World Fantasy, the Convention That Keeps On Failing

On social media (mostly on Twitter, I believe) there are several ongoing conversations about the problems with the initial programming lineup for the 2020 World Fantasy Convention. One of the first people to bring up the vast number of serious issues publicly1 was Miyuki Jane Pinckard. She wrote a long thread on October 4 as she spotted issues, then compiled an open letter which she posted on Google Docs.

As she and others began raising the alarm on panel titles and descriptions, the official Twitter account for the con started posting tone-deaf responses that made it seem as though the con Chair didn’t really grok what might be wrong but also extending an invitation for people, especially marginalized people, to help WFC fix the problematic panels. And if you knew absolutely nothing else about this situation, that might seem reasonable and like some honest mistakes were made.

I’m here to tell you that this is not the case. That, in truth, WFC Chair Ginny Smith was warned that this exact scenario would happen unless she took specific steps to avoid it. This advice, which was based on the experience of many years, was ignored. And so the situation the WFC 2020 convention committee finds itself in right now is not the result of honest mistakes, but willful ignorance and likely some ingrained bigotry.

I’m going to lay out what I know–not just about this World Fantasy debacle, but some of the history behind it. I want people who are, in good faith, trying to fix WFC’s programming and think that they can somehow pull this con out of the tar pit to know that this situation cannot be fixed ad hoc, cannot just be addressed at the level of this one concom, and cannot be solved by continuing to attend.

Some History

If you’re not aware of the years-long history of the World Fantasy Convention being a bastion of Fail, here are the highlights (feel free to skip to Current Issues if you know this stuff):

WFC 2011 in San Diego: The con has no harassment policy. Several people are harassed at the con by a person who was eventually stripped of his badge, but the way the incident was handled by the concom was not optimal. But hey, this means they put policies in place to better handle these things in the future and also wrote up a great harassment policy for attendees so everyone was aware of the rules, consequences, and procedures, right? Wrong. (Note the date on this link.)

Also, the hotel/resort where the event was held had several spaces (restaurants and the like) that were not fully accessible to people using wheelchairs. One restaurant–which, if I remember right, was the only place to get breakfast–had two steps up to the main entrance. The wheelchair accessible entrance was blocked off by staff and, if someone wanted to use it, they had to ask for the blockages to be removed. Every time.

WFC 2012 in Toronto: After the previous year’s issue with accessibility several people (including author Mari Ness) called on WFC 2012 to ensure their con hotel and spaces were accessible. What I remember is that Mari was told that this would be so. Technically, the hotel was accessible. However, the main entrance had a stair or two in front of it. In order for someone using a wheelchair to get in or out of the building they had to go around to the back of the hotel, enter through the gym/spa, use a wheelchair lift, then come back to the front. Every. Time.

WFC 2013 in Brighton: Now is when the deja vu is gonna start. Because at this con we not only have hella accessibility issues but also harassment issues, all made worse by a belligerent Con Chair. Said Chair was very proud of the fact that the con did not have a code of conduct or harassment policy. There were problems identified in the run up to the con as well as during and then after.

Plus, there was the issue of how most of the panelists were white men.

WFC 2014 in Washington DC: No problems that I remember, and I defer to Natalie who said: “went pretty smoothly probably because Peggy Rae Sapienza was at the helm (pour one out).”

WFC 2015 in Saratoga Springs: By 2015 we’ve now had several WFCs where harassment was a big issue. Around this time in the community in general there was a big push made for cons to adopt harassment policies or codes of conduct that weren’t half-assed. As previously noted, the policy for 2015 before the con was less than well-receivedby many. It didn’t get better at con and, oh look, still with the accessibility problems.

WFC 2016 in Columbus: WFC is an expensive con. And, like many cons, they offer a lower rate early on, then raise the price as they get closer to the event. In 2016, after several years of fights about harassment, codes of conduct, and accessibility policies, the concom did announce these important policies ahead of the con. However, they did so after the early registration had gone up by a significant amount.

Again, it had been known for months and years that these policies were necessary and needed. No one sprung this on the con at the last minute. And yet. Mari Ness had things to say.

And then we start getting more attention on an issue that had been ongoing but also low-key up to this point: the terrible programming2. Because now the panels weren’t just terrible, they were racist.

Natalie Luhrs offered some excellent advice at the time on how the organization could fix these ongoing issues. That’s like… 4 years ago, isn’t it? Hm3.

WFC 2017: The biggest thing going on with this year’s con was the change from the World Fantasy Award bust of H. P. Lovecraft’s head to the new, not-a-head-of-a-racist award statue. It was a huge fight to make this change and the conversation about it had been going on since 2011.

I’ll note here that I had stopped attending WFCs (though I sometimes barconned) but heard from other BIPOC that, even when they didn’t have to deal with super racist panel titles/descriptions, they often had to deal with microaggressions while on the panels. Often, they would be the only BIPOC on the panel and, in a couple of cases, were essentially treated as if they stood in for all BIPOC everywhere and had to answer for all of us. This is a problem that’s not limited to WFC. Still, it’s part of a pattern and worth mentioning4

WFC 2018 in Baltimore: This con went well, from what I remember. Several people who attended said that it made them think WFC had turned itself around after all those years of constant problems. One key reason why is, I believe, Guest of Honor Scott Edelman.

