con safe space

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Apparently, CONvergence 2011 was the site of a significantly above-average number of incidents of assault, people being drugged, and a host of other slightly sketchy things that got talked about but not really reported.  It is a drinking and party con, and that definitely has an effect on how people behave there late at night.

This year, the con staff printed out these large, eye-catching posters, and made several announcements and other posters to the effect that:

  • There were distinct safe spaces around the con.
  • Staff takes your report of assault seriously.
  • False reports are frowned upon but staff will absolutely investigate what you say, and will take measures to protect you when necessary.
  • Harassment, sexual assault, and bad behavior is not allowed just because you are barely wearing anything.  We don’t judge you, we only judge those who would harm you.

I’m a member of this convention, and have been for 10 years.  But I don’t often volunteer, and I’m pretty far from staff personally.  I was blown away by the steps taken to combat sexual misconduct and assault at this convention.  By all reports it was very effective.  I would love to start seeing signs and policies like these at more conventions, especially ones with the combination of cosplay, dancing, and drinking that CONvergence has developed recently.

To My Dearest BrittanaCon...

For those of you at BrittanaCon this year, you know that this year has been a hard one for me.  Probably one of the hardest I’ve gone through in the past few years.  I’m not going to share everything I said during our I Feel That When I’m With You It’s Alright discussion again because that’s not for public consumption but these next words, these are for anyone and everyone to read.  Because this Brittana fandom and those of you that attended BrittanaCon this year are important.  You are special.  You are amazing.  You are family.

We talk about that a lot when we discuss BrittanaCon.  How these friendships that we form transcend actual friendship and bring to each of us a sense of family.  For some of us in the fandom, our actual families may not be the healthy and happy and supporting relationships that they should be.  But the family we found in each other through BrittanaCon is all those things and then some.  Of all the things I could have ever hoped to accomplish by having BrittanaCon, this bringing together of a loving fandom family is the one thing that I will forever be most proud of.

There is a lot of work that goes into making this Con happen.  Months and months and hours and hours of work, coordination, frustration, inspiration, mundane administration…apparently all the ‘tions’.  I have no shame in admitting that I have cried over this Con as I’ve sat working on something for it late into the night after just working 14, 15, 16 hours.  I say this not to garner sympathy but to let you all know that every tear, every worry, every doubt that I have during the process is worth it and is washed away by the trust and belief you show my staff and I as you start to purchase supporting and attending memberships and make this Con a real thing.  There will a post coming from our official BrittanaCon Tumblr that will go into more detail about the depth of gratitude for our members but for now, in this post, thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

Speaking of heart, all of yours at BrittanaCon were on full display this weekend and it was a beautiful thing.  To see you all laughing and smiling and embracing and flailing and feeling comfortable with each other is such an incredible thing to watch.  Yes, we fangirl over each other when we meet authors or artists or owners of Tumblr blogs/Twitter accounts – and I know I did my fair share of fangirling over you all – but to see everyone meeting and getting to know the person behind the screenname is something that always stays with me long after the Con is over.  As we learned this weekend, and as I learned in a more in-depth way this year, BrittanaCon is important.  Not everyone gets that and I’ve seen the tweets that make fun of us basically for having a Con “about two tv characters”.  And that’s fine.  Those people don’t have to get it.

They don’t have to get that the safe space we create at BrittanaCon can be life saving for some.  I want to say that again.  This fandom and this Con saves lives.  And not in a dramatic overarching way but in a very literal way and to know that I’ve had a part in that by starting this Con moves me in ways that I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to fully articulate.  You are all so open and willing to share yourselves with the rest of us at BrittanaCon.  I am not a religious or even spiritual person but if there is a higher power out there, I believe it is reflected in the love and acceptance and patience that is found at BrittanaCon.  There is always that moment right before you open yourself up and make yourself vulnerable where you brace yourself for the pain that comes from exposing a raw nerve and I like to think that that pain never comes when you are there with us.  That safe space is created by the people that speak and by the people that sit silent, supporting witness as we share of ourselves.  That you allow this Con to be that safe space for you is a gift to me, and I know also for my Con staff, and we promise to always honor that.

