The Fannish Inquisition Needs More Than Soft Cushions and Comfy Chairs

When announced, I was troubled by the bid for Saudi Arabia.  More so regarding the Chengdu bid, and seriously concerned over Uganda.  I couldn’t figure out how such bids were making it from proposal to actually being considered.  In searching for an explanation, I refamiliarized myself with the questions asked by the Fannish Inquisition, which is explained in Fancyclopedia as:

“A pun on “Spanish Inquisition,” the Fannish Inquisition is a convention program item featuring a Q&A with bidders for Worldcons or other traveling conventions or the concoms of upcoming seated conventions. The audience is given the opportunity to ask questions, including tough ones.” (Emphasis mine.)

Here are the questions asked in a recent Fannish Inquisition provided to the Dublin bid (the 2019 Worldcon):

     Name of Worldcon Bid
     Who will represent your convention and how can they be contacted?
    What are the dates of the convention?
     Is your convention site in a city center location or a suburb? If a suburb, what are thhe transport options into the city center? How far is the site      from the city center?
     What is the typical current airfare to your closes airport from world cities such as London, Boston, Los Angeles, Wellington?
     Do international flights, as well as domestic, fly into your local airport? Which airlines? If not, where is the closest international airport? Are           direct flights from the cities above flown into your local airport?
     Are there other major transportation options to reach your city such as ship or train?
     How far is your convention site from the nearest airport/train station and what is the realistic cost of getting to the hotels by both public             transport and taxi from that airport/train station?
     What venue do you plan to use for the convention?
     What hotel(s) are being used for the convention?
     What are your hotel rates?
      Do hotel rates include breakfast?
     Do they include internet in the room?
     Do any of the hotels have shuttles to/from the airport, train station, or port?
      What is the distance from the main hotel(s) to the closest entrance of the convention site?
     What are the transportation options for those who prefer not to walk or who have mobility difficulties?
     Please describe your convention site facilities. For example, the quantity and sizes of function rooms, tech options, accessibility issues, etc.
     Where will your large events (i.e. Hugo Ceremony and Masquerade) be held?
     Please describe the restaurant scene near your site.
     What are the policies/laws regarding smoking at your:
          Convention Center:
     What type of weather can we expect at the time of year your convention is to be held?
     What arrangements will be made for evening socializing and party space? Do you have a corkage waiver?
     Are there legal restrictions on attendees who are under the legal drinking age? (And what is that drinking age?)
Do you currently have a code of conduct in place for your bid/convention? · If so, what is it? · If not, do you intend to have one?
Are you planning to have any membership discounts for certain groups, such as young adults, military, or seniors?
What are some of the main tourist attractions of your city?

Where are the “tough” ones?

Fandom is comprised of a wide range of diverse individuals, many of whom became fans because Fandom seemed to offer them a community of individuals who did not judge or exclude them because they were perceived as being “different” from the mainstream.

Indeed, Fandom was founded by individuals who were most decidedly not “normal”, as such things were measured in the early 1930s;  many, if not most, were nerdy, bookish, non-athletic, non-white, non-Christian, into science and technology, “alternative” politics and creative pursuits.  They didn’t “belong”.

They didn’t want to belong, to groups and societies and sub-cultures that did not reflect their personal values.

So they created one that did.

A culture that dismissed crass, unimportant concerns like what side of the railroad tracks you lived on, what race you were, what religion you were, whether you liked boys or girls or liked or were indifferent to both, what you political leanings were, because they’d found something that transcended those pedestrian concerns as being unimportant and, in many respects, limiting, if not detrimental.

Those same values (even when we find First Fandom’s execution of them limited in scope these days) have persisted through the decades, expanded and are now expressed in the use of Codes of Conduct, pronoun usage, accessibility reviews and the like.

But if Fandom truly wants to host events that reflect those positive values of freedom of expression, embrace of diversity and active inclusion, of wanting to be welcoming to anyone who desires to be a Fan, we have really got to do better when selecting and approving of, at the very least, our Worldcon and NASFiC bids.

WSFS deliberately (and for good reason) does not have a formal methodology for vetting and approving bids.  That function is rightly left to the Fans when bids are announced and when voting for Site Selection.

We’ve got to do better.

Right now, there is a Bid in for Uganda.

I’ll come right out and say it:  Uganda is an inappropriate host country for a Worldcon.  It should have received so much pushback in the run-up to announcing the bid that it was dropped before aborning.

But here we are.  A Worldcon Bid that would take place in a country where many of the prospective international attendees would be illegal.

From Amnesty International:

“It is deeply disturbing that the Ugandan authorities are prosecuting people based on their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Discrimination and persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in the country must be halted,” said Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa.