I can’t find any posts about this (my Google-fu may be failing me this late at night), but I remember Scott saying to me that when WFC approached him about being a GOH, he told them he would only agree if they fixed the ongoing major issues of lack of accessibility, poorly done codes of conduct, and racist programming stuffed with white dudes. And, from what I understand, that year’s concom addressed those issues to Scott’s satisfaction and a good time was thus had by all.

Did these changes roll over into the following years? *sad laugh*

WFC 2019 in Los Angeles: Shortly after the 2018 con ended, the 2019 guests of honor were announced and the slate was a little bit… all… white. Silvia Moreno-Garcia raised the alarm and wrote to the World Fantasy Board directly, asking them to address it. Their response was ridiculous and insulting and promptly torn apart by myself and others. Eventually there was backtracking and the 2019 concom miraculously found a Black woman (the awesome Sheree Renee Thomas) to add to their lineup of honored guests. The 2020 and 2021 concoms also kicked into high gear right around this time sending invites to any of the Black writers they could think of whose names weren’t N. K. Jemisin or Octavia Butler.

WFC 2020 in The Cloud

After almost a decade of issues around programming, accessibility, and harassment (and that’s naming a few), the World Fantasy Convention’s reputation had gone from Beloved to I Remember When This Was Great to I’m Not Going To That Mess. The convention was supposed to take place in Salt Lake City, but the coronavirus had other plans. In early June WFC announced that they were going virtual.

Up to that point several conventions had made this kind of announcement and a few virtual cons had already happened. I was taking note of how many of these virtual cons had increased diversity since the barriers of travel expense, visas, and the like were no longer an issue. In that spirit, I asked on Twitter:

How many Black people, Indigenous folx, and other POC are on the @WFC2020 concom?

How many BIPOC are on the programming committee?

Has there been a commitment from this concom to ensure that panels are diverse?

I retweeted, quote tweeted, and new tweeted these questions over and over for about two weeks. Silence.

I then asked Nisi Shawl, who is slated to be a WFC 2021 Guest of Honor, to contact the concom directly and ask them to please address these questions. She also told Ginny Smith, the Chair, that I wanted to know the answer to the questions directly. On June 22 Ginny emailed me saying:

I was told you are trying to get in touch with me. I’m sorry – i haven’t received anything. What can i do to help you?

Sigh.

Thus began a series of emails that ended up being harbingers for the current moment. I’m going to summarize them, quoting a little from Ginny’s emails and more extensively from mine5.

The Conversation

From the beginning of our correspondence, Ginny took pains to point out multiple times that she’s a white, middle-aged woman who is trying so hard to do her best and that she’s absolutely terrified of doing things wrong and answering my questions. But she will, because she wants to get it right!

To start, at the time there were only two BIPOC on the concom. There had been a third, but she had left a few weeks or months prior.

There were two big reasons given for this. The first was expected: there aren’t many BIPOC in the Salt Lake City area to start, so there’s not a deep pool to draw from. The second I did not expect: World Fantasy Convention insists that all of its concom volunteers pay for their memberships to the con up front in order to serve on the concom.

I’ll let that sink in for a minute.

Not only are concom members–folks who volunteer their time for months on end–not comped a membership, they’re expected to pay just to volunteer. People can’t even be on the concom, not get a membership, and just not go to the con. Nope. You have to pay. So Ginny was having a hard time finding BIPOC who had the money for this nonsense as well as the time.

As to the programming committee: it consisted of one person at this time. A white woman. Ginny said she recognized this was a problem. “We NEED BIPOC to help! I’ve tried to recruit people as both guests and committee members. I’ve been turned down every time.” Maybe cuz of that whole “give us your money to be a volunteer” thing.

Ginny reiterated over and over that she would love my help and she wanted to get things right. Okay. But before I could offer that help, I wanted to know one thing: Why is there a rule in place that concom members must buy a membership to the con and not just volunteer? Who made that rule? I had a feeling.

And I was right.

“[It’s] a long-time requirement of the WFC organization. … WFC is a professional membership. They work very hard to make sure the membership is equal in every way. There is no distinction between members – professional editors, agents, authors, aspiring authors, whatever. Everyone is treated exactly the same, and therefore everyone pays to attend. … That’s because it’s a professional gathering – a place where pros come to network with each other and talk about what’s happening in the genre. WFC is completely different from fan conventions or writers’ conferences.”

— Ginny Smith, June 22

Wow, this rule is so everyone is equal in every way? Really?

Reader, I’ll have you know I was so outdone by this explanation that I didn’t answer her back for over a month. I kept trying to turn over in my mind how I was going to address the cascading fails at play here. And that’s not even getting to this bit:

“…membership in WFC comes with the ability to submit a nomination ballot for the World Fantasy Awards for three consecutive years. So that has a value…”

I had to lie down.

I didn’t end up getting back to Ginny until July 31 (I wasn’t kidding about the month thing) and that was, in part, prompted by the garbage fire that was WorldCon. I figured I could at least attempt to help WFC not go all the way down that road. And Ginny had been receptive to my help and advice.

I decided to tackle just one thing: the bit where people had to pay to be on the concom. I thought that if I could get Ginny to push back on that or find ways around it I had a chance of getting a few BIPOC to fill out that programming committee and work on ensuring it wouldn’t be a crapfest that marginalized folks would have to fix later.