Not everything at BrittanaCon is heavy, of course.  The amount of excited screaming and laughter and inappropriate (totally appropriate) discussions and smiling faces is plentiful and can be found everywhere you look.  I can sometimes get caught up in the administration and mechanics of the day’s events but at any given time I could look around the meeting space or at one of our various post-Con party places (better recon for next year, I promise) and see people talking and laughing and listening along as discussions went on around them and it made me really happy.  You all make me really happy.

As nerve-wracking as it is for you guys to take a chance and travel to come to the Con, it’s just as nerve-wracking for me as we start the Con.  I’m always worried and wondering if you are all having a good time, if you’re bored, if you’re uncomfortable, if the pacing of our events is right, if we’re excluding anyone from something we’re doing, if we could have done something better in our planning, if you like the swag we bought…all these thoughts stay with me even through registration.  While those thoughts don’t ever really go away, they fade away to the background and get replaced with happiness and excitement over seeing all your faces sitting in those seats.  (Well, your faces aren’t sitting in the seats.  I feel like that might be a whole other kind of Con)  It feels like “We did it!  We planned and planned and we made it happen and these people are here and we’re going to talk ourselves hoarse over Brittana and feels and flails and how much we are all obsessed with them and with each other and it’s all going to be alright.”

You all make me feel like anything and everything will be alright.  If only for those few days, everything will be okay and will be wonderful and magical.  I will be forever grateful to all of you for that.

I will also be forever grateful to my Con staff – Mama U, Jerzey, JJLives, BTrain, Adriana, Rima, Nic, and Talwyn.  We picked up a few new people this year and they fit seamlessly into everything and that made everything feel easier.  No matter what I asked or what I needed, they were there, willing to put the work in.  To undertake something like this and know that you have people there, right there with you every step of the way is incredible and I am thankful to have them on my staff and in my life.  Every aspect of this Con was formed into a whole with parts that each of the staff members played and if any one part was removed, the whole would crumble.  I genuinely believe that.  Not only were they there for the actual logistics of putting on a Con but they were there for me personally, with words of encouragement or reason or amazing counter-suggestions, and I would not have been there this weekend without them.  There would be no “there” without them.  Our website, wedding reception decorations, our wedding reception playlist, media, photography, video, Prompt Project, author interviews, swag, our Con swag shop, our logos, our program…every single thing you all got to see and experience and take home with you this weekend was because of these folks and if I could spend every day thanking them and giving them hugs, I would.  They believe in me and they believe in BrittanaCon and I consider myself lucky that they all took this ride with me either for the first time or again.  I love you guys!

I love all of you too.  I’m just full of love, apparently.  Post-Con feels will do that to a person.  I can’t believe I have to wait another year to see all of you (though I am going to try my hardest to see as many of you as I can during this year-long wait for the next BrittanaCon) and while that fills me with a certain kind of sadness, it also gives me something to look forward to and I cannot wait to see all of you again (and hopefully see some new and some inaugural BrittanaCon returning faces).

Thank YOU.  Thank you for this weekend, thank you for listening to me, thank you for your hugs, thank you for your laughter, thank you for your friendship, thank you for your inspiration, thank you for your words, thank you for your discussions, thank you for your participation, thank you for your enthusiasm, thank you for giving me a reason.

Until next year…

BRITTANACON IS ON!

Hi Gwen,

Personally, I think this is a fantastic idea. Officially, your
questions touch on multiple departments of our convention and ATC, and
we’ll need to get you a more formal response after coordinating with
all the relevant people. In the meantime, I hope you’ll be patient
with us! FYI, the Anime Twin Cities board meets next Monday and I’ve
already proposed the gender identity amendment to our harassment
policy that you suggested. I don’t anticipate it being a problem to
pass. My apologies that it was overlooked in the first place.

Thanks for suggesting all this and helping us get the ball rolling. If
not myself, someone should be in touch to answer more of your
questions within the next week or so.

— 

Jo Thomsen
Anime Twin Cities Board Member

In response to an email I sent addressing Safe Spaces at AD, as well as the gap in the Anti-Harassment Policy.

