FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention Sharply Criticized for Handling of Anti-harassment Complaint

Best-selling author Shannon Hale (Princess Academy, Ever After High) received wide support today when she said on Twitter that FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention violated her privacy by posting a message she had sent them that included her email address.

Here is a screencap of the convention’s tweet (with the email address blacked out).

The Salt Lake Tribune has been following the original harassment complaint story for the past few weeks. They reported on May 6, “After complaint, Utah author Richard Paul Evans is among many reflecting on when and how to hug”. However, they soon learned Evans and unnamed others had been dropped as guests (May 8): “Utah author Richard Paul Evans among guests not invited back to FanX, as convention faces pressure to write anti-harassment policy”

Several celebrity guests, including Utah author Richard Paul Evans, won’t be invited back to FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention in September, as event organizers deal with accusations of sexual harassment at past conventions.

FanX officials sent an email Tuesday to members of an authors’ group, telling them the convention is updating its harassment polices and has decided “to not invite back at this time several guests,” The Salt Lake Tribune has learned. The writers have posted an online petition demanding a firm policy against harassment.

FanX co-founders Dan Farr and Bryan Brandenburg posted a modified version of the email on a private Facebook group for the event’s regular panelists. Once they have received input from panelists, the organizers said, they plan to post an updated harassment policy publicly. FanX has acknowledged its policy focuses on attendees, and not celebrities and panelists.

The Facebook message does not mention that anyone would not be invited back for panels, book signings or other convention events.

“Generally, there are some people who are not coming back, whether it was a mutual decision or whether we’ve decided not to have them back,” Farr said Tuesday. “We don’t maintain a blacklist, or anything like that.”

When asked if FanX is investigating accusations of harassment, Farr replied, “We’re always reviewing information as it comes in.”

The email sent to the authors said FanX is creating a committee to “further investigate any allegations,” and said it has been looking into “specific issues” since its last show.

Though FanX will not discuss specific cases, Farr said one person who has agreed to stay away this fall is Evans, known for such sentimental tales as “The Christmas Box” and the science-fiction “Michael Vey” series. Evans has been accused of inappropriate behavior after a panel at last September’s Salt Lake Comic Con (now called FanX). A woman complained to FanX officials, but has not made her name public.

While the press developed the story about the complaint and the way it was being handled, the convention organizers announced a new “FanX® Salt Lake Comic Convention™ Anti-Harassment Policy”.

However, convention co-founder Bryan Brandenburg reacted to the pressure by making the unguarded remarks to author Hale quoted above.

The Salt Lake Tribune summarized the exchange — “A popular Utah author criticized how FanX has responded to harassment complaints. It invited her to ‘sit this one out’ and published her private email.”.

Best-selling author Shannon Hale and other writers, troubled by how FanX organizers have reacted to allegations that a recurring guest repeatedly touched a female author without her consent, have been considering whether to appear at the convention in September. On Monday, Hale wrote to co-founder Bryan Brandenburg about her continuing doubts.

Brandenburg responded in part: “Maybe it is best that you sit this one out and then wait to hear how it went. I don’t think there is anything we can say to convince you to come and quite frankly I’m not willing to try. I know in my heart that we take this seriously and I don’t think you get it. I have four daughters and I’ve been sensitive to these issues for decades, long before it became trendy with #metoo.”

Hale took a screenshot of the reply and posted it to Twitter, where it drew dozens of furious responses — further fueling debate over the convention’s attempts to develop and promote a new anti-harassment policy while defending what Brandenburg describes as a fun environment of touch.

“John Barrowman will gladly hold your buttocks in your Photo Op. … Stephen Amell will hug you tight at his signing booth,” he assured fans on Facebook last week, while sharing the new policy.

By changing the subject to touch explicitly requested by fans, Hale said, FanX organizers are blurring the conversation about consent and minimizing women’s experiences of harassment. FanX should work on building a culture that gives guests confidence that harassment is not tolerated — but it’s doing the opposite, she said.

On Monday, FanX’s official account tweeted an image of the email Hale had sent to them, including her private email address. It later deleted the post.

Another good resource for this story is Ally Condie’s Twitter thread, which includes analysis, screencaps, and links to articles. The thread starts here:

Her thread includes these comments:

Bryan Brandenburg has now posted an apology on Facebook (May 21):

Public Apology:

I made multiple mistakes in handling the report of harassment at our event. I was insensitive to people that were communicating to me about this issue. It was me and me alone that responded to one of the people involved and I handled it terribly. I am so sorry. I wish I could take it back but I can’t. I was wrong, I made more than one mistake, and it was a very painful lesson. I’m ashamed that I didn’t handle it better and I hope that I can be forgiven. I’m so sorry that I came across like I did. Please forgive me.

