Exclusive: LGBT MPA Chair Kyle Jordan

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Pride rainbow flag with people silouettedKyle Jordan, the 2024 Chair of the LGBT MPA, explains how the association is growing in membership, resources and connectivity after undergoing some changes in 2023.

Kyle F. Jordan, CAE, CEM-AP, CMP, DES, Director of Meetings with The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS) and 2024 Chair of LGBT MPA
Kyle F. Jordan, CAE, CEM-AP, CMP, DES, Director of Meetings with The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS) and 2024 Chair of LGBT MPA

The LGBT Meeting Professionals Association (LGBT MPA) has undergone some changes since David Jeffreys first founded the 501(c)(3) organization in 2016 to connect, advance and empower the LGBT+ meeting professional. Kyle F. Jordan, CAE, CEM-AP, CMP, DES, Director of Meetings with The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS), is this year undertaking his “victory lap” as the organization’s Chair, which is usually held for a one-year term, for the second year to shepherd LBGT MPA through some major changes it undertook in 2023, including hiring C2 Association Strategies, an association management company, along with a new Executive Director, Cameron Curtis.

“We needed someone with a strong association background who could help to elevate our governance structure, our policies and procedures, and what we offer to our members, supplier partners and the wider industry,” Jordan explains.

LGBT MPA already has launched a new mission, vision, website and logo — and that’s just the start. Prevue recently caught up with Jordan to learn more.

Prevue: Tell us a little about what LBGT MPA offers to its members.

Jordan: We have great partnerships with other meeting industry organizations, and one of the ways we serve the industry is by offering educational sessions at major industry events such as Meeting Professionals International’s World Education Congress (MPI WEC), IMEX Frankfurt and IMEX America, and the Professional Convention Management Association’s Convening Leaders. Another key connectivity event we held this year was to bring planners together during Business Events Industry Week to our own offsite location. Our members responded really well to that.

It’s about providing connectivity in spaces, particularly queer spaces, where we can gather and feel safe and engage with folks who share similar challenges. That’s not to say our industry partners don’t do a good job of creating those spaces as well, but it’s different when it’s created by your people, for your people.

Our goal, our North Star, is to be a clearinghouse of resources for both planners and suppliers. We want both to come to us when they have questions about, for example, how to incorporate and label gender-neutral bathrooms. Every destination handles that differently — we want to make it easy for planners to find answers to their questions, and for suppliers to understand how changes are being implemented by other destinations and suppliers.

Prevue: Does LGBT MPA get involved in advocacy?

Jordan: There’s an element of advocacy in what we’re doing, but we have to maintain a delicate balance. For example, we want people to recognize that there are safe places, places that are queer and LGBTQ+-owned, in every destination, regardless of what’s happening politically. Advocacy is something that our Board of Directors talks about, what our advocacy strategy will look like in the future.

However, we don’t shy away from when we disagree with a destination’s change in policy or law. We have made statements when a destination passes a law that directly impacts the hospitality industry, such as those that have outlawed drag shows. That affects any meeting or event that may want to include a drag performance as part of its opening or as part of a reception.

Prevue: Meeting professionals are always asking how they can make their meeting spaces more inclusive. Do you have any suggestions?

Jordan: It starts with being clear about what your specific organization needs, because what my organization, which is scientifically oriented, needs may be different from what another type of organization needs. What we want to do is define some leading practices when it comes to inclusive meeting design.

For example, if you offer professional headshots to attendees, someone who is traditionally binary may not think about how someone who identifies as transgender — or someone who is of a different ethnicity or race — may need different types of makeup or lighting or wig adjustments. Remember that it’s not just about LGBTQ+ people — we always focused on intersectionality. What is the experience for someone who is an LGBTQ+ person of color at our events?

If you include affinity groups (for a lack of a better term) but plan all the affinity group receptions on the same night, can those who identify in multiple different groups — like if you’re a member of an LGBT resource group and an Asian American resource group — go to both of those receptions? There are lots of different ways you can look at inclusive event design, but it needs to be based on who you’re serving.

Just as we’ve gotten really good about asking for dietary needs and accessibility accommodations, and how to serve people with both, that’s where we need to get to with these other considerations. And they will be different, depending on the group.

Prevue: What are some of the questions we should be asking?

Jordan: What does inclusivity look like? Do we have representation or feedback from folks that don’t look like the people sitting around the table? What are the needs we’re not even aware of? Your members will tell you. You just have to ask.

And remember that not everyone will need the same thing. For example, some may say they want a reception for folks who identify as queer. But there are still a lot of people, especially in international communities, where their culture, religion or workplace doesn’t allow them to be out.

A big lightbulb moment for me was around the Pride Forum my organization, INFORMS, holds for our LGBTQ+ members. We had a great breakfast reception, but I noticed one member who seemed to be kind of hiding out. When I asked them if everything was OK, they said they’re so happy the event is happening, but they had to avoid the camera because they could lose their job if they were seen on social media as attending the reception. As an out gay man for 35+ years, I took it for granted, but we do still have to mindful of this kind of thing. This group, and other underrepresented groups, have real, valid fears and concerns that we need to be mindful of.

At our event now, we have designated spaces to take selfies with the Pride Forum background, but also don’t allow photography in certain areas and tell attendees to ask before taking casual pictures in the space before posting anything. It hurts my heart that not everyone can be who they are, but I’m glad we were able to make a change that allows them to be who they are in our space. That’s exactly what we’re supposed to be doing.

Prevue: What else does INFORMS do in terms of inclusive event design?

Jordan: We hold meetings around the world that are primarily focused on scientific operations, research and analytics. Our largest meeting is just shy of 7,000 attendees.

We’re a very diverse organization in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, gender orientation — it’s the most diverse organization I’ve ever worked with, and they’ve been very open about improving our own DEI initiatives. We continue to find ways to make our meetings more accessible and inclusive to everyone.

In addition to our Pride Forum, we’re this year rolling out captioning for our general and plenary sessions, which is exciting. We’ve done a lot in the dietary accessibility space to acknowledge and take care of folks who have the nine biggest allergens, as recognized by the FDA. We also want to honor those who have dietary needs that revolve around religion, such as keeping halal or kosher — I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished to make sure food is accessible for everyone. We also make sure we highlight our gender-neutral bathrooms in the mobile app.

Prevue: It’s not just enough to have those resources — you have to make sure they can actually use them, right? Like having an elevator that’s not a huge distance from the sessions.

Jordan: People confuse accessibility with convenience — you can be accessible, but if it’s not convenient, you’re not really accessible. One of the things we do is, if we have guests who use a scooter or wheelchair, is to walk the spaces and figure out the quickest ways to get around. We may have a longer way that’s front and center, but also a quicker way through a back access hallway — we offer them the choice, and someone to help guide them through the back way if that’s how they want to go.

It’s about being cognizant of how people what to be seen and acknowledged for who they are and what they bring to the table. That’s at the core of the work we’re doing at the LGBT MPA: How to focus on belonging in this very global and inclusive way.

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