A Letter from the Editor: Conventions, the RFRA, and You

Today is an important day in the LGBT Community.  While it’s a fairly new event (started in 2009,) International Transgender Visibility Day is a vital step forward for Trans people.  It’s a day to celebrate transitioning, coming out, and being yourself.  Unlike the Transgender Day of Remembrance (started in 1998,) which is a day of mourning, Trans Visibility Day serves to be a day of celebration.

But today, at a time when the queer community should be celebrating, it must also regroup and push back against a bill that seeks to dismantle so much that is being fought for.  Today is a day that is supposed to be declarative that it is okay to walk outside as you are.  That you should be proud.  But in Indiana, where the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has just passed, as well as in other states that are now considering the bill, there seems to be a very disturbing message coming from Republican lawmakers.  They are very clearly announcing, to everyone that has struggled so hard to feel pride in themselves, that their struggles are in vain.  That they have no right to the most basic safeties.

Now, you might say, “but Rachel, how does refusing service equate with a lack of safety?”  I’m glad you asked, disembodied voice.  When a storeowner refuses service to an LGBT individual, they are clearly stating “I view you as subhuman.”  And when a person is viewed as subhuman, they become a target for violence and hatred.  In fact, as we can see, they already have.  While the RFRA appears as a push towards the entire queer community (and is one,) we have to keep in mind that something like this will fall on the head of Trans individuals, and others who are very visibly “queer” or “different.” 

In 2011, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs released data showing murders against LGBT individuals had reached a new peak, and that said violence was disproportionately high against people of color.  In fact, 87% of those murder victims were people of color.  And 45% of the murder victims were transgender women.

In 2013, the Huffington Post posted research findings which showed that in North and South America Transgender murders were occurring at  50% higher rate.  This was drawn from data taken over the month of July, following the brutal murder of Dwayne Jones in Jamaica.  And in 2015, 1 in 8 trans women of color are a victim of homicide.

So.  That brings us back around to RFRA.  Sort of.  There’s a lot of history and statistics that I could cover, but this is, ultimately, a website about nerd culture.  So what I’d like to discuss now is the convention circuit, geek culture, and RFRA.  Because it’s important to know the history of violence before we move forward.  It’s important to know the two sides.  Who stands on the side of violence, and who doesn’t.

On March 25, the Huffington Post reported that major gaming convention Gen Con was threatening to pull out of Indiana if RFRA passed, thus costing the state millions of dollars in revenue.  It seems like that wasn’t enough of a threat, though: the bill still passed.  And Gen Con will still be held in Indianapolis, Indiana.  And before I get my pitchfork out and skewer Gen Con for not sticking to their word, I will keep in mind that it’s pretty much impossible to move a convention that starts on August 3rd to a new state.  Hotels are booked, by now.  Exhibitors booked.  There’s a lot of legally binding contracts that have been signed.  Maybe next year, things will be different.  Because while a bill like this passes into law, it happens because lawmakers know that conventions, major sports events, the like, can’t move in the current year.  Everything’s been signed and sealed.  I understand that.

But people are dying.  RFRA and its supporters firmly say, “Good. Let them.”  And  here’s the thing: I am absolutely not accusing Gen Con of standing with that message.  Nor am I accusing the city of Indianapolis, who must now work overtime to pass legislature that will still protect the city’s LGBT inhabitants.  Gen Con must make it explicitly clear that this year’s convention will be a safe space.  But we also have to ask ourselves, if this bill shows no signs of being repealed next year, will these events actually move?  Where does the accountability start, and how much is enough?

Let’s look at the recent post by Georgia Unites, which states “DRAGON CON CONDEMNS DISCRIMINATORY RFRA BILL.”  According to the post, Dragon Con has formally stated:

“Should this bill become law, we will seek written assurances from all of our business partners that they will not participate in any discriminatory behavior on the basis of race, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other point of identification. We have no intention now or in the future of supporting a business partner that discriminates.”

And again, that’s good.  That’s a much better step than Dragon Con saying “whatever, if it happens it happens, it’s not our problem.”  But it’s also not pulling out of the state.  And it’s not hitting lawmakers in the wallet.  It’s kind of just staring at the wallet and shaking a fist.  There is no news about Dragon Con potentially moving to another state.  Presumably, Atlanta lawmakers will make the same amendments that lawmakers in Indianapolis are making as we speak.  Is that enough, though?  And how can we actually keep lawmakers from passing RFRA in other states?

There’s a certain financial pressure that’s not actually being put on lawmakers.  And while we can reprimand lawmakers, while we can create safe spaces in conventions, what happens when the conventions leave?  The laws will still be in place.  And safety can’t take a back seat, here.  Not anymore.  I urge convention runners to put more financial pressure on state lawmakers.  Real pressure.  Until then, I’m just not sure it’s enough.

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About the author

Rachel Greeman

is the Editor this city needs, but maybe not the one it deserves. She is a graduate of New York University, and spends her free time at Starbucks. She believes herself to be a combination of Selina Kyle and Kate Bishop, which is why she cosplays them all the time. Actually, her cosplay page is facebook.com/bishopkatherinecosplays. Check it out if you're cool or feel like looking at cosplays or whatever. Once, she met Chris Evans and accidentally flirted with him.