*looks directly into the camera*

I told Ginny I knew this rule wasn’t her doing or her fault. However, her attitudes around this, and her buying into the idea that this setup is what makes everyone “equal”, needed dismantling.

This thing where *everyone* has to pay is not about making sure that everyone is equal. It’s about gatekeeping. … They make professional editors pay because they know professional editors have the money to do so. If you don’t have the money to go to this very expensive con, you are not in the club. I very much realize that this is not a fan con, because this con has always done its level best to keep fans OUT. And when fans do come, they’re treated like they crashed an exclusive party and are not made to feel welcome.

But beyond that, there is no reason why one should have to PAY to be on the committee. You said yourself that this has been a barrier to you getting BIPOC to work with you on this. That is the point. The WFC board won’t say that outright, but that’s the point. Any time you can’t volunteer at all unless you make a financial investment they are doing so in order to gatekeep.

There is no reason why WFC should not be allowed to have concom members and volunteers who just volunteer. … The first battle needs to be allowing people to volunteer to help without being forced to pay to become members.

I pointed Ginny to this thread about WorldCon in which the author says:

Pay to be a part of this space, where you are not welcome, where our imagination spanning FTL travel, fae, and vampires, cannot imagine of your joyful existence as equals, and then try, try to persuade us that you are worthy of respect.

That’s violence.

I concluded this email by saying:

“What WFC is doing is violence. To members of this community who cannot pay, to members of the community who might be willing to help.

My question is: Do you want to continue to be part of that violence? Because there is a way to make a change. But it will require standing up to the WFC board, maybe publicly if they do not listen in private. I am willing to do this thing if you are.”

On August 5 Ginny got back to me and, after some more reassurances that she wants to fix things and oh don’t I know there are sponsorship programs for BIPOC to attend the con and isn’t that great?, she launches into this:

Tempest, I’ve been a member of the WFC board for 2 years now, since Salt Lake won the bid to host 2020. I can promise you that I have never heard a discussion about excluding anyone from attending the convention. Not a single word. I’ve heard discussions about maintaining the professionalism of the organization through programming, the merchandise in the dealers’ room, and the art in the art show. I’ve heard conversations about not having costumes and masquerades and things that are typical fan con stuff. Those are all reasons I like WFC, because of the professionalism. But never has any board member said we need to keep people – any people – out of the organization.

I really should have expected this response. Why did I have hope?

At that moment my hope died. Because if Ginny is either this clueless or this much of a gaslighter, there’s little that can be done. We could be here all day listing off the ways that WFC overtly and “subtly” excludes people and groups along economic axes as well as racial, gender, and ability ones. I’ll leave that for others to chronicle further.

In my reply to this email, I tried to drill down into this for her and concluded with:

“I’ll point something else out that’s not meant as an attack but a statement of fact. You’re white. You live in Salt Lake City. How much deep and exhausting anti-racist work have you done on yourself? How much have you unpacked your privilege knapsack? How deeply aware are you of the ways racism is layered into the foundations of organizations that are run by a majority of white people? If you haven’t spent years doing *that* work, then you really cannot know and might not even be able to understand the ways in which the WFC board may be engaging in exclusion without having to literally say: we are excluding these people for these reasons.”

On the issue of comping memberships: aside from the fact that the Board won’t let her, Ginny claims she cannot afford to give anyone a free membership because the convention’s costs are too high and their committee started with 0 money, so they need all the membership money just to exist, even virtually. And that may well be.

Still, other cons manage to do this without going bankrupt if they comp a person. Since Ginny told me this was her first time running a con, I made an assumption that she might not know this.

“…are you aware that many conventions — not big media cons, but medium-sized fan run cons — regularly comp the memberships of their concoms and volunteer staff? ReaderCon, which has maybe only twice as many people as WFC is supposed to have, not only comps the concom, but also every person invited to speak on panels. Not just guests of honor. ReaderCon costs something like $80 for a membership. That said, I’ve also been on the concom for WisCon, and the concom isn’t comped (though we sometimes get part of our reg fee back after, once the accounting is done), though we generally charge less for membership fees.

WFC costs hundreds of dollars. … Of course it costs money for every person who attends. But cons that charge less than yours that don’t have so many more people that they are in a different league have figured out ways to ensure that everything gets paid for without acting like it’s some out of this world idea that concom members or at the very least department heads should get their memberships comped. They also don’t have a requirement that every concom member also be a member of the con itself. And at this point, given that conventions, be they fan run or professional, have a decades-long history, there’s no real reason any con can’t figure this part out.”

And, because she has a talent for throwing in one last sentence that makes me need to walk away from my computer before I punch a hole in it, Ginny tells me:

“[Everyone on my committee] paid $50 so they can participate in the convention. But you know what? … They feel a huge sense of pride and even ownership in this convention, and that might be in part because they have some of their own money invested in it.”

I feel the look on your face. It’s the same one I had on mine.

My main answer to this was: “This idea that folks feel more invested in a convention because they’ve invested money is a very……….. privileged one.”

She took issue with that. I’ll explain later.

