Every time I return from a convention, my mother asks me why it is so important to be so open about being gay. “People don’t want to know things like that. Aren’t you afraid you are turning off potential readers?”
It is important to be out.
It is easier to hate a minority if it is a faceless mass of people than it is to hate a living, breathing person.
Simply having an LGBT Panel on a convention schedule announces to the attendees that we are there.
How we run an LGBT Panel
We always schedule the panel for the first day of the convention. That is important. The panel is more of a meet and greet than a topic panel. Once we know who all is in the community, we can plan out the rest of our convention to do things together.
We open the panel with a State of the Genre, discussing news relevant to the community. We only spend as much time on each topic as the attendants want. Sometimes that runs the whole time, but usually not.
Then, we open the panel to questions and comments from the attendants. That is when the panel becomes interesting. You never know what you are going to talk about. This year, for example, we discussed furries at length. It was a great conversation, and we all learned a lot.
I also like to have one topic I like to raise awareness of. This year it was gender issues.
It is easy to run a panel like this, but it is not always easy to get one on the schedule.
Approaching the committee
Not every committee is welcoming of an LGBT panel. It is important not to be combatant with them.
You need to listen to their concerns and find a compromise that works for everyone. For example, at Shore Leave, we have an Mature tag added to the panel because the committee members are afraid of a lawsuit from a parent of a child who attends without the parent realizing we are discussing issues of gender and sexuality.
I am against the label, but it is a requirement they placed on us to have the panel. I talk with them about it every year. It is more important that we have the panel than to do it without the label, so I tolerate it.
I ask our attendants to where an IDIC pin to show they are supporters of diversity. We chose the IDIC instead of a more overt LGBT symbol so closeted attendants and others who won’t feel comfortable with an LGBT symbol can still show their support. Besides, Diversity is what we are all about.
In the early years, we held dance ins at conventions, and organized other visibility events, but they proved to be moot. After we clarified with security how a same gender couple would be treated at the dance, we realized that we danced together anyway, so formalizing it was unnecessary.
It is also important to attend any panel where LGBT subjects could or should be discussed to ensure that our voice is heard.
It takes a little courage to do it the first time, but after that it is easy and fun. Let us know about your LGBT panels before they happen, and we will gladly spread the word.