A Harvest of Apologies

Ravaged by controversy for the past year, WisCon has made permanent its ban of Jim Frenkel. But while it was fixing that problem, its parent organization SF3 found something else WisCon needed to apologize for.

Jim Frenkel was the subject of a harassment complaint at WisCon 37 in 2013. Several attendees expressed surprise that he was back at WisCon 38 this May, where he was even allowed to volunteer in the con suite.

The ensuing social media protest led WisCon to provisionally ban Frenkel for up to four years, however, there were many complaints when people understood that meant Frenkel might be allowed back in the future. Foremost among them was Elise Matthesen, originator of the sexual harassment complaint, who went public on several sites in July about her dissatisfaction with “What Happened After I Reported”.

WisCon 37 and 38 committee members reviewed the decision and in August voted by an overwhelming majority to permanently ban Frenkel. They say —

This decision cannot be appealed. Jim Frenkel will not be allowed to return to any future WisCon conventions.

Meanwhile, on September 30, WisCon’s parent organization SF3 publicly apologized for their mishandling of a second harassment complaint, filed in 2013 by Rose Lemberg about FJ Bergmann.

The issues between the individuals preceded WisCon 36 (2012) but include the following incident, reported by Saira Ali:

At WisCon 36, F.J. Bergmann read a very harassing poem, “Meet and Marry a Gorgeous Russian Queen,” at a poetry open mic that Rose Lemberg organized, to celebrate the publication of her collection of feminist specfic poetry, The Moment of Change. The hostility towards Rose was so evident that it generated a 100+ email thread on a mailing list of spec poets.

Other history is detailed in the post.

It was after Lemberg and Bergmann found themselves on opposite sides of last year’s Frenkel controversy that Lemberg elected to file a harassment report against Bergmann because of what occurred at WisCon 36. Saira Ali continues:

This now brings me to 2013, and the harassment charges made against Jim Frenkel. At that time, Ms Bergmann publicly defended Mr Frenkel. Rose made a post about the situation, in which she spoke publicly for the first time about her harassment at Ms Bergmann’s hands in 2012. Victor Raymond, who had been a previous chair of safety at WisCon, encouraged her to file an official report with WisCon. Rose did so, in July of 2013. First she inquired about the process of filing a report, to which Ariel Franklin-Hudson and Piglet Evans replied quite promptly. Rose then filed her report.

Ali says Lemberg submitted her complaint in July 2013, and wrote again in December 2013 to ask why she’d heard nothing. Action was promised but in May 2014 inquiries brought a response that suggested the barest beginning had been made at dealing with her report. Its current status may be inferred from the September 22 post on WisCon’s blog inviting anyone with additional information about Lemberg’s report to submit it by next week:

We do have Rose Lemberg’s report, Saira Ali and Alex Dally MacFarlane’s open letter to WisCon, and WisCon’s other correspondence with Rose Lemberg, FJ Bergmann, Saira Ali, Alex Dally MacFarlane, and other witnesses. If you have additional statements or information, please email it to [email protected] by Monday, October 6.

That deadline falls the day after SF3’s annual meeting, where the group will consider a petition calling for greater accountability of WisCon committee members to the organization’s statement of principles.

“This is not a demand for everyone to adhere to some one true standard of feminist ideology. We believe in the importance of a diversity of opinions, and of everyone’s right to be heard. But we believe that the Convention Committee has, to date, not truly held one another accountable for what we say and do.” The undersigned propose to bring complaints of violations to the SF3 Board, which must then decide whether the member has indeed disregarded these ground rules, and if so, will select a consequence depending on frequency and severity of the transgression, including moderating that person’s emails to the wiscon-concom list, restricting participation in ConCom activities, restricting someone from volunteering in any capacity, and banning a person from WisCon entirely.

And also in advance of that meeting, on September 30, SF3 posted “An Apology” which says in part:

While this statement is being written per their request, the SF3 board would like to emphasize that it is genuinely sorry for Rose Lemberg’s pain being perpetuated by a seemingly unending tangle of bureaucratic lapses.

However, most of the “apology” is devoted to mourning the effect of these ongoing controversies on the WisCon committee.

A number of valued concom members have chosen to resign over the summer, including several past WisCon chairs. In addition, several other former chairs have decided to significantly reduce their work on WisCon. We recognize that chairing Wiscon is a difficult task, even with co-chairs, and that the responsibilities of chair and other high-responsibility positions need to be rethought. The concom is currently examining itself, and has begun work to replenish committee positions and to provide training or apprenticeships for prospective chairs.

Many fans are interested in how a convention with the aspirations of WisCon administers its safety policies, but WisCon’s performance has placed the convention itself in the crosshairs of public opinion to a degree that the alleged harassers are practically an afterthought.

1 thought on “A Harvest of Apologies

  1. Dateline October, 2018… Wiscon bans fandom from the convention, citing immature and unenlightened group behaviour as the reason for this permanent exclusion. Attendence of next years convention will be restricted to those who can furnish written proof they have had no contact with any known fan, fannish organization or fannish institution.

    Dateline 2019 … Wiscon attendance was 27. But the committee is confident that time is on their side, and that attendance the year after will be at least 34.

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