Among other things, a couple of years ago an author was arrested for being critical of the country’s President.  The country is signatory to the  Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, but has not filed a report on their progress since 2010.  The country’s net freedom, press freedom and other freedoms are supported on paper, but not in implementation.

We’d all like to believe that stepping inside a convention transports us from a real world that is flawed with all manner of injustices, mistaken values and ancient moralities into one where the things that really matter are given their due.

But you can’t do that if the host country doesn’t at least respect those values enough to be hands-off.  ANY country that does not operate under one version of a rule of law or another is a potential mine field, because the rules are, in fact, arbitrary, and can change on a political whim.

It shouldn’t need to be said, but any country that is not operating on democratic principles is a dangerous environment for the conduct of Fannish activities.

We’ve got to start asking the hard questions during our Inquisitions – and we’ve got to start looking at the responses more critically.

During the run-up to the Chengdu Bid, the committee was asked what it was going to do to support “cultural diversity” with its programming.  The response, which should have been a red flag but wasn’t, focused solely on mentions of “Han Chinese” culture.  “Fandom in Chengdu is about diversity and inclusion. It includes Han Chinese Clothing culture/anime culture/literature/films industry. In our Worldcon, we will bring these elements together and make the Wolrdcon a audio-visual feast.”
If a bid for a US con was asked a similar question, a similar response would have focused solely on “WMASPS” culture (White Male Anglo-Saxon Protestant Straight culture).  That is NOT cultural diversity.

Sure, we need to know about the “restaurant scene” in your city, but we also need to know –

How is the LGBTQI community perceived in your culture or country?   Can Transgender individuals be arrested for “wearing the wrong clothing”?  Will I be arrested for having posted something critical of its government or leaders in my Fanzine?  Will my cell phone be scanned?  My internet communications monitored and recorded?  Will I have to hide my necklace with a Cross or a Star of David on it?  Will I be prevented from entering the country because I have the wrong stamps in my passport?  Will I disappear because I held hands with the wrong person in public?  What are my risks if I travel outside the venue?  If I’m female and need a doctor, will a male owner have to be present? Will armed thugs beat me in the street because I didn’t cover my hair?

If you fail to take those and similar questions seriously, regarding international travel, you are putting yourself and perhaps others, at potential risk.  Remember that student who was caned in Singapore for littering?  Yes, he broke a local law, no doubt one that he scoffed at if he even knew about it, but it is worth remembering, because foreign countries have the right to enforce their own laws, however wrong or misguided they might be perceived to be.  They should not be lightly dismissed because they’re outside of your personal experience, or because you don’t take them seriously.  Someone else may.

I strongly suggest that some additional questions be added to our Fannish Inquisitions.  Questions like:

What kind of government does the host country have?  Where does it fall on the Corruption Perceptions Index?  Why?

Where does the host country fall on the Universal Human Rights Index?  If it’s rating is considered to be low, why is that?

Do individuals identifying as LGBTQI enjoy the same rights and freedoms as those who do not?  If not, why not?  What are the restrictions, if any? What are the consequences for expressing LGBTQI affiliation privately?  Publicly?

Do women enjoy the same freedoms as men?  The same opportunities?  The same protections under the law?

What is the status of digital freedom in the country?  Are there restrictions on accessing certain kinds of sites?  Is digital activity monitored by the government?

What is the country’s inclusivity like?  Are there accommodations for disabilities in  – housing, transportation, necessary services? Rights?

Is there age discrimination in the country?  If so, how is it expressed?

I’m sure there are others, but want to note one thing:  those questions are directly related to the issues covered in most, if not all, codes of conduct that we expect the convention itself to produce and then enforce, equally, for all attendees.  If inside the convention I’m allowed to go hatless, but outside the convention I’d get arrested for not wearing one, is that really the right environment for hosting a con?

No, we can’t expect ANY country to match, one-for-one, our Fannish ideals, concerns and ethics (no individual country does – Fandom leads the way in many respects), but we should be looking to host events where they are given their BEST expression.

No convention is going to change a country’s culture with its presence.  Hosting a Worldcon is seen, at least following Chengdu, as an opportunity on the international stage.  We, Fandom, have to develop some standards for the awarding of that opportunity.  We’ve got to step up and recognize that there are more things in play than just our desire to hang out in a country we’ve not been to before.

It has taken some eighty plus years, but Fandom has finally arrived at a time and place where the things we do, the causes we embrace and the standards that we endorse mean something on the world stage.  Early Fandom believed that it had a mission to lead the way to a better, brighter, more inclusive future through the literature that it championed.  We’ve got some chips in the game now.  Countries wanting a Worldcon to help advance their own agendas on that stage gives Worldcon leverage.  Leverage that it can use to support and advance its own cause.  Lets not blow it.

