This account is of my first American Humanist Association (AHA) Conference experience and fifth trip to Las Vegas. Oh, what a hedonistic life I lead! My objectives at the conference were to represent and promote HAPI, and have as many photo opportunities as possible with humanist celebrities. The 77th Annual AHA Conference was held at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino on May 17th until the 20th, and was hosted by the Humanist Association of Las Vegas.
My trip to the conference had been planned and anticipated for many months with the drive south to Las Vegas, mostly along Interstate 5, necessitating a few stops along the way. One of my other interests is airplanes and it is a life ambition to see and photograph all the YF-12, A-12 and SR-71 “Blackbirds” dotted around the USA (there is 1 in England which I have already crossed off the list). To this end, Adelfa (my Filipino girlfriend) and I made our first stop at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon to see #17971. Next was #17963 at Beale Air Force Base, the main site of operation for the SR-71s during the Cold War, but they would not let me in. We were successful in seeing #17960 at Castle Air Museum, Atwater, California during the third day of travelling. Later, we arrived at Adelfa’s daughter’s house in Santa Clarita, California, which was going to be our base camp for a while. After my attendance at the AHA Conference, we had been invited to attend the seventh birthday party of Raina, Adelfa’s granddaughter.
So, on the morning of May 17th, I set off reasonably early for the approximately 4 ½-hour drive to Las Vegas. Most of this is on Interstate 15, and along this route, you pass the very interesting Ivanpah Solar Power Facility. When the sun is out, which it was, the three tower focus points collecting the light from the mirror arrays are spectacularly distracting beacons. Arrival at the Flamingo Resort in Las Vegas was at 12:01 PM according to the time stamp on my parking ticket. The conference had already started at 9:00 AM but I wanted to check in and dump off my bag in my room. Unfortunately, the hotel had a ridiculous US$30 early check-in fee. So off to the registration desk I trudged, managed to complete the formalities, and acquire the name tag and lanyard in time for the first presentation scheduled at 12:45 PM.
For the remainder of this report I shall present the full itinerary of the conference, as published in the event brochure, and then expand on items of relevance such as presentations I attended, personal experiences and interactions I had with my fellow humanists. Where necessary, I shall supplement the first-hand material with information, in quotes, pulled straight out of the event brochure.
Day 1 – Thursday
9:00 AM – 8:00 PM
Registration and Exhibitors’ Areas Open
9:00 AM – 12:00 PM
AHA Board of Directors Open Meeting
12:45 PM – 1:45 PM
Lyle L. Simpson
The Science of Humanistic Psychology
“What is the history of humanism? Where did our philosophy come from? Where are we now, and where could we go, working together, to improve the quality of life here on Earth?” Read more about it here.
2:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Ron Millar, Audra Killingsworth, Matt Bulger & Ray Speckhardt
Meeting of members of Center for Freethought Equality
3:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Assembling a Humanist “Resistance” Movement Brick by Brick
“This presentation provides a quick survey of the many “Lego” bricks available for any AHA Chapter wishing to establish a forceful political action committee.” A subject close to my heart since opposition to the Trump regime is of paramount importance as he has enabled the religious extremist bigots (not to mention the Nazis), is anti-science and anti-environment. Read more about it here.
4:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Kristin Wintermute & Emily Newman
Let’s Engage and Grow Humanist Communities
“AHA local groups provide wonderful opportunities for humanists to come together to do good in our communities, connect with one another, and grow as individuals.” Sorry, we’ll have to wait for the event DVD to enjoy and learn further from the content of this presentation. Read more about it here.
5:00 PM – 6:45 PM
All attendees had a drinks voucher to use at the bar. Partial registrants had one, while full registrants may have had more. I imbibed with a bottle of Miller Genuine Draft, one of the better beers from the big brewers in my opinion. The food was very good buffet-style salad items and cold cut meats. Doing my best to be ambassadorial for HAPI, I singled out one of the people who had appeared on stage earlier in the day, Mr. Fred Edwords. Marissa and HAPI were already known to Fred but we chatted for a few minutes before he resumed his primary mission of being the director of planned giving for AHA and the Humanist Foundation.
7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
I didn’t have the energy for any extracurricular activity so I was off to my room to recover and be ready for Day 2.
