ASFF Award Name Announcement Raises Protests

The Australian Science Fiction Foundation, led by President Juliette A H Cavendish and Vice President Geoff Allshorn, debuted a rebranded and redesigned website on August 1. It included plans for a youth fiction award to be named after the late Bill Wright, a choice that a number of Australians immediately spoke against.

On the surface, Wright, who died in January, would seem to have the resume for a memorial honor by the ASFF. He was well-known as the Australian Science Fiction Foundation’s Awards Administrator for many years, a past DUFF delegate, and received the A. Bertram Chandler Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2017. For the ASFF he also established the Norma Hemming Award for Race, Gender, Sexuality, Class And Disability In Australian Speculative Fiction, and organized it for six years.

However, Wright, at a gathering 20 years ago, said in the presence of several hearers that while touring overseas he had paid for sex with children. It was hard to believe any award would be named for him, much less one aimed at youth.

Andrew Macrae and Ian Mond were among the people who heard Wright make this statement at the gathering.

Macrae said on Twitter:

And Ian Mond confirmed to File 770, “I was in the same room that Andrew was in. We heard it at the same time along with four others who I won’t name.”

Terry Frost tweeted to ASFF on the basis of something heard on another occasion:

And yet the ASFF leadership not only responded with disbelief, they threatened one of those who spoke out with legal action (a person, not named above, who promptly removed what she had written online about the issue).

The Foundation also posted on their website yesterday that they are “seeking legal advice” – a statement which has since been taken down:

“The ASFF Is currently seeking legal advice over social media attacks yesterday and today, concerning our positive awards relaunch. The online comments have been serious enough for us to cease all ASFF activities whilst legal advice is being sought. We will be taking immediate legal action if the advice is to do so. We apologise to all of our members for this pause in our activities. Those members who were involved are being blocked from all future ASFF activities and have been reported to FB for hate speech. Social media Is not the place to instigate vile attacks, make unsubstantiated comments nor undertake ‘mob attacks’ on others. The comments made are very serious and it is highly inappropriate to use a public Facebook platform to discuss them. Further public comments made solely about the ASFF which are derogatory in nature will be immediately reported to our legal team. Don’t believe everything you read Is my advice. Social media Is a poor playing field for the truth and many people use it as a cheap way to hurt others and cause distress. If you have any questions concerning the integrity of the ASFF please email us. We are more than happy to discuss matters. [email protected] There appears to be a single person who instigates these attacks against the ASFF publicly and we do not know why, as she is not a member of the ASFF. Despite knowing that she is causing distress and upset to others, she has continued this attack for twenty-four hours, inciting hate speech against an individual and defaming the integrity of the ASFF. Despite us reaching out and asking her to cease, she has continued. We have reached out to those involved and no apologies have been offered, despite the hurt they are collectively causing. I imagine they will also mock this message, such is their lack of insight into their actions and obvious lack of empathy. I am disappointed that all the work we have done to relaunch the ASFF has been seriously undermined by a group of nasty individuals, most of whom have not asked for any clarification for things that they are commenting on. Imagine. A world without hate. Imagine the truth.”

But today the ASFF appeared to have rolled back their plans for naming the award. As of this writing, their website features a page about the Short Story Writing Competition without any reference to Wright. Ian Mond commented on Twitter:

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20 thoughts on “ASFF Award Name Announcement Raises Protests

  1. What in the world? This is not the way for an SF organization to handle a situation like this. Apparently, they deleted their Twitter account for a short time. (That might explain why they have just 10 followers on Twitter as of now…)

    They are also responding by adding new rules to their official Facebook group. They claim they are protecting against “hate speech.” Of course, they are thoroughly abusing the phrase “hate speech.” I don’t know if this is new but their rules include, “Hate speech about the ASFF or members will not be tolerated. We block all members who defame.” I suggest they get a better dictionary. And perhaps pay attention to what all members are saying.

    Threatening legal action against your own members in a situation like this is a bad look.

    By the way, do NOT search for ASFF on Twitter. The acronym will bring up lots of (ahem) unwanted, unrelated, and graphic results.

  2. Anne Marble: Yes, those graphic results were a surprise, and not a pleasant one.

  3. Commenting here to say that I believe the people who spoke out. They shared their personal experience of what they had heard Mr Wright say in the company of witnesses. Valid criticism is not hate speech. It’s disappointing to see that phrase misused so badly by an organisation who claim to represent a wider community.

    There is a reason that so many awards in recent years have chosen to move away from the tradition of naming after a single person (whose real life story may well prove to be problematic under scrutiny).

    The ASFF should be grateful these community members spoke up when they did, giving them the chance to address their error now, instead of years down the line.

