Guns, cons, safe spaces


So, there’s this person in the atheist community, Sarah Mayhew, who I only know via reputation.  And what I’ve seen, I’m not impressed.  Especially not with her latest tweet.  First, a little background before I get to her tweet and respond to it. Don’t care if she sees it, sort of piggybacking on some stupid to say something smarter(I hope).


This weekend was Skepticon 6, a free atheist/freethinker conference in Springfield MO.  I’ll be discussing the AWESOME that was basically everything other than this incident in a later post.  Early Saturday morning, though, there was an altercation in a hotel room between some attendees, which resulted in a drunken asshat pulling a gun on Dave Muscato, the PR director for American Atheists.  Here’s a post written by Dave explaining what happened:
http://skepticon.org/security-update/

Sounds like Skepticon staff handled it quite well.  You can’t always prevent a bad situation- there’s only so much that can be done by con staff, especially when the incident occurred outside the con proper.

So, Sarah Mayhew decided to tweet this:
Sara E. Mayhew (@saramayhew) tweeted at 3:02 PM on Sat, Nov 16, 2013:
Death threat at gun point at #Skepticon, but no one received unwanted flirting, so still a safe space. #sk6
(https://twitter.com/saramayhew/status/401817528038461440)

This refers to an ongoing controversy about sexual harassment at atheist events. Many women, and a few men, have been complaining about serious sexual harassment and assault- up to rape- at many prominent conferences.  Again, you can’t always prevent bad shit from happening.  And to be fair to Mayhew, unwanted flirting is probably a good bit less bad than threatening murder while holding a loaded gun.

There’s a key difference in the sexual harassment and assault that people have been complaining about, and this drunken threat that occurred at Skepticon.  Notice in Dave’s telling where the guy agreed not to return to Skepticon, and he was offered an escort for the rest of the event?  Skepticon dealt with the situation.  To the point of offering an escort- note, Dave was there as Dave, not as a rep for American Atheists, just a regular con attendee.   This takes a staff member off other things, making everyone else have to do more.  They were ready at the drop of a hat to take on some actual inconvenience to make sure Dave was ok.

This does not happen with sexual harrassment.  Women report and get brushed off.  If they’re lucky, a report will be taken but good luck having it remembered- there have been TAMs with multiple reports, that multiple attendees recall being made, yet DJ Grothe has said there were no reports that year. 

Why is Skepticon a safe space and other cons not, despite the incidents at other cons appearing at first glance to be less serious?  Because Skepticon actually takes this stuff seriously, and will go out of their way to make things right.  Something bad might happen to you, sure, but it’s much less likely to recur at a place that has and enforces conduct policies.

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