Notes on Reconnaissance and the need for harassment policies at SF Conventions

Notes on Reconnaissance and the need for harassment policies at SF Conventions

[Note about screenshots: I’ve added text versions of these where it’s been easy for me to do, and where it hasn’t I’ve summarised the main points. If anyone needs full transcription please let me know and I’ll see what I can work out, but please understand I’m running pretty low on resources right now. The screenshots were taken at various times, so please don’t read anything in to the timing on them.]

Introduction

This is one of those posts I’d rather not have to write. It’s about requesting a harassment policy to be put in place for Reconnaissance (The 36th New Zealand National Science Fiction Convention) and what followed. I’m writing it partly to provide a record for others, partly because some people know part of but not the whole story, and because I really don’t want to see anything like this happen again, and so want future convention organisers – and attendees – to be really mindful of it.

About Me

My name is Andi Buchanan, I’m an SF writer and fan based in the Wellington region. I’ve been to a number of sf conventions, both here and overseas, been on the concom for one and participated in various ways in others. So I’m far from the most established fan – but I’m also far from new to the community. I’ve also been harassed at a different volunteer-run event, and had a bad response from the organisers – it was far from the most severe example, but it was still upsetting. Good friends have been harassed at SF conventions in the past, and for a number of reasons I consider myself at risk of harassment. What I mean by this is that this is far from a merely academic interest.

About Reconnaisance and NZ Natcons

In general (at least in recent years) there is a National Convention held every year. These are usually run by a different group of volunteers each time, and under different names. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand Inc (SFFANZ) provides a sort of overall framework, including co-ordinating the bids for conventions which are normally decided 2 years in advance.

Reconnaisance is the 36th such convention, due to take place over Easter weekend (early April) 2015. The concom consists of Andrew Ivamy (who goes by Joxer Andrew on Facebook) and Marie Williams.

About Convention Harassment Policies

Following some high profile incidents of harassment, there was a particular push to make harassment policies considered essential to every Convention around two years ago if I remember rightly (though of course people have been working on this – and being insufficiently recognised – forever, as usually happens. A lot of groundwork was already done with example policies available – a great example is the SF/F Convention Harassment Policy Starter Kit posted in 2013 by Jim C Hines (though he draws on and credits the work of many others).

A local fan and writer, A.J. Fitzwater, approached the organisers of the 2013 NatCon to work on developing and implementing their harassment policy. They write about it in two blog posts: A Conversation About Con Harassment and Au Contraire 2013: 50 Shades of Awesome.

The Initial Request for a Harassment Policy

On November 6th I posted to the Reconnaisance Facebook event asking “Hi, is there a harrassment policy in progress for this event? I don’t see anything on the website?” This screenshot shows the conversation that followed (click to go to the image to enlarge):

screenshot 1

 I was a little concerned about some of the responses. In particular Andrew kept referring back to Au Contraire, which I read as being defensive and trying to turn the attention away from himself and Reconnaisance rather than simply addressing this issue.

(I was a member of the ConCom for Au Contraire 1 in 2010. He is right that our harassment policy was not up to the standards I’d now like – we were without the resources and guidance now available and mostly winging it, so while I feel we did one hell of a lot to make that convention diverse, accessible and safe there was definitely room for criticism and improvement. What I’m concerned about is someone else using that as an excuse not to sort out problems with other events.)

Nevertheless, I felt I’d raised the issue, provided some resources and he’d said he was going to work on it. Problem solved, right? Sadly no.

The Silence

From then until March I heard nothing on the subject. What I have been hearing is a lot of concerns about Reconnaisance. Some are organisational, but some were more worrying. A number of people (without going into details) expressed concerns that Andrew did not respond well to input from women. Four people known to me decided to not attend (all people who have attended several conventions in the past) because of concerns about behaviour and the lack of a harassment policy came up multiple times.

