Two-time Hugo nominated fanwriter Mark Oshiro (Mark Watches Star Trek), ConQuesT’s Fan Guest of Honor in 2015, has publicly aired on Facebook his grievances about the racism, sexual harassment, and abuse he experienced at the con after working within the con’s complaint process produced no action.
In light of what I’ll reveal at the end, I find it more important than ever to talk about the persistent and pervasive racial and sexual abuse/harassment I was the victim of at ConQuesT because I did everything I was told to do in the event that I was harassed. I reported most of the events you’ll see described below, and I did not do so anonymously. I stuck my name on every incident report, partly because I was not afraid, but mostly because I wanted things to change. If putting my name on a report ensured that a better community could be built from my actions, then I felt it was worth it.
Alas, that does not seem to be the case.
ConQuesT is held annually over Memorial Day Weekend in Kansas City. The three-paragraph Behavior policy in effect at last year’s con began with clear expectations:
ConQuesT is committed to offering a convention experience as free from harassment as we can make it for our members, regardless of characteristics such as gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, age, race, religion, nationality, or social class. We do not tolerate harassment of convention participants in any form. ConQuesT attendees violating these rules may be sanctioned or expelled from the convention without a refund, at the discretion of the convention organizers.
Before suffering any violations of the con’s behavior policy, Oshiro’s weekend as ConQuesT 46 Fan Guest of Honor got off to a rocky start because of poor hospitality. He was due a comp room but had to use his own card to register ‘til the committee straightened that out. The room was in the hotel’s secondary tower. He and his friend (now partner) were driven to a restaurant for the guest of honor dinner, but were not seated at the chairperson’s table with the rest of the GoH’s (George R.R. Martin, Nene Thomas, Brandon Sanderson, and Toastmaster Selina Rosen). At the end of the meal they were asked to pay, another mistake that had to be fixed. Oshiro says there were added reasons for his sensitivity about these problems.
As a brief aside, I wanted to provide some emotional context to this. Baize and I were the only people of color in this entire group, and both of us are gay. I’ve struggled my whole life with reading situations to see if I’m actually being discriminated against, and the fear that that had happened to us was particularly strong that whole dinner. We are both part of marginalized communities that had very little representation in this group, and it became impossible not to consider the possibility that we were treated differently because of it.
At Oshiro’s first program item he was sexually harassed – by the con’s toastmaster.
I was moderating a panel titled, “Are Fans More Open Minded?” The panel progressed wonderfully for about ten minutes before it was derailed and then never made it back to normal. Early into the panel, someone in the audience made a joke about the panelist Selina Rosen, who sat next to me on my left and was ALSO a Guest of Honor at the convention. They called her a princess, and in response, she stood up and pulled her pants down to her ankles. For the next few minutes, Selina, wearing nothing but men’s boxers, proceeded to periodically rub her bare leg against mine. At first, I thought she was merely bumping me, but she kept doing it, over and over, and if I looked at her while she was doing it, she would make a face at me.
I texted Keri O’Brien, the Vice Chair for the convention, and told her that Selina had taken off her pants again. (She had done so at ConQuesT 45.) Within a few minutes, Selina had pulled her pants back up and Keri arrived and pulled Selina out of the room. Selina returned, and she made the bulk of the remainder of the panel about how fandom was NOT open-minded because someone had reported her for removing her pants. Multiple things happened in response to this. In a strange sign of solidarity, another panelist, Robin Wayne Bailey, removed his OWN shirt and kept talking about his nice body and his big muscles. Selina tried to grill multiple members of the audience to determine if they had been the ones to report her, even going so far as to yell at anyone who chose to leave the room, accusing them of being a “rat.”
(Tiffany Robbins saw Rosen’s act in 2014 and wrote in ConQuesT 45: 10 Things I Learned From Selina Rosen – “8. Sometimes, it’s okay to pull your pants down to your ankles in a public setting.”)
Then Oshiro described how, later that night at a room party in the main hotel, his partner Baize was sexually and racially harassed. (The full text of Oshiro’s post appears below, following the jump.)