  4. @Andrew Porter – These “allegations” have been circulating for years in Australian fandom and, as noted in this article, Bill’s proclivities have been substantiated by more than one first-hand account. Just because no one told you about them doesn’t mean that they aren’t true.

  5. JaniceG: For some reason it also occurs to me that when people have decided not to make public something they heard, they don’t go and tell it to the editor of one of the field’s leading newzines.

  6. I’m rather skeptical that Bill Wright, or anybody else, would admit to being a pedophile in casual conversation. I think it is much more likely those who think he did simply misheard or misunderstood. I know that can happen because I have seen someone slander another with false accusations, but genuinely believe their own accusations. I have seen people take deep offense at things said that were meant in an entirely different way. I have seen people imagine things that never happened the way they remember them happening. There are occasions where I’ve been sure something happened one way, but I’ve later found out my memory was completely wrong.

  7. It doesn’t matter wether the allegations are true or not. Anybody considering an award for YA fiction should a) have done their due diligence and known it before hand (and chosen a different name just to be on the safe side); b) once the issue was raised, SHUT UP and investigate; c) most certainly not threatened retaliatory legal action against the people who raised it.
    This whole board has to go.

  8. Pedophiles groom communities as much as they do individuals. They’re often helpful in communities because they’re building human shields against the possibility of being revealed.

    Not only did I speak to Bill Wright about his proclivities, when I sarcastically asked him if he’d been to Thailand lately but I’ve noticed other subtler behaviours that indicate he wasn’t the man he purported to be. Believe it, don’t believe it, your choice, people. The necessary change has been done and people have spoken their truth.

    Also, a network of former DUFF winners and others communicated carefully with American fans to alert them to BW’s statements before his DUFF trip. This matter isn’t just a 2022 flash in the pan. It’s been in the community for decades.

  9. I’m amazed that people say the board should just know something they don’t know and that not knowing was their fault. That’s an absurdity. Also when people say they should have heeded what appeared to be baseless and scurrilous accusations, that seems weird.

    Have people so quickly forgotten the witchhunts of the 1980s, where thousands of people were baselessly accused of rape and murder of children? Many described, in great detail, first-hand, eye-witness accounts of these events, sending many people to prison for years. Later, after families were torn apart and people’s lives were destroyed, it was found to be all completely baseless — false memories and hysteria.

    Ian Mond, I’m sure you honestly believe you didn’t mishear or misunderstand, but can you see how unconvincing it is to merely say that? As I said earlier I have seen people accused of things that were absolutely impossible, with the accuser genuinely believing it, even after the impossibility was pointed out to them. And I have been absolutely certain of my memory of things that I later found out were not as I thought.

    From the point of view of those restarting the ASFF, can you see how these assertions sound empty and malicious? They know many SF people — writers, fans, filmmakers, artists, yet nobody had mentioned any such proclivities of Bill Wright. Now that he is dead a couple of people pop up to malign his memory. You can see how they might feel that if it was genuine it would have been brought up years ago. I totally understand that the ASFF would threaten legal action to stop people inflaming hate and anger while they try to get to the bottom of it.

    I’m sure if someone spread awful rumors about someone you thought highly of, you would not just dump that person and instantly agree with those accusing them. You would try to stop the immediate haemorrhage of hate and investigate. Or would you? Would you just abandon an admired friend on the basis of someone’s say-so?

    Mostly, I wish people would just soft-pedal a bit. Don’t just jump up and scream “Witch!” hysterically and condemn the ASFF folks who have put a lot of time and effort into trying to do something good. If someone has genuine evidence of wrongdoing then they should absolutely come forward and share that information. But please be aware that a vague statement that someone heard something many years ago is not really evidence.

    I know one person who is so overwhelmed by the hate and vitriol from this episode that they have told me they’re giving up on the SF community, which is a terrible shame because they’ve worked tirelessly to do an amazing amount of good for the community over many decades.

  10. Australian libel laws are incredibly draconian and truth is not a defence in these laws.

    Anyone who spoke up while BW was above ground opened themselves up to the possibility of crippling legal bills.

    Don’t assume people in different cultures have the same reasons for doing what they do.

  11. @Miriam English – In addition to what Terry said about strict libel laws while Bill was still alive:

    ** The reason people are speaking up now is not because Bill is now gone and they spontaneously decided to “malign his memory” but because naming an award for youth fiction after someone known to be a pedophile is extremely inappropriate.

    ** More than one person heard Bill directly confirm his proclivities.

    ** This is not even remotely the same as cases of false memories in children.

    ** The ASFF was told in private that this was a bad idea and the reason why. They chose to ignore that information and instead started railing about hate speech and negativity. They could have investigated this entire episode quietly but chose not to do so.