Returning to the Issue

On March 18th I again posted on the Reconnaisance FB event (I accidentally cut the top sorry, but it’s me at the start) to say “Hi there! I asked about a harassment policy several months ago and was told this would be worked on, but there’s nothing (as far as I can tell) on the website and the event is just a few weeks away. I know I’m not the only person concerned about this, and would appreciate an update.” And this happened.

Screenshot 2To summarise/expand on the above, Andrew in response attempted to make it my fault because I had not reviewed his security policy. I pointed out that this was simply not the case – he had expressed that he was going to work on the policy. In any case, insisting marginalised people do your work for you is reeeeeally problematic (more on this later). When I posted him clear screenshots showing this was not true, he did not respond.

More worryingly, he asked me to name those who had concerns. I don’t know his motivation (though based on his behaviour before and after my speculation is not good) but in any case the effect is intimidating and if ever anything showed there was a need to have a harassment policy, then this was it.

Andrew then replied and I lost my shit:

screenshot 3

 

To summarise: Andrew stated that I refused to clarify what my “alleged concern” was so claimed he could not go further with this and passive-aggressively told me to “go in peace”. (I didn’t feel this was worth trying to explain to him, but the word allegedly was at best a poor choice, given how much it’s used as a dog whistle for not believing those who’ve experienced sexual assault. I also really dislike how he puts words and phrases in quotes as if he’s quoting me when I haven’t used them.)

I responded (this is a text version of my comment above with this:

Wow. Thank you for your refusal to engage with any of my comments. Your response is shameful, Andrew.
I have provided you with information about harassment policies, and why they are important, what other conventions have done etc. I have reiterated my
concerns that you have not written one. Any reasonable person should have been able to deduce what my concerns are likely to be based on those (and even if you couldn’t. that does not negate the need for a harassment policy.)
But just so you have no excuse:
– I have concerns that Reconnaissance has no harassment policy, despite this issue being raised a number of months ago
– I have concerns that the security policy does not mention harassment
– I am concerned that the security policy is extremely difficult to read, which is an accessibility issue
– I have concerns that your demand I name those who are concerned about the lack of a harassment policy is intimidatory and contributes to an atmosphere where people do not feel able or safe to report harassment related issues.
– I have concerns that people do not know what they might expect if they report harassment
– I have concerns that nowhere on the webpage does it state that harassment is unacceptable or that the concom take it seriously
– I have concerns that your reaction to people who raise questions or concerns is so defensive (particularly, it seems, when those people are not men)
– I have concerns that at least 4 regular con-goers (and that’s just to my knowledge) are not attending due to issues related to this (and don’t you DARE ask me their names)
Your continued refusal to write a harassment policy, especially when so much of the groundwork has been done simply shows a resistance to making the convention safe, especially for marginalised people/those at particular risk of harassment. That is disgusting.

Andrew did not comment again on this thread, but probably the most disturbing post of all appeared on Reconnaisance Facebook page:

Reconnaissance  The 36th New Zealand National SFF amp;H Convention. (1)

Does anyone “feel threatened”? Does anyone know of anyone coming or not coming to the convention that has “serious concerns for their safety at the convention?”

I honestly see no other way to interpret this post other than as a threat of harassment. It does not make me feel safe.

Sidenote: Do My Work For Me

As a generalised statement, the people most likely to be concerned about harassment are the people who are most likely to experience it. And these are often the people who have the least resources, the least energy, and are often just plain sick of fighting this everywhere they go. Phrases like “I want to learn” or “show me how to do this” are often used as derailing to further suck energy from people who have least ability.

This is why Andrew’s insistence I continually do work for him, in the form he wants it, phrasing it how he wants it, or the policy won’t happen, is particularly galling. Look, I have multiple projects on the go (and believe me, I’d really rather not be spending my Saturday morning putting together this post right now). I have fatigue as basically a default of my existence and sporadic pain issues. I have chronic ptsd which is made worse by dealing with things like this. I have to put a fuckload of energy into just existing in the world as a genderqueer disabled person and demands like this, which are not made in good faith (especially when accompanied by lies) are really not okay.

