Sanford Challenges WFC About Missing Safety Policies

The 2016 World Fantasy Con committee has been criticized by Jason Sanford because as of February 1 they still had not posted their antiharassment policy or accessibility policy.

As of February 1st, WFC2016 has yet to post either of these policies. Today’s date matters because on January 31 at 11:59 pm the price to register jumped from $150 to $225. I wanted to register at that lower price but without the policies I wouldn’t do so…

In his blog post “World Fantasy Con 2016 doesn’t care about your harassment and accessibility concerns”, Sanford explains that, even more than the price hike, what really made him lose patience is the dialog between committee leadership and others in a closed World Fantasy Con 2016 Facebook group.

Until today I was trying to be understanding. After all, managing a convention is difficult and relies extensively on volunteer assistance. Maybe no one had pointed out to the people running WFC 2016 how important these policies were to people. Maybe they were having trouble devising these policies.

But then I receive the following screengrabs and many others, which come from the private Facebook group of the people running WFC 2016. The screengrabs show that the people behind WFC 2016 were told repeatedly that they needed these policies, and that it is unfair to not have the policies up before the lower registration fee deadline passed.

But instead of listening to these concerns, which were raised with WFC 2016 since early December, the people agitating for these policies — along with the very need for such policies — were ignored and belittled.

The screencaps are posted at his blog.

Other writers and editors shared his concerns on Twitter.

Sigrid Ellis

Michael Damien Thomas

Marie Brennan

T. Frohock

Steven Saus

Andrea Phillips

Mari Ness

Jeff VanderMeer

However, the WFC committee was not without support.

And Morgan Feldstein wrote this comment on Sanford’s post:

You signed a pledge that prevents you from registering for conventions until certain policies are posted and those policies are deemed adequate by the organizers of the pledges you signed onto. You chose to sign the pledges and adhere to their terms. The organizers of the World Fantasy Convention did not require you sign the pledges. Nor did the World Fantasy Convention make related pricing commitments to the pledge organizers. If you choose to register late for the World Fantasy Convention in order to keep a promise to the pledge organizers, any associated financial burdens are yours to bear and yours alone. The World Fantasy Convention is under no obligation to financially accommodate you in this matter.

I’ve was at the World Fantasy Convention in 2014. I’ve never seen a more polite and well-mannered bunch of conventioneers in my life. If you feel you can’t attend in good conscience because they haven’t properly bent the knee to the pledge organizers, by all means stay home. I have the feeling the conference will manage perfectly well without the collection of Mrs. Grundys who are presently harassing the World Fantasy Convention for an anti-harrassment policy.

In contrast, Marie Brennan called it “World Fantasy’s Safety Surcharge” in a February 1 post.

Today the registration fee for the 2016 World Fantasy Convention went up by seventy-five dollars, from $150 to $225.

I registered during the previous WFC, as has been my habit for years. Unfortunately, now I realize that I need to rethink this policy. Because despite being prodded on these matters, WFC 2016 still has not posted either a harassment or an accessibility policy. The con-runner, going by her comments posted there, seems to think that “be nice to one another” and “the hotel is ADA compliant” are sufficient measures in that regard — and maybe there will be policies posted by the time the con begins, but apparently it’s totally unreasonable to ask for those things before the price of attendance gets jacked up.

This is not okay. It amounts to a safety surcharge, because if you want to attend WFC, you have two choices:

1) Buy your registration early, in the blind faith that the con will do its duty and put together an acceptable set of policies before you arrive.

2) Wait for the policies, and pay more money in exchange: seventy-five dollars more now, another fifty if they aren’t posted by mid-April, literally twice the membership price if you pick your membership up in the fall (y’know, around the time the harassment policy got posted last year). To say nothing of the difficulty in getting a hotel room if the block has sold out, which it often does — a situation that might put you in a different hotel entirely, and yeah, like that won’t cause you problems if your mobility is limited.

Oh, and let’s not forget: this is a con with a membership cap. Waiting to register might mean you can’t attend at all, because they’re sold out. So really it’s heads they win, tails you lose, because if these things matter to you, then you wind up paying more money to the con, or not showing up at all.

