When the word got around about how people on the WorldCon 76 staff were treating some of their queer members and honorees, and queer people were talking about feeling unsafe and unwelcome at the con, I made the decision to form a queer rapid response team to provide on-the-spot backup to queer people who felt alone or threatened, whether in dealing with con staff, other members, or anyone hanging around.
I’ve spent the intervening weeks trying to figure out how best to implement such a program, and now, after long deliberation, I have decided that it would be best not to do so.
It’s not that I don’t see a need for it, though the convention has stepped up its game in response to the backlash. But for me, it comes down to one thing: safety. The whole point of this endeavor would be to increase safety. If it can’t be done safely, if it would actually make things more dangerous, then it shouldn’t be done at all.
And after much thought and soul-searching and consultations with my friends who have done similar types of activism and organizing, I do not think it can be done safely.
It comes down to operational security. For such a team to do any good — for it to be any good — then the ability to contact the team and get a rapid response must be completely open to the public. Knowledge of the team’s existence and the procedure for summoning a team member must be widespread, which means it must be shared publicly. If we rely on back channels and whisper networks to spread this information, then it’s not a rapid response team, it’s a group of friends being friends.
My plan was to use a combination of a Twitter hashtag people could post alerts to and a phone number for texting confidentially to, with an automated process to forward all tagged tweets/messages to members of the team.
The problem is there is no way to vet these messages as they come in; stopping to verify the sender and investigate the situation would defeat the whole purpose of a rapid response. With a known fascist presence organizing itself in the vicinity of the convention and a well-established alt-right cultural movement attached to the Hugo Awards, I think the best case scenario is a system being flooded with phony requests and useless alerts, causing the team to be run ragged and preventing anyone who happens to actually need it from getting aid.
Worst case scenario is that the system is used to lure team members — visibly queer people ourselves — into dangerous situations.
Any public bat signals (like through Twitter) could become a lightning rod for further abuse, bringing hostile attention to the person who requested help. And as an unofficial organization, we’d have no way of preventing unscrupulous individuals from representing themselves as part of the team, either to gain access to vulnerable victims or paint the team or queer con members in general in a negative light. A single false flag event could be used to paint the whole endeavor as a violent threat.
My draft of a document for team members included some steps to minimize the danger we put ourselves in, including an injunction against answering distress calls outside the convention area and a suggestion to use a buddy system, but after “wargaming” several situations out in my head I fear that there’s no combination of precautions that would make the endeavor safe.
So in lieu of a team, I’m going to be doing what I do at every con, which is making myself visible and available. I urge other queer con goers to do the same thing. Look for “family” in a crowded room and if you see someone who looks like they could use support, catch their eye and drift over towards them. Wave to each other. Say hi to each other. Practice bystander intervention out loud and in your head so you don’t freeze up in the moment. It can be as little as saying, “Wait, what?” and “Are you serious?” in a loud, clear voice when someone is doing or saying something harmful in your presence.
My family and I do make a habit of making our movements and presence known when we’re at a convention and we do encourage people who need some backup to look for us. Anyone who doesn’t want to be the only queer person in a crowd is invited to join me at any time that I’m out and about in public spaces at a convention. I tweet selfies of my daily looks at conventions, and I am pretty recognizable to begin with — even if you’re face blind (as I am), most of the time if you think you’re looking at me you’ll be right. Being face blind, I design my looks from the ground up with this in mind.
I’ll still be available to help anyone who needs it, anybody who can. While I’m at a convention I have my notifications on Twitter turned up and my DMs open. Cell reception may be spotty inside the convention center (another reason attempting to provide systemic support might only increase danger) but I will do what I can to give aid and support.
Thank you to the people who expressed interest in joining the team. I really appreciate it and I encourage you to be visible, be strong, and be present, but also to be careful and to be safe.
The things that I felt and said when I first announced my intention to head a team on Twitter are still true. I still believe the best response to danger is to “form up like queer Voltron”, even if it’s happening in a less formal fashion. I’m still going to this convention needing nothing from anyone and owing nothing to anyone, which leaves me free to be an absolute gadfly. I am not going to abide any nonsense in my sight.