity and the ensuing increase of threats that may occur because of it.

This was the only/last date that was available in her schedule for the spring, and while we originally scheduled it for 5:30 because of our concern about the Caucus, we adjusted the start time to 5 p.m. in response to this issue. In addition, she will speak for 50 minutes and entertain questions for 15. That means the event will be over by 6:05 – 6:10. In addition, she will include, at the end of her address, comments about the importance of people leaving to go Caucus. The ULC plans to have maps available with Caucus locations in case people there do not already know. Carter will also make a public announcement as part of her introduction and before the Q&A begins to reinforce this message. Most student Caucus locations are an easy 10 minute walk (at most). And for folks who live in Coralville/Iowa City, 50 minutes should be sufficient time to get to their Caucus locations.

5 p.m. does in fact, allow many in our communities the possibility of doing both. I say possibly, because the capacity of then Main Lounge is @ 1200 and sadly, not everybody will not be able to get into the venue in the first place.

I always try to negotiate our right to record and rebroadcast our speakers events on YouTube and/or UITV. Though, I was initially denied this request by the agent on behalf of Cox, I’ve made another request given the existing concerns.

I’m very nervous about this petition getting press. If that happens, we may lose any opportunity to have Laverne visit our community at all. I spoke to the agent this morning and suggested adjusting the time, and it was rejected. 5 p.m. is already an unusual time for hosting a lecture program, and her travel connections are tight and planned months in advance based on her schedule. I am respectfully asking that the petition be removed or discontinued for fear of inadvertently causing her to cancel completely, thereby taking away our choice to have her as a guest in our community. I encourage those who signed the petition and any others who would like to see her, to attend Laverne’s program while remaining mindful of their other civic obligations. As you so appropriately shared with me during our chat, you often do not stay for an entire event on your calendar so that you can attend to multiple obligations that are scheduled in close proximity to one another. Modeling your example in this instance seems appropriate given the circumstances.

In the meantime, please know that I fully appreciate the concerns expressed in the petition, and we’re doing our level best to address them within our means. But to be clear, booking a speaker for our campus and community is not at all a simple proposition. We are limited by the speaker’s availability; by venue availability; by our budget; by when a speaker decides to speak at all, and so many other limitations and concerns. It was less than ideal for us to have Laverne speak on the same evening as the Caucus; we didn’t have a choice. But when faced with the choice of hosting her or not, we decided to move forward, but adjust the time to allow people the possibility of doing both. If we can adjust it more, we will. If not, the committee would rather give the members of our community the opportunity to hear Laverne speak rather than not. We also believe that those who take the Caucus seriously, will find a way to do both, or choose what is most important to them.

They should also know that she will be speaking at UNI on April 13th. So if some feel they have to make a choice, attending her talk at UNI provides them with a possible option. It’s a drive, but it is in fact, an option.
It's great that Cox is coming to Iowa City and the University of Iowa. But Iowa Caucus is the beginning of the process for winnowing out the next President of the United States of America. This choice will be a critical opportunity to promote candidates who will (or won't, depending on the turnout) stand up for LGBT people, among other important issues important to people of color, women, and students.

Anyway, the petition was dismantled. God forbid that we have any "controversy." The LaVerne Cox will happen at 5:00 PM on February 2nd. Hopefully, you can attend the lecture if you want and still make it to the Caucus before the doors close and the work begins.

I will not be there. I will be at the Iowa Caucus that night. Most likely, I will not see LaVerne Cox at the UNI on April 13th, because I work and have a family. But, as the Facebook commenter noted, LaVerne won't notice.

We all have choices in life. I know which choices to prioritize.

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