The motion to expel Theodore Beale (“Vox Day”) awaits SFWA’s new board, which takes office July 1.
Will they simply look at Beale’s tweets and posts, consider them in light of SFWA’s Bylaws, and give a quick thumbs-up or –down?
Likelier they’ll start by comparing the case with any other disciplinary precedents in SFWA history. Followers of professional sports know that inconsistent discipline often leads to lawsuits if a player believes the suspension he’s received for some violation is disproportionate to the penalty handed down for the same infraction in the past.
But is there much history to review? That answer is probably unknowable to outsiders. However, when Lawrence Watt-Evans left SFWA in 2006 after 24 years of membership he suggested there isn’t much, for he complained –
Other writers’ organizations kick out people when necessary, but SFWA, in forty-two years of existence, has never had the gumption to police itself. Members have lied and swindled and cheated, and yet SFWA has never expelled anyone, has never refused membership to anyone who had the necessary credentials.
The lone example of SFWA discipline that seems to be public knowledge is the very incident that triggered Watt-Evans’ complaint and his departure, SFWA’s decision to censure rather than expel David Moles.
In 2006, after Harlan Ellison groped Connie Willis onstage during the Hugo Awards ceremony, Moles became upset with colleagues he felt were defending Ellison in a private SFWA newsgroup. He made some of their comments public on his blog. (These appear to have been taken down, but related material Moles excerpted from public blogs and forums is still available at his old blog.) He wrote at the time, “I did not post those quotes lightly. This is not just another internet slapfight,” sounding like he considered his actions a variety of civil disobedience for which he expected and accepted certain consequences.
Some members attempted to get Moles expelled from SFWA. He was censured instead. He recalled the experience in a 2009 SF Signal interview – in a tone rather more glib than in 2006:
SoY: Rumor has it you were once formally censured by the SFWA. Care to elaborate?
DM: So, you may have heard about Harlan Ellison groping Connie Willis during the Hugo ceremony at the Anaheim Worldcon in 2006. (If not, google “Harlangate”.) A number of people who should have known better said some indefensible things in Harlan’s defense. I made a blog post excerpting and linking to some of these.
As it happens — I suppose it’s not accidental — the venue for many of these indefensible defenses was the SFF.net SFWA Lounge, a closed newsgroup accessible only to SFWA members and known for studied unpleasantness. Suffice to say that to a lot of SFWA veterans, my breaking the SFWA code of silence by reposting from a closed newsgroup was much worse — and much more worth talking about — than anything Harlan might have done, or anything the Anaheim incident (and reactions to it) might highlight about sexism and sexual harassment in science fiction.
That I wasn’t expelled from SFWA outright is thanks to then-SFWA president Robin Bailey, who fought the rest of the SFWA board to get my expulsion reduced to censure — a new process that had to be invented for the occasion.
Even today, censure is not provided for in the SFWA Bylaws, only expulsion, which makes one wonder how it worked.
However, I recall that the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society years ago voted to censure a member in lieu of expulsion, a procedure not explicitly provided for in its by-laws or standing rules. The members decided such an action could be authorized by a general vote.
SFWA obviously came up with a rationale of its own for imposing another type of discipline on Moles short of expulsion.
The Moles episode may have been on Beale’s mind judging by the way he introduced certain quotations from his own SFWA Forum posts on his personal blog. It was another way of baiting his colleagues. The Amal El-Mohtar motion, on the other hand, doesn’t dwell on such technicalities, it goes straight to the heart of the matter.
That is a motion endorsed by Moles, incidentally. He wrote on June 14:
I’m writing to ask you to take the strongest steps you think are allowable under our current bylaws to discipline Mr. Beale, whether that’s censure, expulsion, or some other punishment to be named later. At this point I’m not sure anything could be better for SFWA’s public image than to have someone like Mr. Beale outside it shouting loudly about how unwelcome he is in it.
[Thanks to Michael J. Walsh for the story.]