All day authors have been tweeting support for Shannon Hale. (Most of these are Twitter threads which can be accessed by clicking on the timestamp.)

Utah author Howard Tayler supports the grievances:

Justine Larbalestier empathized —

Author Brendan Reichs opined that the convention had failed to live up to the confidentiality promised by its new anti-harassment policy.

The section of the “FanX® Salt Lake Comic Convention™ Anti-Harassment Policy” Reichs has in mind says —

CONFIDENTIALITY

FanX® Salt Lake Comic Convention will make every reasonable effort to protect the confidentiality of all parties involved in investigations of alleged harassment, intimidation, or discrimination. However, confidentiality is not absolute, and those with a legitimate business reason to know and be informed of the allegations will be informed. All parties in the investigation should treat the matter with discretion and respect for the reputations of all involved.

The FanX® Salt Lake Comic Convention Anti-Harassment policy prohibits retaliation against any member of the community for reporting harassment, intimidation, or discrimination. The sanctions for retaliation are the same as sanctions for any other form of harassment listed here.

And Reichs is among those who have cancelled their plans to appear at the con.

So is Gwenda Bond:

Dan Wells issued a warning:

Daniel Jose Older wrote:

As noted above, the convention has deleted the post containing Hale’s email address.

Update 05/21/2018: FanX has posted an expanded apology: “A Message from Bryan Brandenburg”.

I would like to apologize to Shannon Hale for the events that happened on Twitter today, and my overall handling of the reports of harassment from our last event. In an overly emotional state, I took to social media in response to a tweet that quoted an email exchange between the two of us. In doing so, I didn’t notice my screenshot still contained her personal email. This was overlooked and not meant maliciously.

I felt my comments were taken out of context from the original email exchange, and I responded hastily and inappropriately. I deeply regret sending the original email and the tweets that followed.

In response to my poorly chosen words about the #metoo movement being “trendy”, I came off insensitive to people’s pain, and I am sorry. After today’s events, I admit that I am not fully aware or educated about the importance of the #metoo movement, and this is something I am actively working to change. I need to improve on listening and making people feel validated.

Everyone working at FanX, including Dan and I, are still learning how to communicate about this serious and very important topic and to understand the sensitivity and different perspectives that come along with it. As a team, we want to learn how to do better.

Moving forward, our goal is to create a safe environment for everyone. Training for staff will happen within the next 90 days, so we are equipped to handle sexual harassment and assault reports. Our new harassment policy now includes instructions on how to report an incident anonymously or in person. It also clearly states the sanctions that will be taken when a report comes in.

The harassment policy also includes more defined behavior expectations for our attendees, guests, agents, cosplayers, panelists, moderators, staff, vendors, vendor models, and volunteers. Consent is key. These improvements would not have happened without your voice.

28 thoughts on “FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention Sharply Criticized for Handling of Anti-harassment Complaint

  1. Too little, too late. It took them 3 weeks to put that out?

    There’s no excuse for posting her email address, about any topic.

    Fire Brandenburg and borrow an anti-harassment policy from a con which has a clue.

  2. If Brandenburg understood what he did wrong, he’d be resigning for the good of the con.

    He doesn’t, and FanX doesn’t care.

  3. I hadn’t an inkling about this until someone posted it to Arisia slack a couple of hours ago. Nasty. I hope they learn from this, but they sure have a long way to go.

  4. Hmmm, uhhh, yeah.

    And, if the snippet posted by the newspaper is accurate, the convention is also encouraging harassment of authors/celebrities by attendees:

    ‘… “John Barrowman will gladly hold your buttocks in your Photo Op. … Stephen Amell will hug you tight at his signing booth,” he assured fans on Facebook last week, while sharing the new policy.

    By changing the subject to touch explicitly requested by fans, Hale said, FanX organizers are blurring the conversation about consent and minimizing women’s experiences of harassment. …’

  5. Anyone else notice this part in the extended “apology”?

    After today’s events, I admit that I am not fully aware or educated about the importance of the #metoo movement, and this is something I am actively working to change. I need to improve on listening and making people feel validated.

    #metoo is not a difficult concept. It’s not hard to grok. All one needs to do is recognize that people are individuals who get the final say on who gets to touch/proposition them and how, rather than playthings to be pawed at the whim of anyone who feels like it.

    Speaking of feelings, check that last sentence: “I need to improve on listening” (so far, so good) “and making people feel validated.” Not actually taking them seriously, mind – just making them feel like he is. Dude, real talk – put the shovel down!