51 thoughts on “Sanford Challenges WFC About Missing Safety Policies

  1. The thing about WFC is that, if for any reason whatsoever you don’t attend, they seem to have the attitude that you’re not good enough for them anyhow. No matter who you are, and no matter why you’re not going. They charge a lot more than most other cons because it keeps people who don’t have that much money form attending and they’re trying to attract “professionals”. And also keep out the riff-raff.

  2. Wow. That Feldstein comment in the original post is…special in it’s entirety. I find it particularly amazing that they seems to think that this is relevant to those who signed accesibility pledges, instead of, you know, people who ACTUALLY NEED accesibilty provisions to be in place.

  3. My cynicism hat says that since they have a membership cap, and consistently sell out, WFC just figures they don’t HAVE to care. They can “keep out the riff raff”, as Josh put it.

  4. Feldstein:

    The organizers of the World Fantasy Convention did not require you sign the pledges.

    I think I facepalmed so hard I can tickle my amygdala.

  5. Morgan Feldstein wrote: I’ve was at the World Fantasy Convention in 2014. I’ve never seen a more polite and well-mannered bunch of conventioneers in my life.

    You clueless dipshit, that was the WFC that had well-written and implemented harassment and accessibility policies. Someone who didn’t have a tin ear might realize that your pleasant experience there was probably related to the existence of those policies.

  6. Feldstein doesn’t seem to understand that people who are worried about accessibility might be worried about their ability to actually, oh, I dunno, ENJOY THE CON.

    I went to a convention a few years back that shall remain nameless… but it was profoundly inaccessible. A good third of the programming was on the second floor of a building without elevators. Convention spaces were separated by a full half-mile (I clocked it in my car) so unless one was young and fit, the only choice was pick a space and stay there, or commute to panels by car. The second-floor rooms didn’t have elevator access, and many of the first-floor rooms (including the one I stayed in) had an approximately one-inch tall curb in front of each door, which was not only a tripping hazard but made it difficult for wheeled transport (including suitcases!) to get into the rooms. I had been booked into a second-floor room, but had hundreds of pounds of gear on a wheeled cart that had to be transported. The hotel transfered me to a first-floor room when I found there were no elevators and complained.. .but I still had to carry the gear over the threshold because the cart wouldn’t make it across safely (I was afraid assorted items would fall off in the jounce). At least the individual pieces of gear weren’t heavy; it was only heavy in aggregate…

    No, I’m not making this up.

    (In the con’s defense, they lost their hotel and this facility was apparently the only one they could find as a substitute, given time and money constraints. It’s not much of a defense, mind you, but fair’s fair.)

    I had wheel-chair bound friends at that convention. It was a terrible waste of time and money for them.

    TL/DR: Accessibility isn’t JUST a “checklist”. As an abled, if no longer young, convention-goer I found the facilities extremely inconvenient. It would be impossible for many fen of my acquaintance.

  7. Remember, each WFC committee is independent. I was committee for 2014 in DC. We had harassment policy and accessibility was checked and rechecked and had a committee person in charge. I was staff at 2015 and witnessed the blowups there because there was no harassment policy until just before the con, when the committee copied ours from the prior year. I also saw the blowup when the committee failed to make the daises accessible despite putting panelists who needed a wheelchair on programming.

    If the 2016 committee can’t learn from prior years, they deserve the opprobrium they are getting.

  8. Yeah, Feldstein’s comment is so moronic, I just don’t know what to say.

    However, over in the screencaps is an actually very useful comment that I heartily endorse (transcribed by me so any tpyos are my fault).

    Scott Edelman said:

    I’m hoping that in the future, the World Fantasy Board will insist all bids include a completed Accessibility Policy and Code of Conduct in order for a bid to even be considered, one ready to go live the moment the con site itself goes live. Absent both of these, no bid should be entertained. They are as important as any other aspect of a bid.

    I think this is an excellent idea! Sounds like a good proposal to bring up at the business meeting.