The last thing Ginny was at pains to assure me of was that the concom was very committed to making the program diverse and having many BIPOC panelists. I responded thusly:

“That’s not enough. Do you or your program director have the skill to spot carefully crafted racist dog whistles in a program description? Do you know the best practices involved in ensuring that panelists from marginalized backgrounds don’t *only* make it on panels about marginalization, oppression, or their specific backgrounds? Are you willing to make a pledge that every panel will include a balance of genders and races? Not just “we put a brown person on this panel” but literally no panels with all men, or mostly men, or only white people, or mostly white people, or only white women where *that’s* the diversity? Are these issues ones you have thought of before this conversation? Deeply?

This is why you need more BIPOC and other people from marginalized groups to be *on the concom* and involved in crafting the program, not just at the con. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard from white con runners that they are working hard to make the program diverse and really want BIPOC to be on panels only to encounter racist or sexist program items, BIPOC being put on a panel and they are the only one, a panel going off the rails because known racists or sexists were allowed on it, or on as moderators, or BIPOC panelists being made to speak for all BIPOC and to account for all issues of oppression. And these are just the issues that have occurred *at world fantasy conventions* of the recent past.

You asked me what you can do. Here is what you can do.

You can go to the board and tell them that you need to be able to bring on concom volunteers who do not have to pay to be part of the concom. You don’t need to promise those volunteers that they will get a free membership (and this may affect their willingness, sure, but it’s a start). You need to bring to the table the idea that the lack of comp memberships is directly hurting their ability to have a “professional” convention that is also inclusive and safe, that the financial burdens put on volunteers who are then asked to do a ton of work — especially anti-racist and anti-bigotry work — is violence, and if they continue to uphold this they are upholding a culture of violence. You need to ensure that the people working on program items are not all white, and that group is not majority white, and that the person chairing/heading that group cannot ignore the contributions of the non-white members of the group.”

That was August 5th.

There are times when I’m real tired of playing Cassandra to white SFF.

Ginny’s first response to this email consisted of three major points.

  1. She doesn’t live in Salt Lake, but in Kentucky “about 40 miles from Louisville where Breonna Taylor was killed.”
  2. She’s been working hard to unpack her privilege knapsack, even before George Floyd was killed6.
  3. Her response to my line about money = more invested = privilege was: “Is it really?! Thank you for pointing that out to me. I have a lot to learn.” Which I did not read with a very charitable tone.

It all might have ended here with this exchange. However, there’s one more twist.

I see another email from her right after the one above that says, “And here’s her answer. Nothing I say will make a difference, so I’m inclined to let this go unanswered.” As I’m staring at that, confused, another email comes in wherein Ginny apologizes because that last message wasn’t meant for me. She’d intended to forward my email to her vice-chair with that message but ooped and hit reply, instead.

Without missing a beat, Ginny launches into peak white womanhood.

“I feel so very…wrong. I’m a white woman, and I can’t change that, but it seems everything I am and have been my whole life is wrong. I’m trying to deal with that. I hope you’ll understand that I really am trying. But … I don’t have the bandwidth to tackle the entire social structure of a political system that goes from the top of the national leadership on down, and do it in under 3 months! I have to run a convention, and I’m doing the VERY BEST I can.”

Reader, will you forgive me knowing that I told her that her best wasn’t good enough?

“In everything I spent an hour typing out for you this morning your main takeaways seem to be that I pointed out you were white, suggested you needed to unpack your privilege, and accused you of being from Salt Lake City.

Meanwhile, I said far, far more than that. But that’s what you’re focusing on.

This says a lot.”

–Me

I had to walk away for a bit. When I came back, I wrote a more detailed response that included:

“I have sympathy that you’ve inherited a con that has the weight of so many previous problems and that you don’t have the experience running a con that allowed you to spot the problems with the WFC board, the way they’ve told you things should run, and a host of other stuff. That’s a lot for anyone to try and deal with or overcome, much less someone who is running their first con ever.

I say to you, as a person who has helped run cons over the last 10 years, if you choose to ignore what I have to say, to find reasons to tell me I’m wrong or you can’t, and if you write me off under the header of:

‘Nothing I say will make a difference’

as if *I* am the one who needs to come around, then it’s not going to be me suffering the consequences. YOU are the one who is going to get every bit of shit dumped on you when this con goes horribly sideways, YOU are the one who will be blamed, possibly along with your co-chair and programming person.

This pity party you’re attempting to throw because you’re a white woman and everything about you is wrong is, first of all, CENTERING YOU when what I’ve asked you to do is understand that your identity and background make it so that you have not had to think deeply about the issues I’m bringing up and then trying to help you start down the path of doing that thinking. I don’t point out that you are white to say White Is Wrong, I point it out to say: Because you are white, you’re not seeing the whole picture here and you’re not understanding the foundations of the problem.

If your convention is not going to take the steps I outlined in the emails I’ve sent you this week and the steps I outlined in the very first tweets I sent the WFC account months ago (which you never answered) then your very best is not going to be good enough to create an inclusive convention that’s safe for marginalized people to attend. And since you clearly do not want to take me up on my offer to help, then I really don’t have much more to say… I have now given you several hours of unpaid labor attempting to help you. You wanna be mad about it because I won’t concede that your job is so hard and you just can’t do these things because it’s not possible and by the way everyone is so well meaning? Go right ahead. As I said, you’ve been warned, you’ve been offered help, you’ve been given concrete steps. What you do starting from now is on you.”

Again, August 5th. Almost exactly two months later we get the program and, well, we’re back where this post started.