On Sunday he was the moderator on a panel titled, “Erasure is Not Equality” and had this experience:
This panel was specifically about the erasure of people of color in historical fiction, fantasy, and other genres. I was the only person on the panel who was not white. Furthermore, not one person on the panel seemed to understand the point of the panel, which was to talk about erasure. Instead, the conversation teetered between self-righteous back-patting and flat-out racism. Within the first five minutes of the start of the panel, I brought up a topic for us to discuss: how “historical accuracy” is often poorly used as a defense of the erasure of people of color. One panelist, Chris Gerrib, then began to talk about how people misunderstood history. The “Indian” people in Central America were already busy “killing each other” by the time the Spaniards arrived. When I asked for clarification, Gerrib confirmed that he believed that the Spaniards were “unfairly blamed” for the genocide of the indigenous cultures in Central America. I was so horrified by his continued talk of this ahistorical point that, after very little conversation, I asked that we change topic.
This set a tone for the remainder of the panel, which was easily the worst panel I have ever been a part of. All three of the white panelists confidently stated things that were simply not true; each of them kept saying “Indian” when they actually meant Native American or indigenous; every few minutes, more than half the audience was viscerally horrified by what the other panelists said. At one point, Jan Gephardt derailed the panel into talking about women instead of race and said that she was “happy to see any sort of women, like black or white or green.” Gerrib then chimed in with, “Or purple.” She also responded to a lengthy point that myself and an audience member made about the physical and emotional injury that can come from experiencing racism by reminding us that “racism is not real” because race “is just a social construct.” During a different conversation about how many authors mistakenly blur the line between different cultural groups, Chris Gerrib jokingly said, “Did you know that the Japanese aren’t the same as the Chinese?” Jan’s response? The Japanese and Chinese just think they’re different in their heads. She heavily implied that they were mistaken in this belief.
Oshiro told about several other disturbing comments on the panel. And he outlined another harassing experience he had at a fireworks viewing party. That night, he reported all of these incidents to committee members Keri O’Brien and Jesi Pershing.
They were both incredibly professional and sympathetic to myself and Baize, and I have nothing negative to say about that specific experience. They did exactly as they should: they made the two of us feel better, and they were very thorough in getting details about all of the above experiences. I was asked what I wanted done. I did not recommend that anyone get kicked out or un-invited for future years. I simply wanted two things:
1) That those I reported not be allowed on programming that triggered such a terrible response in them. (That was mostly in regards to the “Erasure is Not Equality” panel. A panel about race should not have one lone person of color on it.)
2) That someone tell these people that there’d been a report made about their behavior and that they should not behave in a way to make people feel so upset and unwanted.
I was realistic about what I wanted. You can’t make everything a teaching moment, and some people might not want to learn. But I needed someone to tell each of these people that their actions made someone else feel terribly unwelcome at the convention. I just wanted the conversation to be started.
Oshiro completed about seven incident reports and signed them.
I was told that the concom would discuss them, and that, at the very least, some action would be taken, either a notification about their behavior and a warning, OR people would not be invited back for programming in the future.
Months went by. Jesi Pershing, in her official capacity as part of the concom, would give me periodic updates. Sometimes, if I saw her at another con, I would ask her what the status of my reports were. She had recommended specific courses of action in response to my incident reports, and [convention chair Kristina Hiner] seemed to agree to them. But last month, she finally told me that, nearly eight months after I’d reported multiple people, ConQuesT and Kristina Hiner had done absolutely nothing with my reports.
In contrast, at another convention where he experienced a problem, the committee immediately resolved his complaint:
Harassment is unfortunately a part of my experience at SF/F conventions. Not at all of them, but at most of them, something happens to me. I’m an outspoken queer Latinx, and it’s inevitable. However, since ConQuesT, every con staff that I’ve had to make a report to has dealt with my report quickly and fairly. At ConFusion this year, the concom dealt with my incident report in two hours. Meaning they spoke to the person and that person apologized to my face within two hours.
Oshiro recognized that ConQuesT was not going to take action, and decided it was time to go public.
And a month ago, after she told Oshiro about the committee’s inaction, Jesi Pershing left the committee, as she explained today on Facebook:
Shortly after the ConQuesT 2015 ended, I typed up the incident reports I had taken, along with my recommended follow-up for each incident, and passed them along to the chair. My understanding was that she agreed with the actions I recommended, and that the Board did as well. The actions I recommended either needed to come from the Chair or Board, or required certain decisions to be made by the Chair or Board before I could enact them. This is where things stalled out. I heard that the Chair and Board agreed with what I had recommended…and then I basically heard nothing.
I inquired several times, both in email and in person, over the next several months, as to where things stood, whether anything had been done, what the hold up was. At one point, it was expressed to me that the Chair was wondering, since we hadn’t done anything by now (I believe this was about four months after the con), should we even bother at this point? To which I gave an emphatic “YES” and was once again under the impression that action would be taken. It never was.
