In June I wrote about Balticon’s treatment of Stephanie Burke, which
appeared to be outrageous. This week Balticon issued a statement on the
matter. It shows they took the matter seriously, which is good, but I’m
not convinced they got to the heart of the problem.
Just to be clear, I wasn’t present and I don’t know any of the people directly involved. However, I’ve encountered enough similar cases at
fan-run conventions to know that there is a problem with speech codes
and arbitrary accusations at several of them. This includes one person,
who prefers not to be named, who has been the target of false
accusations by the Balticon organization. The situation with Burke gave
the impression from the beginning that Balticon was in the wrong, and
their statement acknowledges it. It dumps all the blame on one staffer,
The question remains: Why was Burke subjected to such vague accusations
at all? The BSFS press release said: "Of the complaints against Ms.
Burke, our Investigation Team determined there were no Code of Conduct violations. Witnesses confirmed that she was speaking of her own
experiences and not making general statements about another individual
or class of people. Speaking one’s own truth is not a violation of our
Code of Conduct." It’s hard to draw any sense from that. If it was OK to
talk about her own experience, why wouldn’t it have been OK to talk
about someone else’s experiences?
Quoting the code of conduct again, the following is prohibited: "Slurs
and derogatory comments about a person, group, or category of people.
This includes comments based on characteristics such as, but not limited
to, actual or perceived race, national origin, ethnicity, sex, gender,
sexual orientation, physical appearance, age, religion, ability,
disability, family structure, marital status, and/or socioeconomic class."
Maybe she said something self-deprecating, and someone decided that a "derogatory comment" about herself violated the speech code? There isn’t
an explicit exception for mocking oneself, in spite of what the press
The underlying problem is that some conventions place sweeping
prohibitions on the opinions that attendees express. I don’t know the specifics, but I suspect that without such a broad rule, there would
have been no accusation against Burke in the first place, and none of
what followed would have been necessary.
Gary McGath http://www.mcgath.com