I’ve been to a lot of conventions over the years, on both sides of the table. And doing that, I’ve met a lot of convention organizers. I count some of them among my acquaintances, and some of them among my friends. But either way, we talk to each other, and the conversation often turns to the inevitable topic of their particular SF/F convention.
Now, you should know that I live in Washington, which I considered as a whole to be a very liberal state. All about freedoms and rights and all that. We’ve legalized same sex marriage, and have some of the most trans* friendly laws in the US (though like every other state, we have quite a lot of work to do on both of those, especially trans* rights. But that’s not the subject for today). However, Washington state is very deeply divided. The west side of the Cascades is very liberal, and they have the majority of the population, so the state as a whole ends up very much left-leaning. But the east side, where I live is about fifty years behind the west side in politics and attitudes, to the point of being a culture shock when you go from one side to the other.
With that being said, most of the conventions I end up at are on the east side of the mountains. And thankfully, most of the convention organizers are very open and wonderful people, and they encourage fans and guests of all sorts. In fact, one of the biggest things I hear from convention organizers is that they want to be more inclusive, and they now how to do it: more diverse panels and panelists, including QUILTBAG+ panelists and subjects among them.
Now, this may not be a problem for conventions in more socially evolved locales like New York or Seattle or the like, but if you attend conventions in an area that has proven woefully behind the times? There are a couple things you can do, and they’re simple things, really.
Number one, and definitely the easier of the two: when you look at the website for whatever convention, they will almost always have a place where you can submit panel suggestions. It takes a few minutes to fill out a form like that. Title, description, and recommended panelists, plus some rudimentary contact information for you, although I’ve never been contacted after using one of those forms for any convention.
If you want to see more panels on QUILTBAG+ issues and themes? Suggest them. Tell the convention organizers what you want. You see, even if the organizers want something to go on, they don’t make the decisions alone. And if the rest of the deciding members aren’t exactly for it, seeing that people actually want things like this will give them more sway. A convention has to pay for itself every year, and if having QUILTBAG+ themed panels on the docket will help with that, chances are good they’ll consider it, at the very least. And if they consider it when they wouldn’t have before, then that’s a victory in itself.
(It’s of note that, if they don’t have form, you can normally email the person in charge of programming and talk to them, or post on a Facebook page or group, if they have one for the convention. Most do.)
Now, the second thing you can do isn’t as easy, but it’s also one of the things that the convention organizers have the hardest time with. See, even if they want to bring in more diverse panelists, they often don’t have a vein to reach out to them. If a convention is in a more or less homogenous area, it’s much more likely that the panelists are going to be all pretty much the same.
Where you can possibly come in on this is as a go-between. If you know anyone (author, actor, gamer, artist, etc.) who is part of an underrepresented group in the area, bring up the convention to them, get them the information so that they can contact the con staff and see what can happen. There are no guarantees, but in my experience, the programming department is more than happy to take volunteers of any creed, religion, sexuality, etc. And especially so if they’re part of an underrepresented group, or a group that’s completely un-represented at the convention.
If you’re a professional who fits into one of those groups, then look in your area for any conventions you could get in contact with. The first time I was on panels at a convention, all I did was email the programming chair and she sent me the pro information that day. Since then, she’s become a very good friend, and she and I have talked together about bringing in QUILTBAG+ panelists and panels to future conventions (we’re lucky in that the vice-chair is very much an advocate for the community).
So, if you want to increase the diversity in the community (and let’s face it, SF/F cons are the closest we have to community hubs, outside the internet), take that step. Volunteer if you can, or suggest panels and panelists. Put out just that little bit and you might be surprised how much easier it is to mingle.
Voss Foster lives in the middle of the Eastern Washington desert, where he writes science fiction and fantasy from inside a single-wide. He is the author of Tartaros, The Park, and The King Jester Trilogy (Zirkua Fantastic, The Jester Prince, and A Fool’s War, coming in 2015). He has also written several short stories, featured in Apocrypha & Abstractions, Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine, and other various anthologies and publications. When he can be pried away from his keyboard, he enjoys singing, cooking, playing trombone, and belly dancing, though rarely all at the same time. More information can be found at Demon Hunting and Tenth Dimensional Physics.