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Considerations in choosing an inclusive conference location

Academic conferences can be transformative experiences for early career researchers. They provide key opportunities to learn about cutting-edge research, get feedback for one’s own work, and build a professional network. However, for members of historically excluded groups in academia, the conference experience can also be fraught and exclusionary. How can we, as conference organizers and mentors, make the conference experience more accessible to all? 

Last year, I [Rachel Gregor] co-led an international initiative with over 30 early career microbiologists from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA+) community to create guidelines for queer and trans inclusion in conferences (Gregor et al. 2023). This initiative was born at a conference dinner, from a conversation between a few queer and transgender colleagues. We designed the article as a resource for conference organizers who want to be more inclusive but are not sure where to start. While we focused on the queer and trans community, many of our recommendations address the needs of other groups as well. When you make your events more inclusive, it benefits the whole community.  

One of the most timely topics that we addressed in this piece, and that we have been most frequently asked about since publishing it, is how we should consider local laws and climates in deciding where to hold conferences. This topic led to heated discussions among the author group, and there is certainly no single right answer that everyone will agree with. Here, I will outline some considerations that we discussed in choosing a conference location and offer three suggestions to consider in planning your next conference, regardless of location. 

In the United States in recent years, there has been a surge of legislation targeting the transgender community and abortion rights. For many scientists, these laws directly impact their ability to travel to certain conference locations (Heidt 2023; Vasquez 2023). These considerations can be invisible to those not impacted, who do not have to worry about, for example, whether they will receive life-saving medical care or be arrested for something as simple as using a bathroom in the airport. For queer and trans individuals, it is very common to research a new location before agreeing to travel there, to try to understand the legal and social landscape and assess any potential dangers or risks. Some individuals may also assess risk and danger based on their race or ethnicity. For example, Victor H. Green wrote and published the Green Book as a resource for safer travel for Black motorists in the US, updating it annually between 1936 and 1966 (Green 1936). This mental calculus is exhausting and stressful and is an example of the extra burden that minoritized groups carry in professional spaces. 

However, there are serious concerns about boycotting entire states and regions as locales for conferences. Firstly, there are scientists living and working in the very states and areas that are most affected by anti-trans legislation and abortion restrictions. By refusing to hold conferences in these destinations, the scientific community effectively abandons them. Ironically, this most affects those who lack the financial resources or flexibility to travel, which often includes queer and trans scientists, parents and caregivers, early career researchers, and scientists from historically excluded groups. 

Secondly, areas that might be commonly considered “safe” may not be so in practice, and it is difficult to make blanket categorizations or recommendations. For example, a large city in a Southern state compared to a rural area of New England will pose different challenges and concerns for different groups. In addition, some locations that might be labeled “safe”, such as southern California, are also extremely expensive and already epicenters of scientific resources. Therefore, holding conferences in these locations further deepens disparities in the scientific community based on resources and access. 

These considerations become especially important for international conferences, as some places with legislation to protect queer and trans rights and abortion access, such as Canada and some countries in the European Union, are also notoriously exclusive in their visa policies. This disproportionately impacts researchers from the Global South (Chugh and Joseph 2024). For example, there was controversy surrounding an international AIDS conference held in Montréal in summer 2022, as many African participants did not receive visas to attend, despite working at the forefront of AIDS activism and research [link].

So, what can we do as organizers to make our conferences more inclusive, regardless of the location? Here are three recommendations:

  1. Publish resources on the local climate on the conference website. Provide information about the conference location, such as considerations for different groups regarding safety, legislation, and accessibility for people with disabilities, in consultation with local organizers and resources. This guide should be easily accessible on the conference website so attendees can reference it while deciding whether to attend or where to stay. Include contact information for an organizer who will help attendees with specific questions and concerns, including connecting them to additional resources if needed. An excellent example of a local guide was published for a 2022 conference in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, which detailed specific concerns and considerations for LGBTQIA+ conference attendees [link]. The guide is upfront in recommending, for example, that trans and non-binary researchers whose passports do not match their gender avoid attending in person, as they may be denied entry to the UAE. 
  2. Offer a virtual attendance option. Hybrid conferences are more accessible to scientists who cannot travel to a conference location for a wide variety of reasons, including discriminatory legislation, health or accessibility concerns, visa restrictions, caregiving responsibilities, and financial constraints. Especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, we have more tools than ever at our disposal to create hybrid conferences in which virtual attendees can participate in a meaningful and smooth manner (Stefanoudis et al. 2021; Rubinger et al. 2020). This does not replace other efforts, but can offer an option that can benefit some participants who would not otherwise be able to attend at all.
  3. Leverage conferences as an opportunity to uplift marginalized groups. Regardless of the location, conference organizers have power and agency to shape the atmosphere in the conference itself. For example, holding an LGBTQIA+ networking event might be even more meaningful in a location with restrictive laws and for attendees from institutions where they may not be able to easily connect with other queer and trans scientists. Organizers can also advocate within the constraints of the legal and social landscape of the location, for example, by working with conference venues to prioritize accessibility and gender-neutral bathrooms. Members of the local organizing committee can be invaluable in finding local vendors and businesses who will be welcoming and supportive of conference attendees from all backgrounds. Lastly, conferences can organize donations to local initiatives that support marginalized groups [link], which has the added benefit of raising awareness about these issues to all conference attendees.

Do you have other ideas about how to make conferences more inclusive? Email us at – your input may be the focus of a future blog post!

If you are interested in learning more about evidence-based practices related to undergraduate research and mentorship, please check out our other blog posts in this series (listed below) and stay tuned for future blog posts!

  1. Who gets to do undergraduate research?
  2. New researchers have arrived-now what?
  3. How do you know what your mentee knows?
  4. How do I set my mentee up for success in research?
  5. How do you support mentee independence in research?
  6. How can we provide effective feedback to our mentees?
  7. How can we design research environments to be more accessible?

About the Author

Dr. Rachel Gregor is a Center for Chemical Currencies of a Microbial Planet Postdoctoral Fellow working with Dr. Otto X. Cordero at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, studying the role of metabolite exchange in marine microbial communities. She earned her PhD in Chemistry in 2021 from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev under the supervision of Dr. Michael M. Meijler.


Chugh, M., and Joseph, T. (2024). Citizenship Privilege Harms Science. Nature, 628 (8008), 499–501.

Green, V. H. (1936). The Negro Motorist Green-Book. New York City: Victor H. Green & Company.

Gregor, R., Johnston, J., Coe, L. S. Y., Evans, N., Forsythe, D., Jones, R., Muratore, D. et al. (2023). Building a Queer- and Trans-Inclusive Microbiology Conference. mSystems, 8(5), e0043323.

Heidt, A. (2023). How scientific conferences are responding to abortion bans and anti-LGBTQ+ laws . Science (New York, N.Y.), 380 (6651), 1207–8.

Rubinger, L., Gazendam, A., Ekhtiari, S., Nucci, N., Payne, A., Johal, H., Khanduja, V., and Bhandari, M. (2020). Maximizing Virtual Meetings and Conferences: A Review of Best Practices. International Orthopaedics, 44 (8), 1461–66.

Stefanoudis, P. V., Biancani, L. M., Cambronero-Solano, S., Clark, M. R., Copley, J. T., Easton, E., Elmer, F. et al. (2021). Moving Conferences Online: Lessons Learned from an International Virtual Meeting. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 288 (1961), 20211769.

Vasquez, K.. (2023). Amid Increasing Anti-Trans Legislation, Where Should Scientific Societies Hold Their Conferences? Chemical & Engineering News. American Chemical Society. June 25, 2023.