As Mark relates in his post, he was asking me for updates during this time. I let him know that a course of action had been agreed upon on (early on in the process when I thought that action being agreed upon meant action would be taken), and then, as time went on, I would have to tell him that, no, to my knowledge, nothing had been done. Still nothing. Still nothing.
In January, I had a sudden lightning bolt epiphany that, if nothing had happened up to this point, nothing was going to happen. I let Mark know that, in my opinion, the con was never going to take action on his reports, and that I was stepping down from the committee.
Combating harassment in our community is an issue that is very important to me – I’ve worked on writing and implementing Codes of Conduct at multiple conventions. When I take on a role like this at a convention, I feel that I am making a promise – a promise that complaints will be taken seriously and that, if warranted, action will be taken. I cannot work for a con that has made me break that promise, which is why I stepped down from the committee.
Keri O’Brien, who has stayed on as the 2016 ConQuesT chairperson, made this comment on Oshiro’s Facebook post:
I have never felt comfortable talking from the perspective of a whole group of people. That is not something I think I can easily do here. I am also the current chair of ConQuesT in Kansas City. A good friend of mine, Mark Oshiro, told his story today. This needed to happen I feel. There were some horrible things that happened last year and they did not get the attention they deserved. This post is part apology. Mark Oshiro and Baize Latif White should not have found out 9 months later that nothing had happened. This was a mistake, a terrible one. Caused by a series of miscommunications over the course of those months. The reasons are not as important as the hurt the mistake and miscommunication caused. ConQuesT is a very old convention but has only very very recently instated any sort of behavior policy. ConQuesT 46 was one of the first years that formal reports were taken in under this system. It was not handled well, at all. But this does not mean that it cannot learn from those mistakes. As chair for this year, it is my responsibility to ensure that any reports taken at con are dealt with in ways that respect our membership and our policies. Thank you for taking the time to read this, Keri O’Brien
O’Brien is just one of hundreds of fans who left comments on Oshiro’s Facebook page. Among them was Chris Gerrib who set out to apologize, only getting it right on the second try after Oshiro answered his first attempt, “I don’t se an apology here.” Gerrib wrote in his initial comment:
Since I was mentioned by name in the original post, I feel I should respond. I want to apologize. What I *intended* to say was that the Inca and Aztec empires were unpopular with other native tribes, and that the Spanish used that unpopularity to form an army with themselves at the head. I did not communicate that correctly, and I’m sorry. I don’t recall saying that the Spanish were unfairly blamed for anything, but if I said or implied otherwise I was wrong. Much of the current issues with Central and South America can be traced to bad Spanish decisions and/or conduct.
Then he followed up:
I am sorry you were miserable on the panel, and I’m sorry what I said caused that. My statement at the time was in error.
(Gerrib also discussed this at File 770 and in a similar comment on Vox Day’s post about Oshiro’s revelation.)
Other notable responses include K. Tempest Bradford’s “Expect More From Your Regional Convention”:
Kansas City fans have pointed out that it is the very essence of a local con. Most folks running it and putting people on panels know each other well and know the panelists. Robin Wayne Bailey is a local and, from what I can gather, a regular at that con. Selina Rosen, who pulled down her pants, is apparently a serial pants taker off-er at that very con. Yes, this is a small local con. That means it’s probably even easier for programming volunteers to know that they’ve staffed a panel about diversity and erasure with one person of color and a bunch of problematic white folks who are prone to undressing at the slightest provocation.
And Rachel Caine is calling upon audiences not to let things slide, in “Dear Regional SFF Conventions: Enough Already”
But you know what? It’s not necessarily the fault of the volunteers throwing conventions. Audiences and panelists must hold each other accountable if fandom is going to continue as it began. ConComs are not gods. They can’t vet moderators, they can’t interview panelists about every panel topic to see if they’re qualified. They are organizers of a show for which they don’t get paid, and while they do shoulder the burden for responding to bad behavior, WE are responsible for responding immediately to the bad behavior in the first place. (I have been guilty of letting things slide, of trying to play “can’t we all get along,” of not pushing myself hard enough to be articulate and responsible. And I’m sorry. If you see me falling short or saying dumbass things, stand up and say so. I will learn and grow as a person from that discussion.)
Surprisingly, Oshiro says he’s still going to the Worldcon in Kansas City this year.
Mark Oshiro gave general permission to share his Facebook post; the full text follows the jump.