GAFilk’s harassment policy

GAFilk’s harassment policy isn’t as bad as FilKONtario’s, but it does have its problems. It defines harassment as follows:

Harassment includes harmful verbal comments, sexual images in public spaces, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of concerts, circles, or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention.

There’s some circularity: Harassing photography is harassing and Grumpy Cat is grumpy, but that doesn’t actually tell us anything. The inclusion of “following” (not even “harassing following”) must be a mistake; at the end of the concerts, everyone except the first person out of the room would be guilty of harassment. “Stalking” covers whatever following can be legitimately prohibited. But I’ll grant that those are just careless wording.

The big problem, as with FilKONtario, is regulation of speech. What constitutes “harmful verbal comments”? If you say you don’t like a song or performance, that might be “harmful.” In practice, “harmful” usually means “unpopular.” Worse, as I’ve noted before, that kind of prohibition can shelter actual harassment. If you warn people that someone is dangerous or untrustworthy, that’s certainly harmful to their reputation, and they can use the con’s policy to intimidate you.

Is this really worth worrying about? Shouldn’t we trust the concom to enforce the policy reasonably, even if the wording is poor? It is, because certain disturbing trends in society shouldn’t spread to fandom. In the academic world especially, we’ve seen speech restrictions that are intolerant in both their phrasing and implementation. Bergen Community College tried to make a professor undergo psychiatric evaluation for posting a picture of his daughter in a Game of Thrones t-shirt. The University of Wisconsin-Stout threatened to bring criminal charges against a professor for putting up a Firefly poster outside his office door. There are 4300 or more signatures on an online petition to ban Bill Maher from speaking on the Berkeley campus. I read a post recently on LiveJournal that claims the word tolerance doesn’t “mean what you think it means” if you think it extends to views you seriously oppose. But it does mean that, Inigo, or it means nothing. If conventions enact rules against comments that are “harmful,” “belittle,” or “cause personal embarrassment,” then it’s only a matter of time before they’re used to silence opinions someone doesn’t approve of.

I’ve never attended GAFilk, since it’s a long trip in winter, though I’ve heard many good things about it. As a participant in the filk community, I’m simply concerned with the tendency of cons to impose speech codes. At ConCertino, we’ll be doing all we can to keep the environment safe, and this includes making sure people feel free to talk about problems.


3 Responses to “GAFilk’s harassment policy”

  1. Gretchen H. Roper Says:


  2. filkferengi Says:

    It’s a valid point.

    I want you to come to GaFilk, so you can conspire with Dr. Crowell to concoct a keyboard-cavorting concert for me to record. How’s that sound to you?

    • Gary McGath Says:

      I don’t fly from or to US airports unless someone’s paying me a lot, and GAfilk is a painful drive in winter, so it’s not likely I’ll get there any time soon. Besides which, I’m just not in Mary’s league. Few people are.

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