The Elephant at GeekyCon: The Stories

In June, Uplift launched Elephant at the Con, a campaign dedicated to shining a light on convention safety issues by collecting attendee stories and quantitative data on harassment, identity, and other con safety issues. This is the second in a series of posts highlighting the data we’ve collected. See the others in our Medium collection.

At GeekyCon this year, Uplift volunteers educated attendees on our organization’s mission, offered resources about consent, healthy relationships, and con safety. We also spoke with attendees about their experience at the con. The stories, recorded in our Elephant At the Con survey, are shared below.

Trans Inclusion

At GeekyCon 2015, one third floor restroom was designated gender neutral with all other restrooms remaining single-sex. This year, the situation was flipped — one set of third floor restrooms was designated single sex and all other restrooms were gender neutral. GeekyCon also runs a staff/volunteer pronoun training and the HPA booth advertised their Protego campaign dedicated to creating safe spaces for trans people and included free preferred pronoun stickers. These policies and elements at Geeky demonstrate a commitment of the con staff and many of the exhibitors to making the con safe for trans and genderqueer attendees, but unfortunately incidents still occurred.

Preferred Pronoun Badge Stickers handed out by the HPA at Geeky
“My friends on the transgender spectrum have had to fight to get the access they now have and they continue to face barriers to accessibility.”
“One of the janitorial staff this year very rudely asked why I was wearing a dress.”
“I had just come out as gender queer and after a show I went to buy a like button that was just simply pro feminism. and the person selling merch looked at me and asked ‘why do YOU want this?’”
“In the marketplace, a friend of mine who is a transgender person was told she couldn’t buy a ‘yes all witches shirt.’” [Editor’s Note: since publication, Steph Anderson has offered to print a Yes All Witches shirt for the person who experienced this, contact her if interested.]
“This year, I have felt uncomfortable knowing someone has been taking down the gender neutral bathroom signs. I don’t like being in an environment knowing someone here is being negative towards the community.”
“I also dealt with instances of people expressing ableist and transphobic ideas mostly via online groups for con attendees in response to requests for more accessible measures and awareness and sensitivity to disability as well as requests to make the badge policy more trans friendly.”

This last comment reminds us for cons to truly become safe spaces for all, online spaces before and after the con need just as much emphasis. Additionally, top down measures (like gender neutral restrooms being the default option) send a strong signal to con attendees that GeekyCon is a trans-inclusive space, but ultimately without all attendees and workers on on board, problems will still occur.

Panels

For many, the best part of GeekyCon are the fan-run panels.

“I’ve sometimes felt uncomfortable in panels when content comes up that should have trigger warnings but don’t.”
“I was verbally harassed at a panel in one instance by someone who was yelling angrily from halfway up the room screaming insults and attacks because they disagreed with my panel content. I spoke to staff about this after the fact and they seemed apologetic, but to my knowledge there is still no formal process to handle or monitor for harassment during panels outside of someone going to get a staff member, which often doesn’t happen in the moment.”

Guest Stars

“Older guest stars (usually men) will invite underage girls to parties in their hotel rooms. “
“In 2011 I saw some creepy wrock dudes [from Ministry of Magic] hitting on teen girls.”
“I have seen others uncomfortable and knew people who were taken advantage of by big name fans. These big names are not part of the fandom now. I am proud of the fandom for eradicating this evil.”

Stalking

“I was friendly to someone and they took it as flirting and began stalking me and sent me Facebook messages trying to make me feel bad. It was the first time having someone follow me like that and he used the fact that I was a Hufflepuff against me because he knew I’d feel bad. My friends are the reason I didn’t go with him.”
“For the last several years at Leaky and Geeky, my partner and I have been experiencing a situation in which a fellow attendee has been following us around. This started in 2013, when this attendee was walking around the convention center with a video camera, asking attendees if she could film them answering questions about Starkid and Starkid fans. I consented to being interviewed, but after the interview was completed, she followed me over to where my partner was sitting, filming them and one of our friends while they were just messing around. She never asked if she could do this. [In 2014] My partner was working as a prefect, and this attendee followed them from room to room for an extended period of time before she finally stopped. I recently alerted staff of the problem. I don’t think this girl is particularly harmful, but the whole thing is generally very uncomfortable.”

Sexual Assault

“I have been witness to and victim of many acts of verbal harassment by [longtime Geeky/Leaky attendee]. I have also heard about acts of sexual violence from them, but I have not experienced these myself. I’m finding solace in the fact that they won’t be attending the convention this year.”
“I’ve been sexually assaulted outside of the con by someone I met at the con.”

The Ball

A LeakyCon/GeekyCon tradition is the Esther Earl Rocking Charity Ball on Saturday evening. Due to the nature of a dance event being harder to monitor than the daytime sessions, this is a frequent place for harassment.

“At the ball, a stranger grabbed my arm and held onto it while telling me ‘We’re going to dance!’ I said ‘Please don’t touch me’ and they let go.”
“This one guy was following me and my friends around at last years Con. At the ball we had to go the other side of the room to get away from him. He even made one of my friends cry. Luckily he has been banned from future GeekyCons due to these actions.”
“I once got grabbed because I wouldn’t dance at the ball.”
“Sometimes people don’t seem to get physical and social cues about how close they are and its uncomfortable.”
“In general, a lot of people are looking to just have fun at the Ball and dance with friends. But often (primarily) guys that they do not know invade their space and take that away.”

Reporting

Last year, many members of Uplift staff were approached with reports of incidents, that were then forwarded onto Geeky staff. This year that did not occur. It’s unclear if the reason is more people or less incidents overall, but there were a lot of stories shared indicating the trust by many in the Geeky staff. Other con organizers should follow Mischief Management’s example for making reporting easy and a positive experience.

Uplift Staff before the ball
“I have generally felt very safe and comfortable at geeky and have heard similar from attendees, though there is always a case or two each year of some kind of issue or confrontation.”
“I do want to note that almost all of these were isolated incidents though and generally staff have not condoned them and/or have tried to address them.”
“Last year, I had someone make sexually explicit comments toward me that were very unwelcome. Geeky handled it immediately and amazingly.”

Summary

Overall, the Mischief Management team puts a lot of work into ensuring the safety of all attendees and as indicated in the stories above, con organizers side with the survivors and ban perpetrators when incidents are reported. It’s no wonder many attendees expressed their trust of the Geeky staff and appreciation for the safe space GeekyCon provides.

“Geeky was the first place I felt safe sharing my sexuality.”
“MM cons are the only cons at which I have never been harassed.”
“I trust Geeky to make the con as safe as possible.”

Going forward, the areas for improvement expressed in these stories are:

  • Guidance for panel organizers on trigger warnings
  • More work for trans inclusion (at the organizer level and the fan level)
  • Continued bystander intervention by staff and attendees
  • Processes for dealing with attendees who repeatedly make many feel uncomfortable though not necessarily to the level where they would need to be banned.

Thanks to Mischief Management and everyone who stopped by our booth for a great con! We’ll see you at LeakyCon 2016!

Want to see con demographic data and how safe everyone felt at GeekyCon? Check out the Elephant of GeekyCon: Data Edition

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