Liz here. Now, I know I like to keep things pretty positive out here on the blog, and hopefully this post is no exception, but I thought that I should just make a brief post letting people know that we, as a business, have signed this document, put forward by John Scalzi, that indicates that we won’t participate, either as guests or as vendors or fans, in any convention that does not have a clearly defined, publicly posted and transparently, accountably enforced harassment policy. This does not just count for sexual harassment, but for any negative or unwanted behaviour that is designed to make other guests uncomfortable.
What does this mean for Pop Seagull as a company, going forward?
Well, not much in terms of the conventions we usually attend as of 2013. For the most part, the conventions we have attended in the past have all worked exceptionally hard to make their guests feel safe and welcomed, and make sure all of the guests know how they can formally deal with harassment and that there is a zero-tolerance policy on such behaviour. It does mean, however, that we will be more active participants in working with the fan community to deal with this issue, that we will make all decisions about new convention appearances with these guidelines in mind, and that we will consider any potential event that we are considering attending that does not yet have such a policy as an opportunity for constructive dialogue, and potential community improvement. We would also ask anyone reading this, be they author, editor, fan, artist, costumer, you name it, that if you or someone you know has been affected by non-consensual, creepy behaviour or harassment in any form at a fan gathering, or you just care about our fan spaces being as welcoming and safe as possible for all members of the community, that you also commit to holding our community events accountable for having and enforcing an effective code of conduct.
Why does Pop Seagull feel the need, as a company, to take a stand on this issue?
The short answer is that I, as the company’s founder and president, have experienced the kind of harassment (and the kind of lack of response and over-consideration of the perpetrator’s little pink feelings to the detriment of my safety) that proper writing, awareness and enforcement of harassment policies on the convention level aims to remedy. As someone who has experienced the problem first-hand, I feel that the proposed solution is the most civil, common-sense and restorative way to deal with harassment as a community. Why do I say restorative? Because I believe that harassers are human beings too, and sometimes nice people in other areas of their lives, and what needs to be done about this is not to picture them as monsters lurking in the bushes, but to realize that they are our friends, lovers and relatives, and that if we say, clearly and without reservation, that inappropriate behaviour in social settings will result in a cool-down period until they are ready to stop harassing people, they may just change, and society may just change along with them.
What happened to me, you ask? Well, I don’t talk about it very much on the internet because I’m one of those people that sincerely believes that dragging people through the mud, even when you are the wronged party, only ever looks bad on you. However, the event at which this incident occurred is now defunct, so I don’t believe it is in bad taste to say that someone that I had met at a previous convention found out I was at the event alone and began following me everywhere in a creepy and covert manner, on the first night going so far as to try and follow me to my room when it would have been reasonable to assume I was drunk (I don’t drink, however, so I saw what he was doing and reported it later). If my friend had not been there, I shudder to think what might have happened. He then proceeded to follow me around for the rest of the weekend and try to corner me alone, to the point that I had to have a security entourage to keep me safe. I do not exaggerate. When security finally caught up to this person, who was actively trying to hide from them in the washrooms and any other place they could think of so that they would not have to receive a warning that they knew could lead to trouble, they claimed that we were friends (we weren’t, we had talked once) and that he had no idea what was going on. After the convention I wrote a detailed account of my experience and called for him to be banned from the event, citing the numerous friends and security guards who could confirm his creepy, possibly dangerous behaviour. I was never asked in to any kind of meeting to discuss the situation, nor was I ever asked or contacted about any of it beyond the letter I chose to send and their short, unapologetic reply that they would not be banning him. The lack of support I felt from the organizers of this event at this time was devastating, due to my level of involvement with it and the fact that, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, they still treated me like an over-reacting liar. Worse yet, this person still is allowed to attend many conventions, I have heard several other, unsolicited stories of sexual harassment about him, including taking creepy pictures of young teen girls without they or their parents’ permission. I am also forced to bring an entourage to any event where I know he will be, because he still tries to corner me alone, take pictures of me and get my contact information and no amount of coldness or rudeness on my or my friends’ parts seems to convince him to stop.
If any part of this story, or my telling of it, makes you uncomfortable, it should. It made me uncomfortable for a very long time. My point is not to garner sympathy or revisit old issues that, believe me, I have long since dealt with in order to remain part of fandom, but to try and build awareness and make sure that what happened to me does not happen to anybody else.
My point here is that this stuff happens, it’s still happening even in 2013, and people who experience this kind of behaviour shouldn’t have their safety decided by some shadowy cabal who probably only have the PR of the convention in mind. At the very least, we deserve to have an honest, face-to-face chat with administrators and in the case of something minor, have our concerns arbitrated with the parties involved, and in the case of something major, to have someone with a face who is accountable to us and the whole community in administering consequences.
Please remember: we cannot prevent harassers from attending gatherings, but we can be a vehicle for personal growth and social change by sending them a clear message that harassment will not be tolerated, and their presence will not be tolerated in our midst until they do the personal work necessary to amend their behaviour.