Brief Update on Con Safe Spaces

For those of you following my desires for a gender safe space room party at local Minnesota conventions:

I mentally reviewed some of the room party rules that I remember, and recalled a rather important one - you are only allowed to exclude people on the basis of their age, and their membership status with the convention (i.e. do they have a badge).  I don’t have the written form of these rules handy but I’m seeking them out.  Anyways, while I haven’t formalized a set of safe-space rules to be used (I’m planning on seeking advice from the GLBTA Programs Office at the U of M on this) I see this convention policy as making the establishment of a safe space room party specifically difficult.

I understand (somewhat) that for a safe space to actually be safe there needs to be some point where you can say, “Hey, you, your behavior is making people feel unsafe, you need to leave.”  I feel that this point comes well after one or more “Hey, you, your behavior is affecting the safe space, you need to adjust it,” but in any case there is that line.  And at Detour we may not be able to enforce that line.  Detour has a fairly solid harassment and discrimination policy - though, very notably it doesn’t address gender identity in the core anti-harassment policy - so I’ll need to ask them how far that extends in the case of a room party.  I don’t know, basically, if I’d be empowered to call security or staff if someone was disruptive of the space because the line for being disruptive in a safe space is way different than the line for the rest of the con.

If the room party idea is just too flawed, I’m planning on pursuing a safe space established and run by the con (and then volunteer for it) where the space can have enforced rules.  It is possible that AD is going to be pursuing safe spaces anyways, as they have close ties to CONvergence, but I want to be involved in that if I can.  Also, I hold true the idea that a party room run by trans* and genderqueer fans as a safe space would be a huge step in establishing visibility for the idea of said safe space as a resource.  So I’m not going to give up just because the rules make things awkward.

So here’s my personal to-do list:

  • Contact Detour parties and programming departments, ask about party rules, safe space operations.
  • Open dialogue specifically about adding gender identity to Anime Twin Cities’ core Anti-harassment policy.
  • Formalize safe-space rules, based on input from other individuals, the U of M GLBTA Programs Office, and the U of M’s QSCC and WSAC student organizations.
The CONvergence Anti-Harassment Policy, In Full:

“Anti-Harassment

CONvergence is dedicated to providing a safe and comfortable convention experience for everyone. Harassment of any kind, including physical assault, battery, deliberate intimidation, stalking, or unwelcome physical attentions, will not be tolerated. If people tell you “no” or to leave them alone, your business with them is done.

Leave them alone. Do not follow them or attempt to disrupt their convention experience in any way. If you continue to attempt to have contact with those people, you may be removed from the premises.

CONvergence is not responsible for solving any interpersonal problems that may arise between individual members. In general, we can take no action to prevent a person from attending the convention unless that person has made a specific and credible threat toward the convention itself. If you feel that a threat exists against your person, we advise you to seek a restraining order against the individual in question and to involve the host hotel itself (security staff specifically) and the municipal police department in advance of the convention; otherwise, we recommend simply avoiding that individual.

If that individual stalks, harasses, or attempts to assault you at the convention itself, you may report that individual to a member of Operations (they will report it to the hotel’s security staff who will get the police involved if necessary) or you may report it to hotel security directly, and the appropriate action will be taken. Conversely, any attempt to have an innocent person removed from the convention by falsely accusing him or her of threats will be itself treated as an act of harassment and will be dealt with appropriately. The responsibility for settling interpersonal disputes lies solely with the individuals involved, and CONvergence will not tolerate being used as a leveraging point in such disputes.”

I think that there’s still work to be done here - it’s a good start, but just a start.  Fan communities need to recognize that harassment and more is a real danger, and a real fact about that community, and that it is the responsibility of the members of that community to take steps towards change.  On that note, I think I’m going to start attending ConCom meetings this year, and at least go to the full CONvergence Post-Mortem. I also should note that, while this is the Anti-Harassment Policy posted at convergence-con.org, there was a longer version in the Programming Guide at the convention.  I’m going to try to get my hands on that this weekend and post whatever discrepancies there may be. CONvergence to-do list:
  • Get in contact with whoever was in charge of the Safe Space posters and spaces at CON 2012.
  • Find a current version of the Anti-Harassment Policy.
  • Try to get a position of authority for next year’s con in whatever department handles the safe spaces (Maybe).
  • Open lines of communication about the importance of safe spaces at conventions.
  • Attend CON 2012 Post-Mortem, bring friends and support, ask about safe space policies.