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, 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 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? 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.
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. 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:
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.
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.”
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 who knew full well the problems before this came up yesterday 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.