  9. Given the large number of fen with mobility issues, vision issues, hearing issues, and other disabilities, it would nice to see more cons treat Access as a front-and-center issue rather than an afterthought. As an able-bodied person, I also see nothing unfair about and would bear no resentmemt towards a con making its lowest rate available to people with disabilities, even after rates have generally gone up, until some reasonable time after the con has published an accessibility plan. If I slack off and don’t buy an early membership, that’s my own fault. If someone waits to buy a membership until they know that the event will be physically accessible to them, that’s just common sense.

  10. Morgan Feldstein:

    I’ve never seen a more polite and well-mannered bunch of conventioneers in my life.

    I’ve never seen “polite and well-mannered” used as a pejorative before. 😉

    Mr. or Ms. Feldstein needs (1) to get an earful from Mari Ness, and probably (2) a reminder of being one accident or body malfunction away from needing accessibility. It’s not a luxury.

    Also harassment policies will be needed until we are all either empaths or angels.

  11. It is always a special pleasure to watch the crybullies throw a hissy fit, stamp their little feet and call people dipshits. Only one agenda ever matters to them.
    I wonder if they ever compare and contrast their attitude towards goodlife with the way that their favorite protagonistas carry on in the novels of science fiction and fantasy they enjoy reading. Do they read endless bitchfests of constant non-stop whining about obstacles to overcome on the way to satisfactory conclusion or is it all “Room With a View”?
    Who died and made them the ConGod?

  12. snowcrash said:

    I find it particularly amazing that [Feldstein] seems to think that this is relevant to those who signed accesibility pledges, instead of, you know, people who ACTUALLY NEED accesibilty provisions to be in place.

    It’s an understandable impression given Sanford’s framing of the issue as “oh no I can’t go to this because of the pledge I signed”. (Which is incorrect in the case of Kowal’s pledge anyway, which doesn’t kick in until 2017, presumably because Kowal already has memberships for 2016 cons with no applicable policy.)

  13. What I don’t understand is this: from the standpoint of convention organizers, having these policies in place is an exercise in risk management. A good policy reduces the risk of the organizers getting sued. Maybe a few convention organizers need to get sued into oblivion before they recognize it–it has not happened yet, but it will.

  14. Cat Rambo also responded:

    I won’t go to WFC unless I see reasonable examples of both bc I’m tired of seeing friends in tears because they are made to feel (1/2)

    like inconveniences and freaks. Just plain tired of it. Accessibility is not optional. (2/2)

    And I’m saying that as both a writer and SFWA President. This needs to stop being an issue. It’s ridiculous that it’s still controversial

  15. RP: Most of the heroes I actually like in the books I read enjoy helping their fellow sapients, including the infirm, and strongly disapprove of both harassment and shutting people out just because they aren’t able-bodied.

    Granted, because the circumstances and abilities they have are dramatic, this often translates to hauling a wounded ally across a battlefield or catching a visibly creepy weirdo with a weapon and dropping him off with the police, not advocating that a convention actually use wheelchair ramps and has a clear policy of how to go about an investigation into harassment, but that’s fiction for ya.

  16. Funny, I thought RP was disparaging the anti-pledge side at first. The paragraph was so mushy it was hard to identify what exactly they were frothing about. When everything has a cutesy nickname the argument becomes as clear as mud.

    I’m a fan of Scott Edelman’s suggestion that accessibility and harassment policies should just be an included part of future bids.

  17. I like Scott’s suggestion also.

    It can’t reasonably be said that I only care about one thing, but this is becoming one of the things I care about. I have more and more friends for whom this is an issue and I’d like to continue to see them at conventions.

    Furthermore I have been around long enough to realize that I’m one ill-placed bar of soap, one herniated disc, or one drunken driver from being disabled myself. So there’s a certain amount of enlightened self-interest involved.

  18. Mind you, at what authors make, the professionals are often the ones most hurt by the high membership prices! Way back when working on the first Minneapolis WFC in the 90s (1992 maybe?) we seriously considered adopting the policy that “membership benefits” included a $50 bill in your registration pack, to offset the high prices being demanded by the central committee.

