This the first of a series of profiles of conventions, local to Seattle and across the country, with missions that are relevant to the LGBTQ community.
There’s a brand new gaming convention right here in the Pacific Northwest: OrcaCon, taking place January 8th-10th at the Holiday Inn in downtown Everett, WA. While Jetspace has profiled LGBTQ targeted conventions in the past, OrcaCon is a convention aimed at a broader audience, but one with inclusivity and diversity at the forefront.
Most established conventions (such as Norwescon, Gen Con, and PAX) have diversity programming and initiatives, but have incorporated them later in the process. That’s not to take anything away from those efforts, but there’s something to be said for OrcaCon stating directly from the outset: “When we say that OrcaCon is inclusive, we mean it. Our goal is to make the convention a truly warm, inviting, and most importantly safe space for everyone—gamers, cosplayers, families, members of the LGBT community, old, young, and everything in between.”
I spoke to Donna Prior, executive director and founder of OrcaCon, to find out what building an inclusive convention means to her.
“The first thing I did was set up an anti-harassment policy,” Donna explains. “And then I set out to invite a 50/50 split of special guests (based on gender presentation), invite LGBTQIA_+ and POC [people of color] guests. I’m doing my best to make the convention accessible, with wider aisles and easier access to content. We’re curating and jurying our vendors, our Community Row, our panels and programming.”
While the schedule is still being finalized, Donna also noted there would be a slate of programming of specific interest to LGBTQ participants.
“We have many queer folks on our staff, and as our Special Guests,” she confirms. “We really believe in what we’re doing and we want people to have an amazing time playing games.”
What differentiates OrcaCon from other conventions?
“One of the best things I love is that we’re really focused on bringing new people into the hobby,” Donna declares. “Many people who backed our Kickstarter had never played games before, and they want to learn about games and diversity at OrcaCon. Our convention is working hard to make sure we’re not 99.5% straight white males over the age of 35. Not that this is bad or that this demographic is bad, or other conventions are bad. Our focus is just different.”
Donna Prior has an impressive history as a gamer, organizer and in the industry.
“I’ve been running meetup groups since 2002,” Donna stated. “Everywhere I live, I create geek and game meetups. I’ve been volunteering since about 1979, so this is just a natural extension of my hobby. I started working in tabletop after working with Chris Pramas (CEO of Green Ronin Publishing.) We worked on a game called Pirates of the Burning Sea. When they were looking for someone to set up a volunteer GM program, they brought me on board.”
She’s had personal experience with misogyny and exclusivity over the years as a gamer.
“I wanted to play Dungeons and Dragons in high school,” Donna revealed, “but my geek friends said: Girls don’t play D&D, it’s for guys. Luckily, a few years later, I met some great folks who not only wanted me to join their group, but there were already two women playing! I haven’t stopped gaming since, though due to sexism, sexual assault, just freaking terrible behavior, I’ve thought about it. But I won’t let those people win.”
Fighting off naysayers is always an issue with conventions catering to non-straight white male segments of gamers. I asked Donna how she handled the negativity.
“I’ve seen negative chatter about it on the Internet, that we’re a bunch of Social Justice Warriors,” Donna admitted. “I like to think of it as we’re a balanced party of Warriors, Clerics, Paladins, Rogues, and everything else. We just want to play games. And feature games by diverse voices.”
It’s fantastic to have a new, inclusive convention in the area! If you’re interested in checking out OrcaCon, memberships and hotel rooms (using the code ORC) are available now. There are also volunteer opportunities, and the chance to submit ideas for panels. If you are interested in submitting a panel, submissions are open until October 1st.