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June 2010

A response to Debbie Notkin and Victor Raymond

I am really bothered by the responses of members of the Wiscon Con Committee to Jay Lake's concerns that Wiscon -- formerly one of his favorite conventions, and also formerly one of my own favorite conventions -- might not be a safe space for him. Wiscon Co-Chair Debbie Notkin wrote what she clearly intended as a sensitive and reasonable response. It doesn't come off that way to me. 

It is condescending and willfully obtuse of her to assume that the problem for those she's heard from is that some of the people at the convention may be black. The matter at hand with Wiscon and several other conventions is programming that encourages the continuation and escalation of abuse and hostility towards members of the sf community. Notkin's summary response -- "please don't come to WisCon if it isn't right for you" -- is inadequate and inappropriate.

Although Wiscon has gone the furthest to host and encourage some of this kind of programming, this matter is not restricted to Wiscon. No matter how idealistic their reasons for hosting passionate discussions which began online, con-committees need to balance that idealism against the need to provide an environment free from abuse and harassment.

In Tempest Bradford's comment section, Victor Raymond boils the issue down into a dichotomy of whether one is worried about physical assault or just being disagreed with, and wonders out loud whether he is just being dense. While I think a year ago assault was a real possibility in the context of some of these conversations, the way things have played themselves out, the hostility and harassment seem to be mostly in the online components of the convention experience. This means you don't even have to be present to "win." 

Thanks to the Internet, you can now get harassed at a convention without even attending. You don't have to say anything that someone is disagreeing with. You just have to be.

Victor is setting the bar way too low. The question of "safety" should not be merely whether anyone got punched or pinched, but also whether your convention promotes a hostile environment for members of the sf community, even those who didn't attend.

These may or may not be Jay Lake's specific concerns. I haven't discussed this with him. But con committee members should do a lot more listening and a lot less defending when concerns like these are raised.