We’re So New To This! [Added 10/10]

One more thing before I conclude. I want to examine the idea, brought up more than once by Ginny, that she and the other major players on the WFC 2020 concom are inexperienced. Pulling this out of the footnotes and making a new section here at the end because, now that I have more information, I feel it’s just as important as the info I laid out above.

In her first detailed email to me on June 22, Ginny Smith said:

“When I put in my bid to host WFC in Salt Lake City, I had absolutely zero experience with convention running. Seriously. None whatsoever. I have never run a convention, nor had I even participated in a sf/f convention as a committee member.”

and also:

“Understand that most committees who host WFC are long-standing committees who have done a lot of sf/f conventions in the past and therefore have funding that proceeds from year to year7. We are not that. We are the very FIRST convention this committee has ever hosted, and we put this committee together from scratch with ZERO dollars. All of our committee are enthusiastic and energetic, but only a couple have any experience at all.”

She reiterated her status as a newbie at least twice more before I ended communications.

The fact that Ginny hadn’t run a con before being voluntold to do one by David Hartwell is chronicled in this post from the WFC 2020 website. However, in the years between then and now Ginny was part of a concom. She had a role in SpikeCon 2019, the NASFiC/WesterCon/MiniCon mashup. The convention website is gone now, but someone on File770 found this PDF of the bid document that lists Ginny as being on the social media team.

There’s an entire post someone could write about how SpikeCon came to be a garbage fire, starting with the name and moving on to the programming8. What’s key to this section is that all of these problems played out in front of Ginny. In fact, when it came to the argument about the name of the con, she issued some guidance on how to respond that included not apologizing and thus showing weakness by doing so.

Beyond that, take note of how Ginny said that “only a couple” of her concom members had experience running a con? Let’s examine that.

  • Pamela Oberg, WFC 2020 Vice-Chair and Programming
    • SpikeCon Treasurer | Resume: Local cons since 1978, nonprofit trustee, local chair, Westercon 67 and registration for Costume Con.
  • Dave Doering, WFC 2020 Advisory Board
  • Bruce Farr, WFC 2020 Advisory Board
  • Mike Willmoth, WFC 2020 Advisory Board
    • SpikeCon Advisor to the chair | Resume: Phoenix NASFiC 1987, Raleigh NASFiC 2010, World Horror Con, World Fantasy Cons & Westercons. Worldcon 61, 64, 70, 71, 73 and DDH for Facilities Worldcon 76

And that’s just listing some of the top level folks. There are more people on the concom than this and maybe aaaaalllll those others are super new9. However, that should be mitigated by the advisory board and their vast proclaimed experience as well as Pamela’s.

Based on conversations I’m seeing on Twitter, there’s quite a bit of crossover between WFC 2020, SpikeCon, and LTUE, all Utah conventions.

And finally, remember that email Ginny sent on how SpikeCon folks should respond to people upset about the name? In point #3 she says, “…our Native American committee members are in complete approval.” According to folks who worked on this con, this is untrue. The Native concom members weren’t asked.

I pulled this up out of footnotes to show that the people in leadership positions at WFC 202010 should have known better simply due to their experience running conventions and also to show that Ginny bends the truth in order to manipulate opinion/sympathy. I believe she mentioned her and her concom’s inexperience several times as a way to gain my sympathy. And, because I bought it, I did feel sorry for her. Now I understand that she didn’t deserve even that shed of emotion or consideration.

Why Did I Write All This?

Some may ask why I bothered to put together this extremely long blog post. My reasons are simple:

We have a tendency in the SFFH community to forget our recent history or we fail to connect the dots of the recent past to what’s going on right now. The issues around WFC 2020 do not exist in a vacuum. Ginny might be new to this and most of her concom may be inexperienced. The WFC Board isn’t either of those things. Some of what’s wrong right now is the fault of the current concom but it is also the fault of a Board that refused to address the recurring issues and give the 2020 concom the tools to make a better, more inclusive, less fail-prone con. Looking at the history above, it’s clear they should have done so years ago.

I don’t want WFC 2020 to be able to say that they don’t or didn’t understand the problems with the original programming, that they weren’t offered help, that they weren’t warned about the consequences of not bringing in diverse voices or educating themselves. The We Didn’t Know! and But We’re Only Volunteers! lines get trotted out far too often in these situations.

I want people to realize how serious, deep-seated, and currently intractable WFC’s problems are, both with this convention and with the organization as a whole. I want people to understand that this org has been given chance after chance, great piece of advice after great piece of advice, and example after example of how to do well, and this still happened. It is time to stop giving benefits of the doubt, or worrying over the social consequences of speaking up, speaking out, removing yourself from programming, or tossing your membership altogether.

What has kept WFC going all these years is the continued attendance of all those vaunted professionals Ginny mentioned. Luminaries that include writers and editors and agents and publishers. Even as con-goers (mostly women) were harassed without consequence, and people with disabilities were made to feel unwanted or as if they were a burden to accommodate, and as an environment of oppression and bigotry against BIPOC flourished, many people still paid several hundred dollars to attend and be on panels and give readings and network.

But they were gonna change it from the inside, doncha know!

It has now been almost 10 years of this. At this point, if you are attending and/or participating in WFC 2020 you are participating in a system that is unsafe for BIPOC and other marginalized attendees and has been for a long time.