    BTW, I wonder if any of those who’ve been clamoring for cons to suffer disinvitation penalties are going to step forward with demands that the guests who are noping out of this shitshow should reimburse the convention for any funds it has spent in expectation of their presence. I ain’t holdin’ my breath…

  6. @Rev. Bob: my thoughts exactly. If “don’t harass people” is too difficult a concept for him, someone else should be in charge of responding to harassment complaints.

  7. The one thing I find really disingenuous is that in the conventions doxing-tweet, they had edited out the most incriminating part of the mail to Hale, i.e the one you can see at the top of Hale’s first tweet in the article above.

  8. Rev. Bob: FanX, going by the articles I read this afternoon, has made a complaint-driven response. Which is a sign of people who don’t have consistent values, and are bound to get into trouble trying to do just enough to neutralize criticism, never really embracing that there is a problem or having a desire to fix it.

  9. @ Hampus Exactly. Both dishonest and stupid, they know other copies of the email exist.

  10. First he says that he has cared about sexual harassment issues since before it became “trendy” (the #MeToo movement). Then he says he’s not fully aware of the importance of the movement. Seems to me if he was really that attentive to the importance of sexual harassment for so very long (before #MeToo became an active conversation) then he would have immediately seen the importance of the #MeToo movement as soon as it began without needing further education.

  11. rcade – Worse than that, he announced a new anti-harassment policy that promised an environment of requiring their guests to touch whenever they’re asked to.

  12. Yes. If Stephen Amell does not feel like hugging or John Barrowman decides he won’t grab buttocks today that is their right too and being paid to do photo ops with fans does not waive their rights to decline kindly.

  13. Welp, that policy of touch required if ssked is probably the stupidest thing I’ve seen all year and it’s not even June.

  14. Every person who runs a SF/F convention needs to be educated on how to draft an anti-harassment policy and properly handle harassment complaints. Whether they learn this kind of thing at SMOFcon or someplace else, it is critical to avoiding the kind of long-term reputational damage that FanX is doing to itself by how it has treated people since complaints arose.

    One thing I wish cons would to is designate one person to speak for the organization about harassment policies or a reported incident. When something becomes a controversy and multiple con organizers speak out, it seems like there’s always at least one who does what Bryan Brandenburg is doing here and makes things worse, by demonstrating insensitivity or indifference to the problem, criticizing people who made a complaint or committing some other gaffe.

    This person should also be the only one making an official statement on social media.

  15. @rcade: It is also critically important that it is the right someone or someones who work on handling harassment or similar complaints, or speaks for the organisation.

    Having someone who lacks empathy, good judgment, or knowledge in charge of these issues means the organisation is set up for disaster.

  16. “We won’t allow the fans to grope, but we’ll require the pros to!”

    Yay?

    These people couldn’t find a clue if they wandered into the clue field in the middle of clue mating season covered in clue pheromones, yelling “Here, clue!”

    I keep reading FanX as FauX. My eyeballs apparently can commit Freudian slips.

  17. Dear Lurker,

    Guffaw!!!

    Clue fields? Clue pheronomones???

    As in

    “And tiptoe through the clue-lips with me ”

    or perhaps

    “But when I kissed a cop down on Thirty-Fourth and Vine, he broke my little bottle of…
    … Clue Potion Number Nine”

    pax / Ctein

  18. Yet SO MANY white men* in my life have entirely failed to harass me. Amazing, isn’t it? It’s like it’s NOT HARD or something. The awesome men I know just make it look EASY to tell the difference between a mutually agreed upon hug or backrub and an unasked for groping. And on the rare occasion when a cue was misread and a hug or kiss was not supposed to happen, or a friendly joke slipped a bridge too far, they *learn* and *don’t do it again*. It’s like communication and respect are possible for normal people.

    * and non white men, and women… *I* qualify as one of the ones who committed an act of sexual harassment, grabbing a guy in a way unasked. Apologized. Will never do it again. Won’t pretend it didn’t happen because if I do I might also forget the lesson not to do it.

  19. Chris R: The pro whose actions set this conversation off has commented in interviews. Speaking of “I can’t even”

    SL Trib: In an interview that aired Tuesday on KUTV-Channel 2, Evans told reporter Chris Jones that “there is a war on men, and that men — white men in particular — are under attack, oppressed by a changing culture, victims of an extremist feminist agenda.”

    Oh, great, so he’s an MRA in spirit if not in name. 🙄

     
    SL Trib: Evans told The Tribune he is “repulsed” by the accusations, adding that, in the 2017 incident, the woman misinterpreted his friendliness.

    I don’t know how “you’re touching me without my permission, and I don’t want you touching me” can possibly be a “misinterpretation” of anything.

    This guy needs a cluehammer.

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