SEASIDE — The annual Adolescent Sexuality Conference, previously held at the Seaside Civic and Convention Center, has been canceled for 2015.
The Oregon Teen Pregnancy Task Force, the event’s fiscal sponsor, emailed conference participants over the weekend announcing the news.
The conference, which was scheduled for April 13 and 14, had been the target of disapproval from Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin, news agency KOIN6 and a few special interest groups, such as Parents’ Rights in Education. Some people and interest groups said they believe the material disseminated at the conference in the past was inappropriate, even illegal.
“This conference has morphed into such a perversion from actual health and welfare that it is time to bring it to a stop and get back to some sanity.” Bergin said in a December interview.
The content is aligned with Oregon’s Comprehensive Sexuality Education requirements as laid out in the Oregon Administrative Rules, according to the Oregon Teen Pregnancy Task Force. Those requirements state all human sexuality education programs should emphasize abstinence as the only method that is 100 percent effective against unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.
“Such courses are to acknowledge the value of abstinence while not devaluing or ignoring those students who have had or are having sexual relationships,” the rule states. “Further, sexuality education materials, instructional strategies and activities must not, in any way, use shame or fear-based tactics.”
In a December guest column that supported the conference’s mission of adolescent health and welfare, the Lower Columbia Diversity Project Steering Committee talked about the community’s “shared responsibility to create safe environments for youth that include access to the best information available about difficult topics.”
“As a community, we discredit our effectiveness when we fall prey to fear and shame,” the column stated. “Our actions become barriers to understanding when we attempt to manage personal discomforts by silencing discussion. ... We encourage ongoing conversations about adolescent sexuality devoid of fear and shame.”
During the 2014 conference, a keynote speaker discussed abstinence and a workshop was conducted on it; other sessions addressed healthy relationship skills; and discussions centered on youth-adult communication. The conference is intended for educators, health personnel, counselors, social and youth service workers, parents, teen parent program staff, community members and teens, according to the event website. A majority of attendees in the past have been older than 18; those younger than 18 had to have written parental permission and be accompanied by a legal guardian or chaperone.
The price of cancellation
Convention center contracts normally include a $1,000 fee if an event is canceled within 12 months of its scheduled date. In this case, because of the center’s longtime relationship with the client, the cancellation fee was waived as a courtesy, said Russ Vandenberg, the center’s general manager. That courtesy often is extended to long-term customers, or the fee is applied to future a future booking, which wasn’t done in this instance, said Director of Sales Gretchen Darnell.
The organizers “weren’t very specific” and “didn’t go into any detail” about why they were canceling, Vandenberg said. The Oregon Teen Pregnancy Task Force’s email announcing the cancellation referenced the more than 30 years the conference “has provided valuable content and discussion to inform and engage public educators, health professionals, parents and youth.”
“Our mission continues to be focused on facilitating communication and awareness on all facets of healthy sexuality for youth in our community,” the email states. “While we remain clear in our vision, we feel current conditions have shifted the setting and our ability to offer open, safe and honest conversations about sexuality.”
In addition, the email states, the organizers value their relationship with the Seaside community and “cannot, in good conscience, hold a conference when we believe conference participants and our Seaside partners may be put in uncomfortable or unpleasant situations.”
The city received some pressure to cancel the event a few months ago, but Seaside City Council chose to not breach its contract with the group and to allow use of the center this year. The convention center staff did not receive that pressure, Vandenberg said. He believes it’s unfortunate the event was canceled. “We don’t like losing events,” he said. “We’re here to drive economic impact. We weren’t hoping they would cancel by any means. ... We don’t judge clients or judge what they bring into the building. If we got into the business of starting to judge clients and what they did, it wouldn’t be professional on our part.”
The group’s rental fees for 2015 were $1,125, but Darnell said it “is hard to speculate what the revenue loss is exactly.”
“We don’t know what their food and beverage costs would be, as they hadn’t ordered it yet,” she said.
While they are pursuing other groups to use the center, Vandenberg said, “It’s unlikely someone will, because of the short time frame.”
Individuals who had paid their registration fees will be refunded and cashed checks will be reimbursed, according to the task force.
“We remain dedicated to our mission and will carefully consider how to continue our work in a positive, respectful manner,” the task force said. “Thank you for your continued support.”
Event organizers have not said if or when the conference will take place in the future. For more information about the conference, visit oregon-asc.org/ or the event’s Facebook page.