  19. WOW, the FB site said she would have it up by the end of the week, and your column is already out of date – go look at the site. Policies are going up. And – why isn’t anyone asking why Larry and Sally, who took our money in Saratoga, have not done anything? I know about the accident in September, but they have been at conventions since then, taken out money (cashed our checks) for the books, why were they unable to do it for WFC? I just joined the FB group yesterday, but from what I have seen, I beginning to think you’all are a bunch of bullies. She asked till the end of the week, and met her goal. This Kim has acknowledged the problem, given a public explanation (on FB) and tried to fix the problem. Give her a break.

  20. Funny, I thought RP was disparaging the anti-pledge side at first.

    “Crybully” is a Torgersen neologism, so I’m thinking no.

  21. I can’t help wondering whether @Mori is sincere in defining “true justice” as a situation where he won’t know what the rules are until he’s kicked out for breaking them. Because that’s what “case-by-case basis” with no stated policy means: the con chair’s whim, or that of whoever they have delegated, is law.

    Yes, in practice that usually means that con members can get away with sexual harassment (and harassment of nonwhite, LBGT, and disabled people); but it also means that the con can allow sexual harassment but throw someone out for having the wrong color hair, or using the word “Trekkie,” or not having read The Silmarillion.

    Calling that “true justice” goes beyond not caring about justice: it shows a profound lack of imagination.

  22. I have been to two WFC back in the mid oughts, and while it was fun meeting my friends, they weren’t particularly outstanding conventions. I don’t get why people… No, wait a minute, I do: make a resource scarce, price it off the riff-raff, slap code words like “professionals” and “no media content allowed” and “business” on it, and people will fight to get through the door even though they will meet the exact same people they would meet at say WisCon and have the same networking opportunities they woukd have on Facebook.

    And people are surprised it this money making racket is haughty and scoffish?

  23. Anna — I can’t speak for others, but your description seriously understates the value I get out of WFC. For many years I had scheduling conflicts against Wiscon that made it impossible for me to attend; also it is not true that I would meet the exact same people there, as many of my friends don’t attend both. WFC also is a much better venue for me when it comes to conducting business with editors and agents. And while in theory I could have the same excellent conversations on Facebook — well, first that would require me to use Facebook (which I don’t, because I find their treatment of privacy abhorrent), but second, posting messages on somebody’s wall is no substitute for personal interaction.

    So tarring all of us as fools being fleeced doesn’t really show much understanding of the situation, nor much interest in doing so.

  24. Yep, I stopped going because the vibe I was getting was EXACTLY “we’re here to fleece you”. The Board has proven again and again that they don’t care because they have a captive audience. Maybe people who get a good business return have reason to keep going: but the rest should I think vote with their feet.

  25. @Anna Feruglia Dal Dan:

    I have been to one or two World Fantasy Conventions, and I will say I have never seen professionals so relaxed at any other SF convention.

    The mood at WFC is entirely different, as there is apparently some presumption that everyone is there for serious business. In that context it is far, far easier to strike up a conversation with someone legendary without getting a wary “is this a stalker or timewaster?” response.

  26. I can help! I used to live in beautiful Columbus, Ohio (home of THE Ohio State University, and don’t leave out the THE, you ignorant peasant) and I have been to that hotel for a couple of functions. It’s up-to-date on accommodations for the handicapped. If you’re still concerned, you might want to contact the hotel and ask them if they can accommodate your particular need. I think that would be better than waiting for a committee to put out a policy–their policy, whenever they come up with it, isn’t going to change the layout of the hotel, after all.

    The ridiculous price, I can’t help you with. In fact, I read about the 2010 edition of this soiree in the local bird-cage liner and considered going until I saw the price. At that time the web site made it sound more like a trade show than a big party.

    Columbus’s populationhas far outgrown its road system, so plan driving times as you would for a big town. And here in the year 6996 it’s really congested.

  27. @Pogonip:

    Well, that’s useful for accessibility info, I suppose.

    No reassurance on the harassment policy, I fear.

    It’s a huge letdown in this day and age. I saw someone pointing out that a vague “say nice things or don’t say anything” policy means a strange man can walk up to a girl and tell her she’s so beautiful he wants to drag her into a closet for sex, but anyone warning the girl that the man is a creep can be escorted off the property because it’s not a nice thing to say.