To be clear, that doesn’t mean I think Andrew (or anyone in that position) should necessarily be able to just do it alone. If his response had been “Yes, I’ll look at putting a policy together – I’ve googled some examples but I’m not sure where to start; have you experience of any that worked particularly well” or “yes, but I don’t know much about this area – could we have a chat and bounce some ideas” the situation, and my reaction would have been very, very different. I’m happy to – and do – put a lot of time and energy into making things like this better, but it’s rude at best to demand it while giving no indication it will be made use of.

Others Get Involved

At this point I was posting screenshots on social media and others, including internationally, were seriously concerned. Some were making contact with significant people in the fan community to work out what action could be taken. Two people posted comments of concern on the Facebook post asking if anyone felt threatened (these comments were quickly deleted):

Facebook (2)

Elizabeth Heritage, a convention attendee and participant also posted:

1  Hi there, I see you have deleted my previous... - Elizabeth Heritage

And the issue was also brought to the attention of the guests of honour:

Michael J. Parry on Twitter   Yo @gailcarriger @TeeMonster @PhilippaJane the organizers of Reconnaissance where you GoH are being unreasonable about having a 1 2

 

The ConCom Get Involved

At this point, I was very concerned and frustrated. Andrew could have written multiple policies in the time he spent arguing about it, so for whatever reason he was clearly resistant to the idea, which is indicates a deep deep problem. His interactions were rude, belligerent, and bordering on threatening.

At this point the other member of the ConCom, Marie Williams, became involved. The first interaction with her was not wonderfully encouraging (and be aware I was exhausted and angry):

 

 

4  Andi Buchanan - Hi there! I asked about a harassment policy...

My interpretation is that Marie had not realised the full extent of what was going on, because after we discussed further she did appear to hear our concerns AND she came up with a harassment policy:

Andi Buchanan - Hi there! I asked about a harassment policy... (3)

I’m really please we succeeded in getting Reconnaisance to implement a harassment policy. While it may not be the best I’ve read, it seems reasonably solid in my opinion, and if this had been done when I asked the first time I would have had no complaints. Hoorah!

What now?

There are a few things in the works. Some people are working to clarify subjects such as what oversight there is if this happens in future. While the harassment policy is good to have in place, I don’t believe it resolves this issue of Andrew’s behaviour, and I believe an apology is needed (surprisingly he didn’t respond when I tweeted to tell him that). I’d also like to see action taken by the ConCom, though I appreciate that is difficult when he comprises 50% of it. I’ll update if there is more to tell.

I think the lessons here are mostly really straight-forward. Conventions need to have a harassment policy, take the issue seriously and implement said policy. Convention organisers need to respond appropriately to queries and concerns, from both members and non-members, and never ever demand people’s names. And people need to speak out about these issues when they happen.

(And if I’ve missed anything critical that can be talked about while respecting the privacy of others involved, feel free to let me know and I’ll consider editing the post if appropriate.)

UPDATE 21/3 4:24pm – Elizabeth Heritage commented “I have raised the issue of Andrew’s behaviour with him directly, as well as with the only other member of the ConCom (Marie W). I am satisfied that Marie W has heard me and is taking steps to address the situation. I am hopeful of a positive resolution.” (On a non-public post, I have her permission to quote.)

One last thing

This whole thing has been quite hard on me, and on others. I am so so pleased I didn’t have to do it alone – and really grateful to all of you who have got involved, or offered support privately. It’s needed, and I have hugely renewed faith in the community I’m part of. Thank you.


acbuchanan

3 COMMENTS
  • Matt

    Nice summary – and well handled!

    1. acbuchanan

      Thanks Matt!

  • Frank Pitt

    Hi Andi, I’m not planning on attending this con or I’d do it myself, but perhaps you, or someone else who is attending, might like to suggest at the SFFANZ business meeting that having a clearly defined anti-harrasment policy be made one of the requirements of any con wanting to be considered as having NatCon status.
    IIRC, there are already some mandatory requirements in place for this, so it shouldn’t be too controversial to add this as a further requirement.

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