Day 2 – Friday
8:00 AM – 8:00 PM
Registration and Exhibitors’ Areas Open
8:00 AM – 9:00 AM
Meet and Greet Coffee Hour
Arriving in the exhibition space soon after start time, I scanned the room. The coffee had not arrived yet so there was nothing to calm my nerves. Sitting at one of the tables, reading a copy of the New York Times and oblivious to his surroundings was my first “victim”, Dan Fitzpatrick. We chatted about this and that until the coffee finally arrived but, alas, no doughnuts and pastries. Little does Dan know how lucky he was to escape so lightly from this encounter. By this time, more attendees had arrived so while mingling around, Mr. Howard Katz caught my eye with his “God’s Busy (Devil Face) Can I Help You” shirt. Read more about it here.
The first table seen when entering the exhibition room was for the United Church of Bacon manned by a couple of friendly ladies, Liz Matthews and Casandra Ciccone. Very disappointingly for everyone present (Who doesn’t love bacon?), there were no sizzling rashers of bacon to be had. Breakfast was proving hard to find. Next to the United Church of Bacon table was an unoccupied table, the significance of which shall be revealed later.
Moving on, I introduced myself to Mr. Phil Peterson and his daughter, Holly Chambers. A Cher (or Cheryl) Brock joined us soon after. Again, we chatted about this and that.
9:00 AM – 9:30 AM
Disagreeing Eye to Eye: Tips for Communicating Constructively on Difficult Topics
During her presentation, Jennifer mentioned that her husband is half-Filipino which, of course, piqued my interest. I quickly fired off a message to Marissa to see if she had met or was familiar at all with Jennifer, to which the response was yes! As was true for some of the other presenters, Jennifer was promoting her new book and was available for signings outside the presentation room. So, I took the opportunity to say hi and talk about HAPI. Jennifer said that she and her husband, Philip, knew Marissa, had met at a previous conference and were familiar with our organization (or maybe Filipino Freethinkers per Marissa). Loitering around the signing, I overheard someone else say they were Filipino. More on this later. Read more about it here.
9:30 AM – 10:00 AM
The Religious Right’s Fake News: Why What the Theocrats Know Just Isn’t So?
Again, I sincerely apologize for the lack of first-hand commentary on this presentation. Without notes or some form of aide-memoire, I’m finding it impossible to recollect and describe what I saw and heard. Maybe a voice recording device of some sort would have been helpful. Read more about it here.
Aron Ra is an iconic “Grand Wizard” figure within the atheist/humanist community in the USA, and he was seated in the same row as me listening to Rob Boston’s presentation. I approached Aron and asked whether he was doing a talk. He said not, but was running as a candidate for a seat on the Board of Directors. I also mentioned his Phylogeny Explorer Project, a mammoth undertaking to catalog the diversity and enormity of the tree of life on Earth. After this, he was quite happy to pose with me for my photo opportunity. Celebrity scalp number one.
10:15 AM – 10:45 AM
Toni Van Pelt
NOW: National Organization for Women
Same lame excuse. “NOW (has a) multi-issue agenda which includes: achieving constitutionally equality for women, advancing reproductive rights and justice, promoting racial justice, stopping violence against women, winning civil and human rights for the LGBTQIA+ community, and ensuring economic justice.” Read more about it here.
10:45 AM – 11:15 AM
From Godly Girl to Secular Sister: Finding Our Voices after a Religious Childhood
You guessed it! “Thea grew up in a mainstream Christian family and knew by age 14 that she wanted to be a minister. Then, a kindly pastor explained that this was impossible because she was female. Years later, a surgeon removed one of her ovaries for medical reasons and, she wondered, ‘Is this a sign God wants me to become a part-time minister?’ But the joke was on God, because she no longer believed in him.” Read more about it here.
11:30 AM – 12:00 PM
A History of Native American Policy and Activism
Unfortunately, Heather was a no-show at her scheduled time to present what sounded like a great topic. “Learn about the history of policy that the United States had towards the first inhabitants of this land. From the Indian Removal Act to Termination, learn how policy affected tribes and the Native community and how those policies lead to the formation of the American Indian Movement. From the occupation of Alcatraz Island to Wounded Knee, the American Indian Movement was instrumental in bringing Native issues to the limelight. And the spark is still lit today with movements from Standing Rock to the fight for our lands and monuments.” Read more about it here.
