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OdysseyCon and Why Serial Harassers Are Safe In Our Community

This post is long, and will have to dip back into history a bit before returning to the present. But this context is important.

A couple of years ago the WisCon concom went through some rough times due to both individual and group responses to the harassment experienced by one of WisCon’s attendees perpetrated by another of WisCon’s attendees. If you’re not familiar, please read about the incident and some of the ways it affected the person harassed. The fallout from this was widespread in our community and long ongoing.

One of the things that happened because of the discussion around what should have been done and what didn’t get done after the harassment was reported is that a long time member of WisCon’s concom, a man named Richard Russell, was removed from the concom via a vote by members of that body. Why was he removed? Because it was decided by WisCon’s governing body that the statement of principles and code of conduct WisCon had for its members during the convention should also be applied to the concom throughout the year. If someone on the concom is being abusive, or harassing, or any other such behavior, they should not get to remain on the concom. Makes sense, right?

Well. Some folks didn’t feel like it did.

Enough folks agreed that this was a proper way to handle things, and so that became a rule. Under the terms of that rule, Richard Russell’s behavior, stretching back literal years, was brought up. Multiple people pointed out instances where they felt Richard was abusive and, even when called on this directly, continued his abusive behavior. Due to this no longer being acceptable[1], Richard was forced to leave the concom.

Mind you, not banned from WisCon. Removed from the concom. That’s important.

Richard set about telling everyone who would listen[2] that he had been treated unfairly, that no one had ever told him what he did wrong, that he was banned, that everyone was a big meanie. How do I know this? (Aside from the thing mentioned in footnotes.) Because someone publicly defended him on these points.

Fast forward to WisCon that year. We had a panel called WisCon: What Happened Last Summer?[3] To talk through the stuff that went down around FrenkelFail and then Richard being removed and all of Richard’s dear friends leaving the concom because of this. One of those dear friends, who also defended him on the concom mailing list to the rest of us many times, was on the panel: Jeanne Gomoll. But I’ve already told that story.

Here’s something I apparently did not mention in my post, but did tweet at the time: A man got up during the part of the panel where the audience was invited to comment and stated that he was there to defend Richard Russell and began to chide us all for the terrible manner in which we had treated him. In my memory, Mikki Kendall, who was one of that year’s con chairs and also on the panel, let him go on for a bit before she informed him that everything he was saying was wrong.

The paraphrased memories I have go something like:

Guy: Instead of banning him–

Mikki: We didn’t ban him. He was removed from the concom but not banned.

Guy: Well but before doing that you should have _______.

Mikki: We did do _______.

Guy: But you didn’t _______.

Mikki: Yes, we did.

Guy: But what about _______.

Mikki: We did.

Guy: Oh.

Mikki then informed him that if he thought that we had banned Richard, never warned him, didn’t explain to him and whatever else he had come there to tell us we should have done, that was because Richard had lied to him. She then reiterated that Richard was removed from the concom because he was abusive. She used that word.

I remember this part clearly because I had a very deep and sudden anxiety attack just hearing these words.

The guy said: “Well, yes, Richard can be an asshole sometimes, sure. But–“

I don’t know if I can adequately express how painful it was to hear someone dismiss the words “he abused” with “he can be an asshole, sure.” I had not been very emotional during the whole of that very emotional panel until that moment. I almost got up and left.

Except the immediate reaction in the room was multiple voices rising up to say NO. NO, YOU DO NOT GET TO DISMISS THAT. NO. Mikki had a mic, so her voice is loudest in my memory. She said the same. She did not let him get away with that. It’s the only thing that kept me calm. The slapping back of that all too common narrative by many voices in the room. I didn’t even realize how much trauma I had around that narrative until that moment.

Shortly after that, the guy finally stopped talking, made some mumbling about how maybe he needed to rethink things, and sat down.

Okay, I told you all of that story in order to tell you this one.

