There’s been a recent trend, lately, towards more organized activities for queer folks who are also fans of geek media, whether that means video games, role-playing games, board games, science fiction/fantasy books, TV, films, anime, or other. Queer geeks have a community based on a set of interests, rather than just a sexual or gender identity in common, and gatherings that target them offer a different social opportunity outside of a generic bar social setting. While conventions like PAX or San Diego Comicon have LGBT inclusive panels and spaces, conventions specifically targeted at the queer population offer something extra to fans, and can be a safe space for them to pursue their interests and be themselves without fear of judgment.
In the past few years, the LGBT convention circuit has exploded with events across the country and beyond: GaymerX, Outlantacon, Bent-Con (sadly on hiatus this year), and Flamecon are some prominent examples.
Down in Austin, Texas, organizer Shane Brown, who also founded the Gay Austin Geeks, had the passion to create his own successful convention, HavenCon, which recently completed an Indiegogo to secure its venue for 2016, its second year.
I spoke with Shane to ask him about his experience. Initially, the idea was to create a dedicated gaming venue called the Haven Lounge.
“The original concept was to be a safe space for the kids in a small town I spent some time in, and after moving to Austin, I decided to make it a safe space for everyone,” Shane explains. “But fear and finances didn’t allow it to come to fruition. Finances are always difficult, of course. But after not reaching the goal we needed to move forward, I decided to take a step back. So I went back to my mundane job in IT and put the lounge on hold.”
While finances kept Shane’s lounge from opening, an unexpected obstacle spurred Shane on to create HavenCon.
“A few months after the campaign for the Haven Lounge, I was diagnosed with cancer,” he admits. “It ended up being a misdiagnosis, but I realized that the things that mattered to me previously just weren’t as important. So I began working on creating a convention here in Texas that people could go to at least once a year, be themselves, and have great conversations with people they know and respect in the various fandoms and industry.”
HavenCon isn’t here to drive an agenda, to make a political statement, or sell itself as being geek chic, or sexualizing the geek culture. It’s just about being you.”
It’s amazing what someone can accomplish with the proper motivation. Shane agrees.
“It’s pretty crazy what one can accomplish when they see things on an abridged timeline,” he says. “Once I heard the news about my health, I shed a lot of fear and just dove in. I think it worked out well in the end. I’m also happy to report that I am healthy and will be around for much longer, and will continue to work hard on the things I feel passionately about.”
While HavenCon isn’t unique as a convention with a queer geek focus, it is unique in some ways.
“HavenCon is the first of its kind in Texas,” Shane says. “While there are a lot of great LGBT events around the state, we’re the first to focus on geek/gaming fandoms, which is pretty special for this part of the country. It’s accessible to a large group of people who may not want or be able to travel to the coasts.”
Shane prefers not to compare and contrast to other similar conventions, since they have a common goal of creating safe space. But he does want to clarify HavenCon’s mission.
“HavenCon isn’t here to drive an agenda, to make a political statement, or sell itself as being geek chic, or sexualizing the geek culture,” Shane emphasizes. “It’s just about being you. If you as an individual want to talk about the politics of gaming or comics, or if you want to show yourself off in cosplay or whatever it is you are ‘Geek Proud’ of, this is the space for that. But as a convention, we’d rather avoid over-sexualization or attaching personal opinions to a convention’s name, as it can attract a massive amount of negativity and the wrong kind of attention.”
While being located in Austin is a draw for the many queer geeks in the area, is there a draw for folks outside of Texas to attend?
“Austin is an amazing city!” Shane exclaims. “We’re ranked the 3rd largest LGBT population in America. The queer culture here is beautiful and unique.“
The last HavenCon had some interesting highlights, setting some big expectations for the next convention.
“We had two amazing celebrity guests this past year, Janet Varney and PJ Byrne, who played Korra and Bolin in Legend of Korra,” Shane explains. “Korra and Asami got together at the end of the series and it was confirmed as canon that they are a couple, which was a very big deal for the LGBT community and LGBT geeks in general. They were amazing and fun and we couldn’t have been happier with them joining us. We had so many great guests and artists that I couldn’t begin to list them. Dr. Rebecca Housel was a lot of fun as our Grand Mistress of Ceremonies. Alexa Heart, a cosplayer who came out as trans, was a doll.”
He teased, “For next year, well, you’ll just have to wait and see.”
LGBT focused conventions haven’t been without their controversy, with critics pointing at the growing inclusivity of cons like PAX or E3. Shane feels, though, that having gatherings focused on the queer geek community is still important.
“We are worth more than one to two hours or 1000 square feet of space and time,” Shane points out. “The larger conventions are becoming more accommodating and accepting, and I will never say: do not go to these events. But we have many issues to discuss, many talents to meet and talk to, and we deserve equal representation. So this show is for us, and we invite you all to come and see what is important to us!”
For those interested in checking out HavenCon, tickets can be found online. The second HavenCon will be held April 22 – 24, 2016 at the Holiday Inn Midtown in Austin, Texas. Take a weekend trip and see Shane’s dream of an inclusive convention in Texas in person!