The process utilized to make these changes was described in a press release published today:
The WFC 2020 Committee, after much reflection and listening to the grave concerns BIPOC panelists and fans expressed about the program panel descriptions, has revised the descriptions and also reassessed its commitment to ensure panel members are representative of the increasingly diverse voices in fantasy and horror literature. “The WFC 2020 Committee humbly acknowledges that we could have done better and deeply regret the offense, unintended, but nevertheless hurtful, towards our BIPOC fans and panelists. We also acknowledge that long-term, systemic issues with discrimination in our industry and with World Fantasy Convention itself cannot be rectified in one convention; this will be an ongoing effort beyond WFC 2020,” said Ginny Smith, WFC 2020 chair.
The World Fantasy Convention Board of Directors said in a statement:
“The WFC Board is sensitive to the criticisms by members from marginalized communities within the fantasy and horror genres. We acknowledge the minimal representation of these diverse populations on the Board and are taking steps to rectify that lack of perspective. We have voted to add at least one ex officio member to our number to review future WFC programs. We are currently reaching out to proposed candidates to discuss and will release a statement when the new Board member(s) are chosen.”
To address the programming issues for this year’s convention, the WFC 2020 Committee has done the following:
• WFC Chair Ginny Smith engaged the help of three well-respected members of the fantasy community, two people of color and a well-regarded writer and sensitivity advisor, to review the offensive and insensitive programming language. They have completed their review and the revised program descriptions have been published on the WFC 2020 website. Members will be notified by email.
• WFC 2020’s amazing and supportive BIPOC panelists helped the WFC 2020 Committee create more panels to represent the rich diversity of the fantasy genre. For example, one of the new panels is “Black Women in Horror.”
• WFC 2020 remains committed to offering sponsorships to people of color. The intent in offering these sponsorships is to make the convention accessible to those who might not otherwise be able to attend the convention and to ensure that the convention’s attendance reflects the diverse fandom and artistry in the fantasy and horror genres. The committee is grateful to the private donors who have so far made it possible for 50 people of color to attend the convention for free. People of color can still apply for these sponsored memberships. For more information and to apply, please visit the WFC website at https://www.wfc2020.org/people-of-color-sponsored-membership.
This will be the 46th World Fantasy Convention; the WFC 2020 acknowledges its responsibility to ensure the con remains viable and relevant and to begin addressing the convention’s history of exclusion. The WFC 2020 Committee remains committed to building and conducting a vibrant, diverse, and professional WFC that brings together industry professionals from many backgrounds. “Please accept our sincere apology for what has happened; we hope you’ll still consider attending the convention to help celebrate, explore, and build what may be the oldest, most diverse genre on our planet—fantasy,” said Smith.
The Virtual World Fantasy Convention 2020 will take place October 29–November 1. For more information and to register, visit www.wfc2020.org.
In addition to the press release, WFC 2020 Chair Ginny Smith has also made a personal statement, “A Letter From Chairperson Ginny Smith”, that says in part:
I am not defending the mistakes we’ve made; however, I want to clear up some misunderstandings about what happened. To put together the program, we first sent out a questionnaire to every person who expressed an interest in being a panelist. We asked them what topics they would like to discuss. Most of the panelists replied with broad topics, such as, “afrofuturism, trauma, diaspora,” etc. We did not ask them to describe the topics, only to name them. So, while each topic was suggested by a potential panelist, the descriptions were written mostly by the program committee—which, yes, is comprised entirely of white people.
If my understanding is correct, it is not the program topics that are in question. It is the descriptions that are insensitive and offensive.
I want to be completely transparent that in June/July I was advised that I needed to ensure our program committee had more diversity for the insights and perspectives this would provide. I didn’t ignore the advice. I tried to recruit people of color for the programming committee, but my recruitment attempts failed. I don’t blame those who I invited—putting on a convention is a lot of work with no pay and little recognition. Other con-running tasks demanded my focus, so I did not continue trying to recruit new members for the programming committee, though I certainly should have. I also didn’t give the attention to the program that I should have. This was a huge mistake, one that makes me wish for an H.G. Wells time machine so I could have a do-over. But that’s science fiction; reality demands I try to rectify the mistake now.
Also, Chris M. Barkley, one of the people who consulted on the program changes, has written a column about his participation, “Crisis Point: The 2020 World Fantasy Convention”, which includes examples of the feedback he gave and recommendations he made.
Another consultant, Christine Taylor-Butler, offered her perspective of the larger picture in a comment on File 770 yesterday:
Ginny has worked pretty hard on this and I know – having done this in the past – that you will give up a year or more of your life in planning. So to have to shift to a virtual conference on short notice, renegotiate hotel contracts you may not get reimbursed for (one organization I’m associated with lost thousands of dollars in cancelled contracts) is terrifying. Worse, that a handful of members use their own perspectives to create an environment that shifts the balance to their own views is worse. How is this different than what is going on in our political landscape. It’s not about compromise, it’s about destruction and “my way or the high way” mentality.
Cons are not populated by a single person. I am part of the BIPOC community and while there are many things to be angry about (215,000 people dead from a preventable virus for starts, millions out of work and can’t pay bills is another) – this isn’t one that rises to this level of vitriol. The descriptions and titles were easily fixed. The hurt and outrage and psychological damage from the methodology used to complain about the volunteers is not.
In planning a conference I’ve learned you can’t please everyone. I’m planning on going and I’m planning on bringing friends with me – virtually.