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Statement on the 2014 Orange County Freethought Alliance Conference

This weekend, I am slated to speak at the Orange County Freethought Alliance Conference as well as the Sunday Assembly to take place the day after the conference. As someone who has participated as a principal volunteer since its inception as well as spoken there in 2012, the conference is an integral part of my year.

On Friday, it was brought to my attention via a Facebook post and confirmed with several volunteers that the “Surprise Speaker” slated for the very first speaking slot is Michael Shermer. It has since been confirmed via an official conference email. Michael Shermer, like me, is local and has spoken at the conference in the past. Unlike me, he has many troubling allegations of misconduct against him, conduct of the kind that is in clear violation of conference anti-harassment policies of exactly the kind in place at the OCFTA.

If I had known that I would be on the same conference program as Michael Shermer back when I was asked to speak at OCFTA, I would have immediately voiced my concerns; had they not been adequately addressed, I would have declined. However, as the current situation is somewhat different, I am choosing to participate without at all condoning the invited participation of Michael Shermer.

I have three reasons for continuing to participate. Though they are all incredibly meaningful to me, I have listed them in increasing order of importance. These reasons do not include monetary compensation of any kind — not even travel or hotel expenses, as I live less than half an hour from the conference venue and am not taking an honorarium for the engagement.

Firstly, as I have mentioned, I have a long-standing history with this conference. I count many of its organizers as friends and colleagues of many years and do not wish to, at what is the eleventh hour, force them to scramble for a replacement speaker or two.

Secondly, the crowd at this conference does not tend to read blogs or engage online very much. As such, the perspective and message that I convey would be new to many of them.

Relatedly, and most importantly, as one of the two women and the only self-identified person of color on the program, I do not wish to forgo an opportunity to speak on the very issues that give me pause in sharing billing with Michael Shermer. For the attendees to only hear from him and not from me seems like a poor choice in the long term.

That said, aside from Shermer, I have great respect for the speakers with whom I am billed for this conference. Accordingly, I hope to see some of my readers there.

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