Usually when the words "con" and "fail" get used, it's because some SF/F convention has tripped over their own shoelaces and badly treated congoers who have themselves been harassed by assholes. This has resulted in a large discussion on the SF/F blogosphere -- and especially on Twitter explosions -- about behavior and having real/meaningful anti-harassment policies in place AND enforced. One high level case last year ended the career of an editor at a major publishing house. Another divorced DragonCon from one of its founders over a long history of bad behavior. SF writer and high profile blogger since the Internet stone age and recently retired president of SFWA, John Scalzi, announced he would attend any con or accept any invitation to a con that did not have a strong anti-harassment policy -- in place and prominently displayed.
It would be swell to report that this has ended all reprehensible actions, but we're not that civilized yet. However...
I have been following what happened to Chi-Fi, a first-time SF con. The goal was to have a Chicago con IN Chicago -- WindyCon and other Chicago area cons that I know of have been in the suburbs or O'Hare. While downtown Chicago hotels are expensive, they can also be fun and offer lots of dining options.
But... just two months before the scheduled event at the end of March, Chi-Fi announced that they were canceling the contract with the Westin Chicago River North. I particularly was struck by the comment that they were only talking about one hotel and not the Weston chain or its owners, Starwood Hotels. The River North hotel had people calling the future attendees "freaks", dismayed that the idea of costuming and party Rooms was counter to their Four Seasons-ish image and whether their staff had to be held to this anti-harassment policy. Or some such disrespectful attitude.
I'll note that the Westin in Lombard IL has hosted WindyCon for a number of years and has always been a good venue.
A rough outline of the story from io9 is here:http://observationdeck.io9.com/chicago-sff-convention-canceled-after-hotel-calls-atten-1501580195/1502261003/@croguesberg
And this blog does an excellent job of setting things out in the open:http://www.geekmelange.com/2014/01/dear-westin-chicago-river-north-you-have-chosen-poorly/
The comment conversation on the Westin Chicago River North's Facebook page, as of right now, has been completely taken over by this discussion. Concern has been raised that maybe the con needed an out due to low room bookings and pre-registrations. These numbers are not available -- one quote had to do with not being able to reveal these due to a Non Disclosure Agreement. Really? So which is it? Bad first-time con planning? Or a hotel that didn't want this event after some staff changes? I have no evidence, but right now I am faulting the hotel.
It is interesting to note that in the official Chi-Fi cancellation notice, that this paragraph exists:
In addition, we wish to thank all of the individuals who have supported Chi-Fi with at least one special event in 2014. We are in discussions with a local venue to host a Saturday-only event on March 29th, 2014, when Chi-Fi 1 was originally scheduled. We plan to have parties, musical performances and a small Artist and Vendor Area. We hope to make this event very affordable for all, and free to anyone who registers to attend Chi-Fi 1 in 2015 (including our Vendors, Exhibitors and Artists). Please watch our website, Facebook and Twitter feeds for more information coming soon.
Why interesting? Because there aren't having a separate fee for the one-day March 2014 possible event. If I was into conspiracy theories, I would consider whether the lack of reporting of bookings/registrations, the discussion of a NDA and this free teaser event might be tied up with a kill fee. It makes you wonder.
Meanwhile, what horrors hide in Chi-Fi's anti-harassment policy that would cause hotel representatives to question whether they could stomach it? See for yourself:
Chi-Fi is dedicated to providing a safe and comfortable convention experience for everyone. Harassment of any kind, including verbal assault, physical assault, battery, deliberate intimidation, stalking, or unwelcome physical attentions, will not be tolerated. If people tell you "no" or to leave them alone, your business with them is done. Leave them alone. Do not follow them or attempt to disrupt their convention experience in any way. If you continue to attempt to have contact with those people, you may be removed from the premises.
Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion, or dress, sexual images in public spaces, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention. Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately.
We expect participants to follow these rules at all conference venues and conference-related social events.
Exhibitors in the expo hall, sponsor or vendor booths, or similar activities are also subject to the anti-harassment policy. If a participant engages in harassing behavior, the conference organizers may take any action they deem appropriate, including warning the offender or expulsion from the conference. If you are being harassed, notice that someone else is being harassed, or have any other concerns, please contact a member of conference staff immediately.
Conference staff will be happy to help participants contact hotel/venue security or local law enforcement, provide escorts, or otherwise assist those experiencing harassment to feel safe for the duration of the conference. We value your attendance.
Chi-Fi was offered another Westin property, but chose, and I think wisely, to not scramble and redo everything in a short time. They hope to run Chi-Fi in March of 2015.
I, for one, will continue to follow this and see if it all checks out. If it does, I might add it to my 2015 activities, even if I just end up doing a long Saturday 1st trip to/fro Chicago. Because if it's all legit, one needs to support people with spines.