A little while ago, Readercon posted a public statement.
It follows closely the petition circulated by Veronica Schanoes, signed by 430+ people concerned that the con they’d attended or hoped to attend had demonstrated willful dismissal of published policy and, in doing so, implied that making the con a safe space was a secondary – or null – concern.
In the public statement, the concom bans Walling for life, apologizes to those they have wronged (a list that, quite rightly, includes far more people than Kate Kligman and myself), and outlines plans for improvement, with harassment training, a safety committee, and safeguards against conflicts of interest. The Board has resigned; a temporary Board will be put in place until elections can be held.
Notably, while this does not erase the initial, unacceptable decision, it doesn’t try. It presents straightforward apologies, reasonable goals, an emphasis on transparency, and overall, implies that qualified people will be guiding the con going forward. I look forward to further developments here.
I have experienced a lot of things these last couple of weeks. Some of them, I want to mention sooner rather than later.
The con community (wider than just SF, as the Defcon, gaming, and skeptic communities are aware) is getting pretty well sick of harassment, it seems, and is ready to speak out against it. The response here has been remarkably swift, supportive, and focused — even when people were justifiably angry and upset, their anger was accurately directed, the discourse was largely civil, and there was, throughout, a heartening expectation of real change. That reflects what I hope is both faith in a concom to make good on its Board’s mistakes, and a wider shift in the community that will hold harassers accountable and make it easier for future targets of harassment to come forward.
That said, those who speak out to excuse harassers should not be silenced by this; on the contrary, they do us all a great service by alerting us to their perspective, so we may pointedly avoid them.
Coming forward is not an easy decision; it turns you, for a while, into an object lesson. I’ve been told I was both too rude and not nearly rude enough; that I was too quick to decide I was being harassed and also that I waited too long to decide I was being harassed; that I overreacted to what was clearly a well-established Canadian mating ritual, and also underreacted and should have kicked him so hard a lung collapsed.
In some ways here, I was lucky. I had some objective privileges; I am American, cisgender, white, and relatively young, all of which are, unfortunately, still factors in reporting harassment. Much of the harassment happened publicly and allowed for eyewitnesses; said eyewitnesses were absolutely stand-up in contacting myself and the Board to offer statements; Kate, someone unknown to me before this, came forward to corroborate his behavior at other cons, which established him as a serial harasser.
Perhaps most importantly, I had friends and strangers who spoke up, which was a vast expenditure of time and energy on their part, and whether or not I have ever met them, I want to thank them. It is an unspeakable comfort to see allies challenging apologists. I hope that this, also, continues, as a part of strengthening the anti-harassment sentiment across the board in con culture.
With luck, we’ll get to a time in which it is not necessary to defend a target of harassment, because harassment doesn’t happen at cons, or because, when it does, that shit is shut down like it should be. Until that day, I can only hope that those who come forward find the same support that I have. Thank you.
Since Kate came forward, she and I have been in communication about developments in the discussion, both officially and in fandom. In some ways, I’ve felt more responsibility for Kate than for myself in the outcome of all this. Her official statement to Readercon noted she’d withdrawn from cons because of harassment, and this would determine whether or not she’d feel safe there in future — the presence of Walling, she said, prevented her attending. Harassment would have driven me away only from the con that had ignored it; harassment had driven her away from cons almost entirely. To her, they were demonstrably unsafe spaces, and the Board’s initial decision did nothing to change that.
During this week, Readercon announced via Twitter that a vote was being made to overturn the Board’s decision; that a formal statement was in progress; they mentioned their intentions to set things right; they announced the Board’s intention to resign.
Over the weekend, late at night, a message to me from Kate popped up.
“So if this works out, wanna go to Readercon?”
Yes, I do. See you next year.