Attendees at a college recreation conference were greeted by a surprise Friday, when a manager for the convention center where their conference was being held came to their closing session and apologized for the inappropriate behavior of attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference, which was meeting in the same space.
The National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association held its meeting at the Gaylord National Convention Center in Maryland last week, at the same time as the big annual gathering of conservative activists.
A Gaylord manager alluded to reports of harassment toward NIRSA attendees by CPAC attendees, saying they were out of line with the convention center’s values, according to multiple people who attended the NIRSA closing session. She also stressed the importance collegiate recreation had played in her own life, adding a personal touch to her comments.
The manager added that the convention center had never had a problem with CPAC attendees’ behavior until this year. A Gaylord spokeswoman declined to comment.
“Everyone I was sitting near was definitely surprised about the directness in her messaging,” a NIRSA attendee said.
“[I] was very glad to see the manager acknowledge a very challenging environment of our conference,” added Kathleen Hatch, a past president of NIRSA who was at the conference.
“We are aware of some interactions between NIRSA attendees and CPAC attendees that are inconsistent with NIRSA’s values, in particular Equity, Diversity and Inclusion,” said NIRSA Executive Director Pam Watts. “NIRSA views equity, diversity, and inclusion as an essential component of inspiring healthy people and healthy communities, which is what our Association strives to do.”
Posts on social media and attendees who spoke with The Huffington Post referenced comments CPAC attendees made directed at members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and people who appeared to be Muslim.
Andy Lemons, a NIRSA attendee, said he heard men with CPAC badges joking about the NIRSA gender-neutral bathrooms, saying, “Why do those fags need their own bathrooms?”
Allie Bogard, who identifies as a lesbian, said she was called a “dyke” multiple times during the conference and was harassed at a bar by a CPAC attendee. She also said she saw a white woman with a CPAC badge ask a black woman for a menu at a restaurant. The woman, however, was not a restaurant employee but rather a NIRSA attendee.
CPAC did not return a request for comment.
For years, CPAC had been a bastion of conservative opposition to President Barack Obama, attracting activists, students and politicians. But this year, the conference had extra weight with the appearances of both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, as well as several top White House aides.
This piece has been updated with additional comment from NIRSA attendees.
If you were at NIRSA, contact us here with more details on what happened.
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