Detcon1 and Diversity

In talking about diversity in SF/F fandom, I’ve pointed before to convention committees and staff that are mostly or exclusively white, and often male-dominated. This isn’t uncommon, and it’s part of a larger systemic problem with fandom and genre. Recognizing that your favorite con isn’t as diverse and inclusive as you thought doesn’t mean it’s a Bad Con, or that the people running it are Horrible People. What’s important, at least to me, is to recognize and work to change things for the better.

Detcon1 has gotten a lot of things right on that front. They established a Diversity Advisory Board, consisting of Muhammad A Ahmad, Anne Gray, Mark Oshiro, Kat Tanaka Okopnik, Mike VanHelder, Pablo Vazquez, and Sal Palland. They chose to honor a range of guests that acknowledges the broader scope of the genre. They established the FANtastic Detroit Fund to help provide free memberships to fans who might otherwise be unable to attend.

What follows is a video discussion between Pablo Vazquez and Anne Gray about the work Detcon1 has been doing. I’m also including a transcript of the conversation. (But the video is better, because it has music and special effects and stuff!)

Michigan is my home base, so I’m biased, but I think Detcon1 has been doing some awesome things, and I’m really looking forward to the convention.

North American Science Fiction Convention

Renaissance Center Marriott
Detroit, Michigan

July 17 through 20, 2014

[Welcome to Detcon1.]

PABLO: Hi. I’m Pablo Vasquez.

ANNE: And I’m Anne Gray.

PABLO: Yeah, we’re part of the Diversity Committee, and also doing work with the Afrofuturism programming at Detcon1. And we’re really excited about it.

ANNE: Yeah, we’ve – Right from the first, Detcon1 has been dedicated to having a diverse group of attendees – and, when we started inviting our guests, for example, we really wanted to have a diverse group of people so that it was, I think as you said, “representative of the modern world.”

PABLO: Yeah, of Modern Fandom.

ANNE: Yeah

PABLO: Detcon1 has definitely diversified and found absolutely quality people for their guests.

ANNE: For instance we have people of color…

PABLO: Yeah, like John Picacio and Steven Barnes.

 John Picacio, Artist Guest of Honor

Steven Barnes, Author Guest of Honor

ANNE: Yeah, including Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor, YA Author Special Guest

PABLO: mm-hmm.

ANNE: Which is also part of our reach out to young people, cause she’s our YA Author. Our Scientist Guest of Honor is a woman. Helen Greiner. She’s a roboticist.

Helen Greiner, Scientist Guest of Honor

ANNE: Musicians are a couple, a man and a woman. Bill and Brenda Sutton.

Bill and Brenda Sutton, Music Guests of Honor

ANNE: And you were really excited about our Fan Guests.

Bernadette Bosky, Arthur D. Hlavaty, and Kevin J. Maroney, Fan Guests of Honor

PABLO: Yeah! And I like that our fan guests, I mean, it’s the first time that I’ve seen, like, a polyamorous triad as a fan guest. And as a polyamorous person myself, I was, you know, exceedingly happy to see that. And I’m sure a lot of other people like me will as well. Lifestyles or racial diversity or gender diversity. We also reach out to typically ignored parts of fandom, like the video game fandom, by having our video game guest Jon Davis, who’s worked on, like, Titanfall and other popular video games.

Jon Davis, Video Game Special Guest

PABLO: We have outreach to those communities. We reach out to tabletop role players; we reach out to video gamers; comic book fans. So on and so forth.

ANNE: Steampunk

PABLO:  Steampunks, you know.

ANNE: Afrofuturists…

PABLO: Exactly.

ANNE: I mean one of the things – We’re in Detroit.  I mean, we are the North American Science Fiction Convention, but we’re in Detroit. So we wanted to make sure that Detroit fans, even if they’ve mostly gone to a comicon, or they’re just readers, or something. When they find out about us, they wanna come, and when they come—

PABLO: mm-hmm.

ANNE: They feel welcome. We want everybody to feel welcome and included.

PABLO: By making Detcon1 diverse, we’re introducing fans who have never, like, met each other, or knew about their specific subsects of  fandom, to be able to connect with one another, and share their love of, you know, what makes them a fan within greater fandom as a whole.

ANNE: mm-hmm.

PABLO: So, you know, I can’t wait to see that, to see all these different people actually connecting with one another, on, you know, our greater love of science fiction and fantasy; of speculative fiction.

ANNE: Yeah. Science fiction conventions are where we come together, we have great conversations, and then we take that out into the rest of our lives, and … this should be exciting.

PABLO: Yeah!