  12. @Miriam English, If the last two decades have taught us anything, it is that abusers turn multiple faces to the world. A person can be kind and generous and funny to a wide selection of friends, and also be a sexual exploiter. Consider how many priests who were beloved pillars of the community have proven to be sexual abusers of children. Consider the people coming forward in Hollywood to say, “Actually, Harvey Weinstein said he’d destroy my career if I slept with him, and I didn’t, and he did.”

    Why don’t people come forward sooner? Because they think they won’t be believed. Because they think they will be blamed. Because they think nothing useful will come of it.

    Bill Wright can have been an excellent man in your presence, and in the presence of your friends, and yet have confessed to pedophilia in the presence of a different set of people. People don’t have a single unitary facade, guaranteeing that a villain is always identifiable by their manners in all contexts.

    The people you are describing as vague and unconvincing have been precise about what they heard Bill Wright saying. Perhaps one person might have misheard them, but multiple people?

  13. Miriam English on August 4, 2022 at 4:54 pm said:
    I’m amazed that people say the board should just know something they don’t know and that not knowing was their fault. That’s an absurdity.

    No, it’s due diligence. When you decide to give somebody’s name to an award, it behooves the people who are pondering the idea to ask around, see how many people feel it would be a good idea, how many people tell you that actually no, sorry to break it to you but there was another side to that person, and so on.

    I remember vividly the satanic panic. We had one in Italy not so long ago. But one of the many differences is that in one case there are stories of delivering a baby that was sacrificed to Satan, when the person is found to have no medical sign to have ever been pregnant; and in the other case there are four witnesses, adults and sober, to a conversation regarding child prostitution, a thing that exists and happens. So the accusation is not baseless.

    I am frankly puzzled by the fact the you doubt the memory of four witnesses that say they heard somebody admit to having had sex with children. Yes, false memories happen; but they are of the variety “I was lost in a mall when I was five”, not “I heard person X say Y”, when there are other people who heard the same thing.

    You will remember the Savile scandal. The thing is, people knew what he was up to. But the few victims that spoke up believed they were alone, and ended up doubting that anybody would believe them, because it was their word against his. It was only when they realised that there were others who had the same experience that they stopped doubting.

  14. From the Arts Law Centre of Australia:
    “It is a complete defence to a defamation action if you can prove the material published was true in substance or not materially different from the truth. A ‘complete defence’ means that even if an imputation is found to be defamatory, the publisher is not liable.”

    I don’t know exactly how the ASFF folks responded. I’ll ask them to find out. However, knowing some of them personally, they’ve not struck me as the type to be stampeded into incautious and outrageous behavior.

    Actually, this is extremely similar to the Moral Panic of the 1980s: people made awful claims against others that demand action be taken without proof, and it is fuelled by emotional hysteria that clouds rather than clarifies the issue.

    Janice, you are already assuming that he really was a pedophile. Your certainty is based on what? People who said it was so. But, was Bill Wright really a pedophile. I don’t know, and neither do you. But if he wasn’t then you are participating in something very wrong.

    People make mistakes in what they hear. It happens every day. As I mentioned before, I’ve been surprised to find out my memory of an event was totally wrong. I’m sure this has happened to each of you before too.

    Did Bill Wright say he adores children? Or did he say he has sex with children. One is a normal thing to say (though dangerous in the current day of pedophile witchhunts). The other is something that a pedophile might say… though I expect, only to other pedophiles.

  15. Did anyone see Jimmy Savile raping children and helpless adults?

    We owe the dead nothing but the truth. “Don’t speak ill of the dead” is a doctrine defending the indefensible.

    When someone tells you who they are, believe them.

    The worst thing about this whole matter is that well-meaning people naive people defend Bill Wright. They don’t recognise what he hid.

    I was raised by a predator. I know how charming and plausible they can seem and how nice people don’t have the ability to peer behind the facade.

    A public statement of “Pedophiles of the world unite!” is a fucking long way from saying you adore children.

  16. Terry Frost, I know you think I’m defending Bill Wright, but I’m not. I said clearly that I don’t know one way or the other. I’m trying to cool down a heated discussion that sounds very much like a witchhunt.

    Are you saying that Bill Wright said “Pedophiles of the world unite!”? Was he making a bad taste joke? Or was he seriously suggesting this as something that ought to happen? If the latter, why on Earth would he say this to a group of people he would surely know would likely crucify him?

  17. I understand where you’re coming from, Miriam but thank you for clarifying it.

    As to Wright’s motives, I wouldn’t care to guess. Maybe he slipped up.

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