Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Too Little, Too Late: Anyone Want My #WFC2016 Membership?

I suppose I should be grateful. But I'm not.

After "Jason Sanford and his ilk" (that includes me) complained about the absolute lack of an accessibility or harassment policy for World Fantasy 2016 in Columbus, one finally got posted.

Not on the front page , but at the bottom of the registration page. Along with a more prominent notice that there's no refunds (they'll transfer it though, see below).

In contrast, WFC 2015, Penguicon, and MARCon have links on their front pages (with varying degrees of visibility) to their policies and codes of conduct.

I'm not grateful. I'm concerned. Concerned enough that I'm offering my membership to WFC2016 for the US$150 price that I paid for it.

Why am I so ungrateful?  There's a few reasons.

I don't know who is running WFC 2016

First, despite my explicit request to know who's running WFC 2016... it's not posted anywhere, and they sure as hell haven't e-mailed me. Who's the board? Who's the freaking con chair?

This is somewhat important to me, because you might remember a couple years ago when CONTEXT blew up in Columbus. It wasn't the policy that caused the problem there. It was the reaction by some of the members of the Board and lack of enforcing that policy. One of those people in particular, Dennis Palmer, is president of the board of SOLAE, which also sponsors MARCon, another Columbus convention. There's a lot of overlap in the folks who run sf/f conventions in Columbus (and Cincinnati, for that matter), so I've been a bit skittish for the last two years. Were the same people running things? I could only guess.

That mild worry got worse when I read WFC 2016's policy.


WFC2016's Policy Is Problematic

I got really concerned when I read the policy for WFC 2016, where it repeatedly makes the point "In order to take action, we need to know about any incident during the convention."

Let's get rid of the "But it's WFC, it doesn't recur!" straw man. If we're going to take that approach, then you are guaranteeing that any traveling convention is going to be a safe space for creepers and harassers. In which case, I'm not going.

Second, it puts a huge burden on the victim to be able to immediately feel safe enough to report any incidents. If you really need someone to unpack why that's a problem... well, that's another blog post itself. 

Given Columbus convention history, this repeated emphasis on immediate reporting is even more problematic. If you remember what happened at CONTEXT, such a clause would have made all the reports of harassment that spanned several years moot, and allowed the harassment to continue in future years. Another case that would have been significantly different - and allowed harassment to continue - is that of Jim Frenkel, where a pattern of behavior spanning years could have been simply ignored by convention staff because it didn't come to light during the hours of the convention.

Which is awfully convenient, don't you think?


The Emphasis Seems To Be On "Just Be Nice", Not Policy

Especially when it's not a guarantee that your report will be heard sympathetically. For example, there's plenty of people like "moritheil" who claim that harassment policies are apparently optional societal standards (full conversation at https://storify.com/uriel1998/societal-standards)
Or consider that Dennis Palmer - one of the people who were part of the problems handling sexual harassment that originally caused me to resign from CONTEXT  - was also the co-chair of Ops for that convention. Which means he would have possibly handled the harassment complaint.  The people who came to me specifically did so because they knew I would handle it with seriousness and not blow them off or take them lightly.

But when you've got a culture around your convention that seems to think that just saying "be nice" should be sufficient (examples: this screengrab from the closed FB group for WFC2016, or this rambling post by Shell Franklin1 in MARCon's FB group2), that doesn't make me feel safe.

Volunteer-Run or Not, You Have to Reach Out To Con-Goers

And don't give me that "it's just volunteers" crap. Penguicon has an exemplary policy, and it showed in both the number of attendees and the amount of fun people had.  Over the last few years, as more and more conventions have dealt with these issues, there are plenty of examples floating around - including examples of what not to do.  Hell, Jim Hines even put together a "Starter Kit" in case you had to build it from the ground up.

There isn't an excuse any longer. Having a policy, enforcing it, and doing both clearly enough that people trust you to do it is a minimum standard for any convention at this point.

My tolerance for this kind of shenanigans is just...gone. I don't have the luxury of whipsawing around and waiting to see if WFC2016 - or any other convention - can get its act together sufficiently that I and my friends feel safe there.

It isn't the congoer's jobs to investigate policy, enforcement, and see whether or not they'll be accepted and feel safe. It's the conrunner's jobs to reach out to congoers.

I hope I'm wrong. I hope that every last one of my fears is unfounded, that everything goes wonderfully, and in the awful event that there is an issue, that it's dealt with quickly and fairly.

But I'm sick of having to push and scream and yell for something so basic as ensuring that I and my friends are safe.

If you would like for me to transfer my WFC 2016 membership to you at the $150 price, please contact me via e-mail.

I don't want it anymore.

1According to SOLAE's page, Shell Franklin is associated with MARCon, but once again, no list of organizers on MARCon's actual page. There's a nice legal notice on MARCon's website, though. Priorities.

2Please note in that screengrab that I was asking (a second time) if that post was a policy, vaguebooking, or just an opinion. No clarification was given.


John D. Bell said...

> First, despite my explicit request to know who's running WFC 2016...

A Google search of the US Mail address given on the con's webpage leads me to believe that it is the (home?) address of "Larry Smith, Bookseller".

Steven Saus said...

1. Okay, but that simply implies that it's where mail is going, not what official role (if any) Larry has with the convention.

2. Why would you keep this kind of information secret, anyway? Especially if one is supposed to report any shenanigans to convention staff, knowing who they are would seem to be a first step.