  28. My harassment policy has always been to yell “OH MY GOD WHY IS YOUR [Censored] SO SMALL YOU POOR GUY WHAT HAPPENED?!?!!”

    Works every time, even in the dystopian year 9360.


  29. To be honest – maybe because I mostly do English cons – I have never seen pros skittish about stalkers or fanboys. I did however get the cold shoulder from a couple of people at WFC in Brighton (wouldn’t have given the con money but went to meet friends in the bar) who were all over me when I was a fresh Clarion graduate. Maybe they didn’t recognise me, though.

    In general I feel WFC represents the other face of the science fiction community, the one I don’t really like, the one where there are VIPs and pros and “in” people. The one where everybody is your friend when you publish a magazine and you become nobody when you no longer do. The one where everybody is nice and friendly and wlecoming when you are a young promising author and stop recognising you when you end up not publishing anything.

    C’est la vie, but it is not a particularly pleasant experience and it doesn’t surprise me it goes hand in hand with indifference to accessibility and harrassment. Not universally, of course: some WFC have done better than others: I think the problem is in the board. Nor is this kind of stuff confined to WFC, it happens everywhere humans are. But in the rest of fandom if people are awful it tends to be beacuse you offended them, or they are jerks, not beacuse they are Professionals and you are merely a mortal.

    (I do remember the Brighton WFC issuing an anti-harrassment policy that went more or less “we’re all PROFESSIONAL here, surely these things won’t happen”.)

  30. BTW, family members have made me sensitive to what should have been obvious, that “accessibility” means everything to anyone pushing a child in a stroller, especially one of those flimsy folding travelling ones.

  31. Cat Rambo:

    This needs to stop being an issue. It’s ridiculous that it’s still controversial

    What she said.

    It’s 2016, for chrissake. How is this even still an issue, a question, or a controversy?

    I agree that Scott Edelman’s suggestion is a good one: accessibility and harassment policies should just be included in bids from now on. A group that cannot manage that probably isn’t ready to host a major convention.

  32. @ David Dyer-Bennet: “Mind you, at what authors make, the professionals are often the ones most hurt by the high membership prices!”

    Indeed. I’m a full-time, self-supporting sf/f writer. Since WFC in 2016 will be only 100 miles from here, I was planning to go. But since seeing that $225 pricetag for registration, I’m rethinking. Maybe I’ll just drive up for dinner with my publisher.

  33. Pogonip:

    Contacting the hotel is likely to get an assurance that they are ADA-compliant, and maybe maps showing where the elevators are and a reservation for a wheelchair-accessible hotel room. Those are useful, but they aren’t enough. They won’t help with the kind of problems reported from last year’s WFC, where the hotel had ramps but the con organizers didn’t bother to ask for them, meaning wheelchair-using panelists couldn’t get up to the dais. Another example: the hotel isn’t responsible for accommodating people with hearing impairments during program items; its responsibility is access to hotel rooms, including the reservation system.

    Access to con programming is at least partly the concom’s job (“at least partly” because hotel cooperation is also necessary). That includes making sure there is room in the audience for wheelchairs, and saving front-row seats for lip readers who need them. Neither of those is expensive, and both are much easier to do before the con starts. The attitude of “if you need a ramp, or need to sit in front, you can find someone and ask” is a barrier, especially if it’s a generic “find someone” rather than specific contact information, or if the concom is unwilling to even look at the issues before the convention starts

  34. Hi Vicki, I agree, that stuff ought to be just common sense, esoecially if they invited (!!!) a speaker who they knew was in a wheelchair and never gave a thought to how he was supposed to get up to the dais to give the speech. That’s just plain stupid. If the thing’s that thoughtlessly run, unless it was THE trade show for fantasy writers, I’d skip it. I guess if you felt you had to go for business reasons all you could do is grin and bear it and (in the U.S. tax system, at least) take the ridiculous entrance fee off your taxes.

    Here in the year 3499, we don’t much cotton to poorly run, expensive conventions, so it’s not as big a problem.

  35. Anna Feruglio Dal Dan: I am sorry you had such awful experiences. I am, however, a bit unhappy that you should try to suggest that anyone who didn’t is being fleeced, or that your experience of an “In crowd” at those conventions is how those conventions are.