And yes, even if they “fix” the many program items with problematic content thanks to help from panelists, I still say: don’t go. Remember, we’ve done this dance before. More than once. And they were offered help and guidance on how not to have this happen. Don’t reward them by accepting last-minute changes that had to be spearheaded by folks who have probably already done too much emotional labor around this.

It should not be on BIPOC and other marginalized folks to clean up after white people who refuse to do right unless Twitter gets mad at them.

I asked folks on Twitter not to help them with programming for these reasons and then I said:

Hey there white, able-bodied, cishet ppl of SFF who constantly claim allyship with marginalized folk: Now’s the time to prove it.

WFC depends on you to come even if BIPOC don’t. Therefore: drop your membership or, at least, rescind participation on panels. Take a stand.

I stand by this ask. Even though I’m apparently being too “extreme“. This hella long post is my testament to why.

In Conclusion

I want to end by thanking all the people who have been talking about WFC’s problems for years. Who write, again and again, about what has been done wrong and what can be done to fix it. I linked to many of these folks in this post. I didn’t even get all the blog posts and certainly did not catch all the tweets.

Special thanks to the BIPOC who have stood up, spoken out, and taken a stand on this and on so many other issues. Again, I’ve linked to many but not all. I see y’all out here fighting this good fight. I’ll continue to fight it with you.

The bottom line is that we should not have to be out here fighting for our “professional” conventions and networking events to be free of blatant racism, homophobia, ableism, sexism, and other forms of oppression. We should be excited to participate and honored to be invited and get our amazing work in front of people who will appreciate it and even get a chance or two to score a book deal, land an agent, and impress an editor. We should get to have that without having to fight for the idea that we are just as worthy, just as human, and just as valued as the cishet, able-bodied, rich white men in attendance.


Footnotes

  1. Trust, there have been a ton of people backchanneling about this in private spaces. []
  2. For all the years I’d been going to WFC (starting in 2007, I believe) everyone had always agreed that the panels were hardly ever worth going to. You went to this con to be in the bar with fancy people, not go to panels with boring topics and boringer people. The readings were often a highlight just due to the talent on offer. That was it for great programming, though. []
  3. This was also, apparently, the first time I chronicled how WFC had been a problem for years. Again, this was 4 years ago. []
  4. If anyone had this experience and wants to share details in the comments, please do. Even if you wish to remain anonymous. []
  5. I will make available the full text of the emails if people want to check that I haven’t taken Ginny or myself out of context. []
  6. That’s now two Black people’s names invoked for no real reason. []
  7. From what I’m seeing in the comments here as well as the convo on Twitter, I don’t think this is always true. It seems other WFCs have also started from 0 dollars. []
  8. Don’t get me started on how they treated one of their guests of honor–shocker, that particular guest is BIPOC []
  9. They’re likely not new. []
  10. Vice-Chair: Pamela Oberg, Programming: Pamela Oberg, Advisory Board: Dave Doering, Bruce Farr, Terry Fong, Mike Willmoth–those are the big ones, but really many of the people listed on this page have some share of this responsibility. []
divider with ravens Did you enjoy this post? You can help me put more of my creative endeavors out into the world by supporting me directly. If you do, you get cool stuff! ☺

19 thoughts on “World Fantasy, the Convention That Keeps On Failing

  1. Hi Tempest! Ugh on all that time and energy you will never get back. I learned late in 2018 that WFC was in Baltimore, which I live near, and wanted to go, and though I was making a good salary as a tech writer at this time, it wasn’t enough for me to feel I could spend that even if I saw better programming on it, but I’m one of the fans they’d want to keep out anyway. I worked as an editor for a small publishing company for a few years, and there’s no way I would have been able to afford that fee then. I HATE “professionalism” which is just another word for white classism. Thank you for posting on this and I am with you 100%!

    1. Dear Carole –

      I wish you had reached out to us at WFC 2018 in Baltimore. Or even WFC 2014 in DC. If you had editing skills and knowledge of the field, we could have used your skills on Staff, and membership could have been yours for the Staff rate of $50. Yes, I know that is a contentious point, but due to some contributions from others we were also able to offer some comped Staff memberships to those who needed them. Both Cons also offered comped full memberships through Con or Bust.

      The main point – please don’t think that money is always a barrier. Most Cons want to enable as many people to participate in con membership (and Con running) as possible. But reality is that we also need paying members to defray the operating costs.

      Ann Marie Rudolph
      Co Chair – WFC 2018
      Hotel Liaison – WFC 2014
      Chair – 2017 Balticon

      1. Was there clear information in the con materials about the availability of such roles? Was there an invitation to apply?

        1. Con or Bust promotes their available memberships through their own website – or did, it had not been very active when i last checked it a few months ago. Staff membership terms were not listed anywhere on our websites, all Staff has to be recruited individually by the Chair to ensure that there is a need for the skills (and worldview) that they may bring.

  2. All the cons you mention that comp concom/staff/etc. are single-location on-going cons. This means they are able to build a financial cushion which allows for this. Every traveling / bidded convention I know of charges something for everyone, because the economics are different.

    Worldcon might be able to use Pass-Along Funds in lieu of a savings account to make some exceptions, but participation in PAF is voluntary and the amount passed is neither predictable nor known early enough to rely upon, so it’s generally used for nice-to-haves. The WFC board might be able to establish some kind of central fund to allow some comps, but it’s not something a concom can decide to do on their own — the WFC board does require that.