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  1. Steve, I started to write a response but it’s getting longer and longer. So for now I’ll quote myself:

    “And if those couple of brave fans had been pushed back the way you want, much less jumped during the Inquisition trying to defend their country when it’s impossible, treated as being the entire country, told that they’re pretty much awful people, we’re not only excluding them, we’re being damn rude. NOKD. Which could be the entire reply to what you’ve written but isn’t particularly helpful.”

    1. So now asking questions isn’t appropriate? Why host a Q&A at all, then? I did think that one of the purposes of hosting Worldcons in other countries was to learn about and experience different cultures, no?

      Fans are not being asked these questions: the representatives of an organization that would like to host a Worldcon are being asked these questions. There are two purposes in asking these questions. The first is – is that committee capable of running a successful (at at least not a disastrous) Worldcon. Have they chosen a location that can support the event? Are they going to be reasonably priced? Do we have to travel cross country to get to the venue from the airport? Do they have a Code of Conduct (and what does it say?)
      The second purpose is to decide if we want to attend an event hosted/managed by that group of people in that particular location.
      Many of the example questions I listed are simply asking for more detail regarding issues covered in the Code of Conduct we request conventions to adopt and implement.

  2. This article NEEDS to be spread far and wide. Steve has been a champion for inclusivity in fandom for as long as I’ve known him. Repost this everywhere.

    1. This article should NOT be spread far and wide, or even spread. “Steve has been a champion for inclusivity in fandom for as long as I’ve known him.” What he’s championing is the opposite. If you respect him give him a chance to reconsider.

      1. I am not saying we should be less inclusive. I’m saying we’ve got to recognize that Worldcon has a greater profile in the world now and we have to be more careful about where we host conventions. There’s room for discrimination in inclusivity. If Nambla offered to sponsor a Worldcon, we’d say “No thanks”, your agenda does not align with ours. This is no different.

        1. What you’re forgetting is that fandom is made up of individuals, fans, and although it’s not your intent you’re excluding them. Twice. The first is that other than a passing sentence you’re telling people they’re excluded, that Worldcons are ‘approved’. Far from it, the decision is made by the voters, members of WSFS (World Science Fiction Society) And if you’re a member of a Worldcon you’re a member of WSFS and can vote. Tell people Worldcons are approved, if they believe you you’re taking away their right to vote.

          Voting is very simple, perhaps 15 minutes because of the process to be sure no one knows how a member voted. If you get confused folks are happy to walk you through it. There is a ‘voters fee’ which actually isn’t, the details have fallen out of my head. But over the years I’ve covered for other people, other people have covered for me. And Site Selection is usually near the Dealer’s Room. But when’s the last time you went over and voted? Do you even know that you, along with everyone else, can vote?

          The second is that of course there’s not going to be a Worldcon in Uganda! What’s important, very, very important is that some fans in Uganda have gotten together and decided to bid for one. And people bidding is great, even if they are doing it to just to get to a Worldcon. We want to encourage people to become members, we want them to be in this community, we want them to take this back to fans in their country, we want to help them learn how to hold conventions, we want this to spread, we want them to interact with other fans at the Worldcon, we want to include more and more different views, cultures we know nothing about (those who skipped the Puerto Rico NASFiC missed a lot) we want, we want . . .

          “If Nambla offered to sponsor a Worldcon, we’d say “No thanks”, your agenda does not align with ours. This is no different.” This *is* different, again you’re forgetting that people bidding are individuals. Nambla is a large organization and people choose to join it. But the bids you’re talking about are people who haven’t chosen where they live. They’re not a country, they don’t control the laws. They’re a handful of fans, people who read books, magazines, find other people who are interested, get together and talk about them, and are really excited. Sound familiar? And these are an even smaller group, convention fans who’ve decided to go for it. You can’t imagine how much work goes into a bid, how many people it takes, even just how much money just to get places – remember, everyone’s a volunteer at a Worldcon, everyone pays their own way – often people pooling their money so a couple of people can get there.

          Which brings us to “and if those couple of brave fans had been pushed back the way you want, much less jumped during the Inquisition trying to defend their country when it’s impossible, treated as being the entire country, told that they’re pretty much awful people, we’re not only excluding them, we’re being damn rude.” It’s easy when writing but you at least wouldn’t walk up to a bid table and rant at the people behind it about their country the way others have. Because face to face you’d recognize they are people not a monolith. New, excited, a bit uncertain, just like a lot of new fans.

          “No convention is going to change a country’s culture with its presence.” But a convention, even just bidding for one, can change the fannish culture.

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