Today, Monica Valentinelli, who was slated to be one of the Guests of Honor at OdyessyCon, another local Madison convention, publicly stated she would not attend or be guest because of the presence of a person who had previously harassed her and she did not feel comfortable around[4]. You can read her statement explaining this. Here’s some information that wasn’t included in this initial statement because Monica was still attempting to be a professional about all of this. The reason why she posted that statement this morning is because, after sending an email to the concom raising concerns about Frenkel’s involvement in the con, which she had not been aware of, she got this email[5]:

Monica,

While I understand your position, I hope that I can encourage you to reconsider. Jim Frenkel is, and has been for a long time, a member of the Odyssey Con concom, so he is very involved with the convention. As such, he is very concerned that nothing happen that will reflect badly on it. Having attended every prior OddCon myself, I can assure you that he has always behaved in a correct manner there. He does “yeoman duty” for the con every year, and is respected for his contributions.

I have known Jim personally for more than thirty years. Although there have been unfortunate events in the past, I do not now believe, nor have I ever, that Jim is dangerous to any one, in any way. I believe that the lamentably widely disseminated idea that he is, is exaggerated and grows from a lack of knowledge of the facts in his case. His reputation since the WisCon incident has been spotless.

I will, if you wish, take Jim off any panel that presently features both of you, which I hope you would find a reasonable compromise. Banning Jim entirely would be unfair to him, and, in refusing to attend if he is working the con at all, you are being unfair to yourself. Why let other people make your decisions for you? Come and see the man for yourself. You will see that he is a decent man, and not a monster.

Don’t take my word alone. I would urge you to reach out to some of our past guests. I’m sure you know Margaret Weis–she was a guest at last OddCon, why not get her opinion?

Thank you for your consideration,
Gregory G.H. Rihn
Odyssey Con 2017 Programming

Yes. That was said.

Today I looked up Gregory G.H. Rihn on Facebook and discovered that he is the Guy who stood up and defended Richard Russell at that panel. In almost this exact same disgusting language.

And guess who else is on the OddCon concom? Richard Russell[6].

So we’ve got Greg Rihn, serial apologist for serial harassers and abusers, responding to a guest of honor in this manner. When said guest of honor responds to that by withdrawing from the con, Richard Russell, who has a history of abusive communications, signs his name to a statement that essentially says “Well she brought all this up awfully late! And also Frenkel has never harassed anyone at OddCon, so we have no grounds to ban him. Plus, we don’t let guests of honor dictate who can come to our safe space. Also, this is a safe space[7].”

I’ve seen a bunch of people commenting on this wondering how it is that Jim Frenkel is in any way involved with any convention at this point in time given everything that’s happened. Well. This. This is why. It’s multiple people[8] who knew full well the problems before this came up yesterday[9] who know Jim and are real sure he didn’t ever do anything wrong, despite those third hard reports from the Internet (who trusts that?? Pish) continuing to allow him to be in official roles because we wouldn’t want to lose all his knowledge and experience.

This is how fandom has worked for decades.

So quit being shocked by it, or ignoring it, and start connecting the dots. Hold these people accountable.

And support the people who take the incredibly difficult step of being public about this stuff. Monica could have quietly withdrawn, made up some innocuous public reason for doing so, and not rocked the boat. Might have been easier on her because she lives in Madison and is in nominal community with these people. Maybe she won’t experience massive blowback because of this, but history tells us that she will. How about we not let that slide. How about we stand by her side, swords drawn, ready to cut down the waves of sexist assholery already coming her way.

ETA: OddCon issued a new statement/apology. I have thoughts about this in comments.

Footnotes

  1. And yeah, it’s a whole conversation about this never having been acceptable, but there are reasons motions had to be made and votes taken and rules put firmly in place by governing bodies to make this happen. They are all annoying reasons.[]
  2. Including a post I remember being on File770 but I now cannot find, making me wonder if I mis-remembered or if they took it down because it was super one-sided and awful.[]
  3. That link goes to a Storify that covers quite a bit of what was said.[]
  4. She does not name him, but in the ensuing conversation it became clear she was talking about Jim Frenkel[]
  5. I am only posting this email publicly because OdysseyCon already did so on their Facebook page[]
  6. Who, by the by, had his name as a signer at the bottom of OddCon’s first official statement about all of this, which was completely unprofessional and gross, and is just of a piece with all this fuckery.[]
  7. There is a screenshot of this statement here.[]
  8. See how many folks are listed on this concom ETA: This page is not working right now. But there are about a dozen people who were listed on the concom.[]
  9. Sigrid Ellis brought it up a year ago and they ignored it. They wanna act like this is new and it’s not.[]
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20 thoughts on “OdysseyCon and Why Serial Harassers Are Safe In Our Community