    1. WorldCon has given me a comped membership about 4 or 5 times. It’s called a Press Pass and that’s standard for many cons, especially the larger ones. I know that WorldCon doesn’t comp all their panelists up front (sometimes we get back a portion of membership after), I don’t know about the concom or staff. But I do know there are comps for access to the con.

      That’s not a standing convention, either.

      And sure, you can say that WFC is different and name all these excuses but really it boils down to this: There are ways that WFC could run things where concom members are comped. It could be worked out. The Board does not want to, therefore it hasn’t happened. That’s it. They don’t want it, so it’s not done. If they wanted to do it, they could find a way. Just look at Ann Rudolph’s comment above.

      1. Tempest –

        I was on the Bid Committee for Discon and perhaps would have been on the ConCom but for some family issues, To do that I Friended the Bid way in advance for a few hundred dollars, and then paid the Voting fee to vote when it was time to vote. Same for Chicago. There’s no guarantee that I will ever get a refund of any of that money, though it does convert to a membership – but only if my bid wins. So the money that I spent on the Helsinki in 2015 and DC in 2017 bids gave me back nothing. Conrunning is an expensive hobby.

        The WFC Board is an unincorporated Literary organization. It doesn’t have any financial involvement in anything. Not even a bank account, because we don’t have a TIN. The Conventions are the source of funds to pay the postage for the Awards Committee, buy the Award statuettes, and even pay for the WFC website. When we re-designed the statuette, three WFCs pitched in $1000 each to have that done. The Board coordinated it, but did not handle any money. When WFC 2018 decided we wanted nominee pins, we paid to have the mold made, and hope that future cons will continue the practice.

        Each WFC runs its own convention. Each WFC ConCom makes their own decisions, and SLC unfortunately lost their experienced co-chair last year, and then ran into a pandemic. Running Cons is not easy, and finding people to run them is not always easy either. Especially WFC, because it is set up to be so different. If it loses that difference, then it won’t be WFC any more. I was lucky, I got to work under Peggy Rae for about 15 years, and for 2 WFCs. I learned a lot. And I learned how much hard work it is, even though she made it look easy.

        Can WFC be better? Yes.

        Ann Marie Rudolph

        1. “If it loses that difference, then it won’t be WFC any more.”

          At this point it’s feeling more and more like this would be a good thing.

          1. I came here just to say this. The fact that WFC has a high financial threshold is *by design*. Because they want to keep out the “non professionals”. It is well known in fact that “professionals” (writers, editors, critics, academics) are positively *swimming* in money. So the high threshold is there for two reasons: either to extort money from people who can ill afford it because it’s a “professional” setting they can’t afford to miss, or to keep out the riff-raff. Or, you know, as a friend of mine says, embrace the power of “and”.

      2. Staff is in the same position. We pay and might get money back later. I worked San Jose and loved it but it was very expensive. My con offers a steep discount for staff but even as a division head and a member of the board, I pay it. We’ve gotten flush enough to reduce it but we’re not in a financial position to comp it entirely. We were headed that way before covid and have had a massive setback.

        1. I have read a lot about how WFC can’t afford to comp memberships.

          That is really disingenuous.

          The issue here is not comping memberships. It’s that YOU CANNOT EVEN VOLUNTEER IF YOU ARE NOT A MEMBER.

          1. That’s kind of a foundational principal of Classic Fandom: Everyone is a member; everyone is equal. The only one who gets special treatment is the Guest of Honor (or Guests of Honor, depending on the con), and only the year they’re honored.

            This has shifted somewhat over the decades, more so at some cons than others, but that’s the starting point, how it was (in theory, at least), back in the days when cons were just being created.

      3. To be clear, I agree 100% with the program construction issues, mostly with the accessibility issues — as a disabled conrunner, I am very aware that access is a _hard_ problem, and speaking in general, sometimes one doesn’t have the resources one could want, and mostly with the harassment issues. Comping is simply more complicated for traveling cons than standing cons.

        How close to the con were you given Worldcon press passes? I’d guess it was significantly less than a year out, when the finances are much more known and stable than early on, when committee and staff are put in place.

        I’m not a WFC expert; I’ve only been involved in one, and that was nearly a decade ago. But as the other commenters in this subthread have pointed out, comping is not a simple matter, especially early in the process. And yes, a lot of blame for some of the systemic issues goes to the board, who make the requirements the concoms must follow, rather than the individual concoms. I’m not likely to work on a WFC again, unless a lot of that changes.

        (Apologies if this goes through more than once; my internet is being weird tonight.)

  3. Holy shit. I don’t generally choose to read horror, but this was enough horror for all of my October. My jaw dropped when she invoked brutally killed people … as a shield of some sort against the stabbing implications? and her timeline of working on her racism *before* … several months ago.

    (On a lighter note, I do enjoy seeing things about me not intended for me, hugely. So revealing.)

    But, holy god. I’m sorry. And thank you. You are entirely right that these things need to be documented, repeatedly: the older I get, the more I see people forget. Or “forget”. And repeat and repeat. Both the problematic behavior and the head-banging, enraging, exhausting work of trying to make the smallest bit of headway, all the while being accused of being the trouble.

    Thank you. I’m sorry you had to. Again.

