What Happened in Vegas Extends beyond Vegas

Hundreds of humanists gathered last weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada, at the American Humanist Association’s 77th Annual Conference. Attendees came together to celebrate humanism and learn more about a variety of topics, including social justice, climate change, reproductive health, and much more.

Popular sessions ranged from the panel discussion “A Humanist Response to Racial Injustice” with Dr. Anthony Pinn and Juhem Navarro-Rivera, to a talk on Cannabis Advocacy by Chris Thompson of NORML, to a speech by Toni Van Pelt (president of the National Organization for Women), to Dale McGowan’s “As the American Church Crumbles, is Humanism Ready to Step In?” Participants also explored how to resist the religious right’s fake news, identifying gender (or not!), the problem with purity, secular Buddhist meditation, and how to grow humanist communities.

Annual meetings of the Center for Freethought Equality (AHA’s sister organization for lobbying and PAC activities) and the AHA board of directors celebrated the organizations’ achievements over the past year, the highlight of which was the historic news of the formation of a Congressional Freethought Caucus on Capitol Hill.

There were also entertainment offerings with a humanist twist, including the sketch comedy of local Las Vegas group Cardio Spider and the musical satire of Roy Zimmerman.

David Suzuki

Three banquets focused on this year’s awardees. On Friday night David Suzuki accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award with a stirring call to arms to fight climate change. Humanist of the Year Jennifer Ouellette moved many in the crowd to tears with the story of her brother’s battle with cancer and what it taught her about the importance of enacting right-to-die legislation. The evening was rounded out with the presentation of the President’s Award to humanist activist and organizer Dan Blinn from the Hartford Area Humanists in Connecticut.

Saturday’s luncheon celebrated media and the arts. Humanist Media awardee Ana Kasparian of The Young Turks broadcast spoke about impartial journalism in a world of fake news as well as the importance of fighting fundamentalism. The Humanist Arts Award was presented to Deven Green and Andrew Bradley, the creative team behind the internet sensation, Mrs. Betty Bowers, the World’s Best Christian ™, who brought the house down with their satirical performance.

Ijeoma Oluo with AHA Education Director Kristin Wintermute

Ijeoma Oluo was awarded the Feminist Humanist Award at the Saturday evening banquet for her writing on feminism, race, and other social issues. In her acceptance speech, Oluo powerfully challenged those in the audience and the humanist community in general to work harder and “do better” on racial issues and diversity, saying “When I’m being followed in a store, I’m not thinking, I’ll bet that’s an evangelical….I need for you to not always to be looking for the harm that others are doing, but to look for the harm that you are doing.”

The conference closed with a moving keynote speech by Gavin Grimm, a young man who fought his school district through the federal courts for the rights of transgender people. As he told the story of his struggle for equality and recognition from his family, friends, and community, Grimm brought the audience to tears for his pain and to their feet in a standing ovation for his strength.  (Note: Just a few days after the conference, Grimm and the ACLU won a victory in his court battle to recognize that federal law protects transgender people!)

You can find pictures of the conference here. Video of the sessions and awardee and keynote speeches will be posted soon.

We hope you will join us in 2019 when the AHA presents a new format—a virtual conference, allowing more people access to the sessions without travelling great distances or paying hefty conference fees.  In August 2020, please join us in Miami when AHA’s annual conference will be held in conjunction with the International Humanist and Ethical Union.