Due to the cancelled session, there was some extra free time before lunch. Before leaving Seattle, Marissa had messaged me about the award given by Foundation Beyond Belief (FBB) to our colleague, Jamie Del Rosario-Martinez, for her work with the Kids Nutrition Campaign. Marissa asked me to pick up the award certificate on Jamie’s behalf which, of course, I was happy to do. In the Exhibitor Hall, the FBB table was two tables away from that mysterious empty table I mentioned earlier. Staff member Wendy Webber was single handedly manning the table, as she had been yesterday, and after pleasantries I asked her about Jamie’s certificate. She didn’t have it but said it was arriving tomorrow so I would have to return then.
It was after one of the morning sessions that I sought out the person that I heard say earlier, while chatting to Jennifer Kalmanson, was Filipino. My recollection of faces is, I think, excellent (certainly compared to my abysmal recollection of names) so I quickly picked him out of the crowd and introduced myself. Randy Curioso (great name), I hope, will remain a personal friend and become active in our organization. He has had a fairly recent tragedy in his life story and a fairly recent coming out to his religious Filipino family about his atheism. Maybe Randy can add a footnote, when he sees this write-up, about the details I recall (I hope accurately) about the influence of Ana Kasparian and the ‘The Young Turks’ show on his journey to atheism.
12:00 PM – 1:30 PM
I lunched with Randy and his friends, Mark and Barbara Brandt at one of the deli-style vendors in the resort food court. Randy told me that he had seen a HAPI table in the vendor exhibition space which, obviously, I had missed. I was surprised and disbelieving at the time but, indeed, when I returned to the exhibition hall for a closer look, the second table down the right side of the room had a paper note on it indicating this table had been reserved for HAPI. On reflection, it made sense since, before the conference, I had exchanged a number of emails with Megan Hamilton of the AHA about having a table for HAPI. I eventually decided that I wanted to enjoy and experience as much of the conference as possible rather than man a table so I did not pay the extra US$400 required.
1:30 PM – 2:45 PM
Dr. Anthony B. Pinn, Dr. Monica R. Miller & Dr. Juhem Navarro-Rivera
A Humanist Response to Racial Injustice
Sadly, Dr. Miller could not attend. This was another excellent presentation. Read more about it here.
3:00 PM – 3:30 PM
Dr. Madhvi Potluri
Caste System in India
Read more about it here.
3:30 PM – 4:00 PM
From Goddess to God: Elimination of the Feminine Divine
An excellent presentation but, sorry folks! I’ve got nothing. Read more about it here.
4:15 PM – 5:45 PM
The State of Humanism Annual Meeting
During one of the afternoon sessions, I’m sure I gave Mark Brandt a HAPI cap. It was my intention to give Barbara a HAPI scarf, but the one I had with me there and then (I had many more in my car back in the parking garage) had already been given to another person. Now, I’m not entirely sure of the chronological sequence of events here but, at some time I had met and befriended a couple of nice ladies who happened to be from Seattle like me. Joan Lawson and Jeannette Merki were both active in the Horizon House Secular Humanist group and received HAPI scarves. The lucky recipient of the third HAPI scarf that I had previously retrieved from my car, was a lady by the name of Anne Simpson (rice farmer of Simpson Farms and Investments, Pocahontas, Arkansas) who was with Joan and Jean. I would be spending more time with these lovely ladies later.
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Social Justice Alliance Happy Hour
This was another opportunity for all to mingle, I think (I was certainly there attempting to mingle). Having already, I hoped, become someone of note amongst my fellow humanists, I claimed an empty table and waited for people to come to me (no delusions of grandeur here). Eventually, possibly because people were still drifting in and mine was the only empty table, Bruce and Kathy Pettigrew joined me. We chatted about this and that. I had previously read that the husband of Jennifer Ouellette was none other than Sean Carroll, the famous theoretical physicist. Soon into the Happy Hour, Sean wandered in and with iPhone camera at the ready, I pounced. Scalp number two.
7:00 PM – 10:00 PM
Friday Night Banquet
Dan Blinn won President’s Award, while David Suzuki won Lifetime Achievement Award, and Jennifer Ouellette, Humanist of the Year Award. I didn’t realize that partial registrants were permitted to see the award presentations after the dinner (only available for full registrants). So, I missed out on this which I’m disappointed about because David Suzuki sounds like my kind of guy with his environmental perspectives. Read more about it here.
- HAPI International Council member
- Based in Seattle, Washington USA
“Get God out of our government. ‘God’s providence’ language is both laughable and disturbing.”