  1. Wish we can have a women’s only SF con. So much micro aggression from male fans, e.g brushes up again my breasts in a elavator, etc, stuff than can’t be proved but sucks all the joy from Cons

  2. Tempest, Richard is married now and has a family. I get that you are mad at Jim Frenkel, and I don’t take issue with that. But, please, stop with the violent talk about Richard. He can be stubborn and opinionated at times, yes, but he is not abusive, and when you ask people to take up swords, although it is metaphorical, it could incite someone to commit a violent act toward him. I wish to protect Richard. So, please, I ask you as one woman to another, please stop directing so much anger toward Richard. He founded Wiscon and Oddcon, and he deserves more respect than you are giving him.

  3. Abigail, your comment includes several misreadings and misstatements about my post.

    >>please, stop with the violent talk about Richard.

    I am unclear on what “violent talk” there is about Richard? I stated the facts, which are unpleasant. But they’re still facts.

    >> He can be stubborn and opinionated at times, yes, but he is not abusive

    I find it…. Hm, there are so many words I could use here, but let’s go with Fascinating. I find it fascinating that, after I describe in my post how traumatizing I find it when people say “He’s not abusive, he’s just an asshole,” you come in here and pretty much say that same thing.

    But let’s move past how you’re intentionally trying to push my buttons while pretending to reach out to me as a sister cis woman and address that last bit: “He is not abusive.” You might not have experienced it, you might not agree with the assessment of it, but the fact is that multiple people have felt abused by Richard and reported it. The records of the discussion in the concom around this issue reflect that. People who came to the panel mentioned told their stories (some are recorded in the Storify, but not all, I think). People who worked on WisCon complained about this tendency to abusive for years and steps were taken to deal with it even before removal from the concom became a thing.

    You do not get to dictate to people who experienced abuse that they did not experience it just because your friend is the person they say perpetrated it. Him being married and having a family has no bearing on whether that happened. Him having founded WisCon and OddCon has no bearing on whether that happened. It is a matter of record that people felt Richard abused them, and that is the basis for my account here.

    Which leads me to:

    >>please stop directing so much anger toward Richard.

    The whole jist of this comment is that I am somehow the sole person doing harm or potential harm to Richard, and if only I’d stop! However, that mischaracterizes this entire situation. Heck, even this post. This post isn’t about me directing anger at Richard. It’s about me connecting the dots between Richard’s behavior and actions and Gregory’s behavior and actions and Frenkel’s behavior and actions. It’s about what these men did in the past and are doing in the present and what they might do into the future. This is all based on them, not me, not my anger.

    It’s all based on facts. And if these facts don’t make you angry, then you’re more invested in protecting someone who harms others on a regular basis than protecting those most in danger of harm.

    >>when you ask people to take up swords, although it is metaphorical, it could incite someone to commit a violent act toward him.

    Nice try, but no. For a bunch of reasons. The first one being that I didn’t ask anyone to take up metaphorical arms against Richard. I said: “How about we stand by her side, swords drawn, ready to cut down the waves of sexist assholery already coming her way.” If Richard does not participate in sexist assholery and personal attacking of Monica, then my metaphorical swords won’t be aimed at him.

    Beyond that, it it facetiousness at its best for you to say that this line might incite people to do actual bodily harm to Richard. Anyone who does bodily harm to him at this point will be acting due to issues of their own, and my post would be, at best, a flimsy excuse for what they’d already intend to do. Because this post in no way is about going out to beat up the people mentioned – and richard is but one and not even the focus here.

    Stop trying to weave some narrative that I am some big, bad meanie out to get people and cut folks with real swords and shit all over the good work of good people. Richard shit all over his own good work.

    >>he deserves more respect than you are giving him.