  4. Honestly, thank you for writing all of this. I’ve never heard of WFC, and it was by pure chance on tumblr that I even came to learn of it today. Reading all the way through to the end was a journey, and I haven’t even /begun/ to touch on all the supplemental content that was linked throughout. I will never darken WFC’s doorstep under any circumstance unless it’s to watch it all come tumbling down.

    One of the many things that rubs me the wrong way is that she, Ginny, decided to landmark her life based around two major Black deaths. That doesn’t sit right with me. They’re not relevant to the conversation at hand, and the fact that she wants to bring their names into this is tone deaf and sickening.

    Secondly, I’m sick of the marginalised handholding that needs to be done. If she really wants to start somewhere, she can start with the ever so simple problem in just making sure that her conventions are reasonably accessible. Not having to run the Indy 500 in order to use a wheelchair lift level of accessible. If a building she’s considering doesn’t have ramps and lifts that can be used safely and considerately, then she needs to find somewhere else. Period.

    The thing that white professionals don’t seem to understand is that BIPOC creators are not hard to find. They’re in various industries and make up a large collective of work forces. It’s not they can’t be found; it’s that the conrunners don’t want to find them because it disrupts the status quo. I can even bend to one side or another to say that “Okay, having a membership is fine. I’ve been part of paid, exclusive events before.” However, making someone pay /to volunteer?/ That really ain’t it. That ain’t it!

    I know that people roll their eyes when the list of one company/conventions/public figure/what have you’s -isms, prejudices, and oppressions are brought to light. Oh, you’re tired of hearing about it, are you? Well, it’s too much to have to live it and to constantly have to bring it to light. What’s going on with WFC is a dummy list of the many, many fixes (both easy and difficult) that need to happen with collective’s way of thinking. For argument’s sake though, and to not detract much of anyone’s time, I’ll focus solely on the con-industry space.

    I’m glad that there are cons of all kinds cropping up all over the place, especially now with the Coronavirus outbreak in which more people are able to make virtual cons and productions. Because it gets tiring being browbeaten by con boards and con runners to just “be okay” with what’s happening. Twitter, specifically in this case, is filled to the brim with creators of all backgrounds. It’s not a “political” move to open these avenues to people who have already earned their place. If anything, having them on cons (as GOH, panel hosts, or what have you) should be a reward. It should be an acknowledgement. It gets tiring seeing only a specific type of creator (especially those with jarring histories and/or terrible current misconduct) get spotlights and platforms that they do not or no longer deserve.

    “The We Didn’t Know! and But We’re Only Volunteers! lines get trotted out far too often in these situations.” You’re dead right. And like you’ve seen many times throughout this: they have had years to know. They’ve a number of problems that should have been fixed years ago. This is nine years ongoing of them acting the fool. Again, Ginny might be new to this, but she’s cherry picking arguments. It really comes across that she doesn’t want to learn and has no real intention to “because it’s hard enough running a con.”

    She’s so quick to say that she’s not trying to shoulder an entire socioecopolitical climate as if that isn’t the everyday of marginalised people. She’s not being expected to. Like you said, she just needs to acknowledge that her current standing might prevent her from seeing the whole picture. But as it proved (and I’m sure it was more aggravating for you in real time), this is just a terminal case of marginalised hand holding.

    “I want people to realize how serious, deep-seated, and currently intractable WFC’s problems are, both with this convention and with the organization as a whole. I want people to understand that this org has been given chance after chance, great piece of advice after great piece of advice, and example after example of how to do well, and this still happened. It is time to stop giving benefits of the doubt, or worrying over the social consequences of speaking up, speaking out, removing yourself from programming, or tossing your membership altogether.”

    Amen to that.

  5. As another white woman, I would like to politely say to Ginny, “Sit your overly-defensive little tone-deaf butt down and LISTEN.”

    She isn’t being asked to fix the structural racism of Western society, bless her heart. She’s only being asked to maybe get a few more BIPOC people involved in running the con, without them being tokenized. *

    But as a disabled person on a fixed income, it isn’t likely they want “my kind” at WFC anyway. Happy to oblige them.

  6. Ginny is a bigot who enjoys gaslighting Black people. I’m sickened that a couple of myopic Black authors are caping for her and her racist bullshit. I grew tired of Ginny’s little dance after the NasFIC here in SLC, and cut her off completely when she sent out an FB message asking Black people to “explain the racism in Gone With The Wind.”

    The Utah F/SF con community is steeped in racism, jingoism and smug superiority. If Black SF folks choose not to see it, well fuck them. I refuse to play along with Ginny’s bullshit, because she loves to see Black folk dancing to her lying tunes.

    1. Oh good grief. I could have given a decent explanation of the racism in GwtW before I even read the book or saw the movie, back when I was a relatively clueless Southern kid. I got out of the South and have learned a whole lot over the past 25 years or so. Still learning, always learning, but that’s not even a hard one to see.

    2. Racism in Utah? White people feeling like the chosen ones in Utah? I wonder where they could possibly have gotten those ideas? (we still need a sarcasm font)

      And I know/know of a whole lot of White folks who ordinarily would have gone to a Westercon and a NASFiC who noped the hell out of that one. Something about them not being racist, sexist, homophobes, and not wanting to support same.

      Asking Black people to explain why GWTW is racist shows she’s either a troll (thus not deserving of running anything), and/or extremely mentally challenged (thus not capable of running anything). Answers left as exercise to reader.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.