    I’ve been two two WFCs, both times as a newbie/unknown artist and a writer with virtually no publishing credits; the next thing to nobody. I haven’t had those experiences. I have found, as others have said, that the professionals seemed to be more willing even than at Worldcon to talk to whomever spoke to them, and not to think ill of anyone who joined in a conversation. Not that I found professionals unapproachable elsewhere, so much as… at Worldcon, if you wanted to meet Lois McMaster Bujold, you were probably one of a line-up or a circular mob waiting after a panel. That was less true at World Fantasy, because fewer people.

    (I did have one particularly awful moment at the last WFC in Minneapolis, but I suspect nobody but me actually thought ill of me for it. It certainly had nothing to do with the sort of snubbing you seem to feel is normal there, and was if anything more likely to happen at a different convention.)

  36. And the other reason to go? Minneapolis is reasonably close to home, where Wiscon is not, and it was at a time when airfare was almost bottomed out pricewise. (Not quite as cheap as the “oops, SARS Panic” airfare to Torcon3, but nice). WFC Calgary meant we could drive over, and crash in the house of SCA friends, a 20-minute walk away (Which was more than acceptable at the time.) and my Dad could drive down from Edmonton and visit at off-con times. I was going with another artist, too, a much higher end professional than I am.

    In both cases, the fact that it was WFC and not just their usual local con meant a greater concentration of professional contacts (A thing whose importance at the Minneapolis one I might have overestimated for myself at the time, and while less important in Calgary, again, it was vastly more of a consideration for my fellow artist, who was even then at a level where he doesn’t make enough money of any accessibly close place’s local con to be worth it but did make some professional commissions off WFC. (He’s now in Montreal with an almost unheard-of contract for a game company, and is in an even more secure position of not needing cons.)

    So saying, “Why would you even go when X is the same thing but less problematic” is making a huge assumption.

    (At this point, I wouldn’t touch WFC until they get their current issues resolved, but those hadn’t arisen to my knowledge back then.)

  37. Wheelchair ramps are an SJW plot?!

    I think @Paul/Jvstin has it right: they know they’ll sell out, so they don’t care.

    Reminds me of back in the day when the US had exactly one telephone provider and the joke was “We’re Ma Bell. We don’t have to care.” (shout-out to Lily Tomlin)

    If the WFC board is tired of having people yell at them and hurt their fee-fees, all they have to do is implement Scott Edelman’s suggestion of every bid being required to have a policy in place before bidding. Boom, sorted. And considerably reduces their liability towards being sued. Don’t they have lawyers?

  38. Why would anyone want to work on a Con or put one on?
    “A good policy reduces the risk of the organizers getting sued. Maybe a few convention organizers need to get sued into oblivion before they recognize it–it has not happened yet, but it will.”

    I guess that’s a new way of being considerate of our fellow human beings.

  39. @RP:

    I’m not sure what point you are making. Pointing out the potentially catastrophic liabilities the WFC could be subject to is a kindness.

    Many an organization has learned this to their sorrow after something awful happens and they don’t have a previously worked out way to deal with it.

    Personally, I think it would be far better for individual WFCs to work earnestly to have policies in place rather than anyone having to learn this lesson the terrible way.

  40. Why would anyone want to work on a Con or put one on?

    Why would anyone want to throw a party? Why would anyone want to own a swimming pool? Why would anyone want to organize or engage in any recreational activity? All of these thing pose liability hazards. Having a harassment and accessibility policy isn’t a burden upon convention organizers, it is insurance against things going wrong. It is something that will make their lives easier. Those who complain about the need for such policies are people who should not be organizing such events, because they are clearly not equipped to do so.

  41. @Aaron

    This is obvious, but also bears saying that such a policy is a valuable resource when things *do* go wrong as well. It prevents people from running around like headless chickens and having to come up with ad hoc remediations, and protects them – somewhat – from accusations of heavy-handedness and/or favouritism.

  42. I certainly wish all a very pleasant and enjoyable con. It looks like everything has now been dealt with to everyone here’s entire satisfaction.

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