    And finally: No, he does not. Richard has never given me any respect. Not even the respect of knowing what is right and best for me as a woman of color. So I owe him nothing but to speak the truth about his actions, his behavior, and the atmosphere it helps to generate in our community.

  4. You have to stand in awe at the sight of Rihn mansplaining the ‘facts” about a harasser to someone who’s been harassed by him.

  5. Russell is married now. And–in case anyone reading this didn’t know already–his wife’s name is Abigail Darwin.

  6. As one woman to another, I must tell you, black woman, to stop talking about this white dude because it makes me, as a white woman sad, and I must now align with my whiteness, while pretending to have a sisterhood with you. Becky, just stop.

  7. I have a husband & a family too Abigail. I had them when Richard sent me at least 6 abusive emails for wanting the POC safe space. I had them when Frenkel leered at me, & when Richard defended that behavior. Richard is not abusive to you. Wonderful. Richard has been horrible to me & many other WOC. For years. Fun fact, want to know why Richard’s comments were moderated for years on the concom list? Can you guess the final straw? It was when I was going to be the third WOC to leave WisCon over there refusal to stop letting Richard berate us on the list.

    The funny thing about this narrative that Richard isn’t abusive is that it hinges on ignoring years of his own words. He was never brave enough to say the awful things in public. But he had no problem being a bully in email. Frenkel is a terrible person that some of you love & so he gets to keep harming cons. Okay. He’s able to do that in part because he has the support of other terrible people that are loved. You can love Richard & I can know that you really don’t want to think about who he hurts as long as it isn’t you.

  8. Odyessy Con issued a new apology, which is currently here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/22351026475/permalink/10154572302686476/

    They have a history of deleting things, and there are screenshots.

    One person has already left a comment that addresses some of the stuff missing from this apology. Here are my further thoughts:

    While they are finally saying some of the right things here, I want to point out the problem not addressed fully: Gregory felt completely at ease sending an email to Monica while the rest of the concom was still discussing a proper response. (This is per later emails on this subject.) Greg feels so sorry for his terribleness, etc. And communication isn’t their best quality, etc. But Greg shot off an email instead of waiting for the rest of the concom to confer. Did not seem to see any barrier to doing so nor seemed to expect any consequences for it. His email directly harmed the con and was disrespectful to the con’s guest. And yeah, the inciting issue here was Frenkel’s presence. But Rihn’s part in this can’t just go unaddressed by the convention.

    This speaks to the overall sense of not feeling safe. A member of the concom defended a serial harasser to Monica in response to her stated fears over harassment. I cannot take anything they say in good faith until they address that as well.

    Same goes for emails from and posts by the (I think?) treasurer person who was responsible for putting the email chain up on the Facebook group (without Monica’s permission). When it was brought up that the initial statements and responses were trying to paint Monica as the villain in all this, the excuse was “We didn’t even see your email, and by the time you went public and we saw things twitter and facebook were yelling at us!”

    No matter how much the Internet is mad at your organization, that does not excuse any implication that the person reporting feeling unsafe because a harasser is involved in running the con is at fault here. That’s immature. That’s not professional. That’s yet another indication that guests would not have been treated professionally by OddCon as an organization.

    Also an indication that attendees will not be treated in a professional manner.

    And being a volunteer run con is not an excuse for that. Yeah, you’re all volunteers, but you’re running an event. People attending said event as fans or guests have the right to expect a certain level of safety and respectful treatment from those running the event. That was not what happened. Now they’re sorry. Yet I still do not see that behavior addressed in a meaningful way in this Sorry.

  9. About that “safe and warm and welcoming environment,” if they treat a Guest of Honor with this kind of gaslighting and public blame-the-victim maneuvering, why on earth would ATTENDEES expect to feel safe??

  10. Thanks for the careful documentation and footnoting. I hope this page is archived & referenced to be a reliable record in the future because you know we’re going to need it.

  11. I served on a Concom with Richard Russell.

    He deserves no respect and all opprobrium for his actions over the years. Anyone seriously arguing “well, I understand being mad at Frenkel, but gee, why Russell?” I have some major side-eye for. And that’s all I’m going to say.

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