Let’s Discuss the Supanova LGBTIQ+ Controversy
Any geek who has been online during this past weekend would have seen some heated discussions going on regarding Australian pop-culture expo Supanova, including articles in both the niche and mainstream media. We have kept on eye on how things have unfolded without throwing our hat in the ring. Some people have been angry while some have been angry in response to the anger, and we didn’t want to be a reactionary and defensive voice without giving everyone a chance to say their piece. To that end we have contacted the affected groups and invited them to provide their own statements before we published. In response we have a statement from Queer Geeks of Oz and an interview with Daniel Zachariou found later in the article.
How Did the Controversy Begin?
It started last Sunday, the 5th of June. A screen-grabbed image that had been taken from the Facebook page of Supanova founder Daniel Zachariou was published on Facebook and Twitter showing that he had posted support for a petition against the Australian ‘Safe Schools’ coalition.
Before we go any further, the practise of taking images from a person’s private social media pages and making it available to the public without consent is a serious problem. This action shows a total disrespect for privacy and, as someone who works with the public, I would be furious if it had been done to me. Regardless of your feelings towards someone, take a moment to think about how much you are willing to invade their privacy for your own ends.
The Safe Schools coalition is a group designed to “create safer and more inclusive environments for same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, staff and families”. It is a voluntary program that schools and principles can apply to for education programs, guidance and consultation and resources for school staff. The initiative has come under scrutiny from a number of groups around Australia. Safe Schools have been accused of using their position to further a political agenda, whilst others have accused critics of homophobia and attempting to attack the rights of LGBTIQ+ citizens. In March this year the Education Minister instigated changes to Safe Schools, including more involvement from parents and restrictions of age groups who can access the material.
Daniel Zachariou posted a link on his Facebook to the ‘Our Kids Petition’, which is stringently opposed to Safe Schools. The petition’s website alludes to links between the program and violent pornography, claims that the anti-bullying aspects of the program are a cover to teach children about homosexuality and implies that teachers are attempting to ‘sexualise’ 11 year old children through role playing scenarios. The petition calls for the cancellation of the Safe Schools program. It has been branded as homophobic by many people on social media this past weekend, and it’s easy to see why. The use of scare tactics and emotive language reads as though it is pushing an agenda rather than addressing reforms. Reading through the website hosting the petition is seems clear that removing programs relating to homosexuality and transgender education is at forefront of their minds.
Following the spread of the image taken from Zachariou’s Facebook, he took to the Supanova Facebook page to address the matter. He apologised, stated that he took full responsibility and introduced a new ‘Diversity’ panel for the June Supanova tour. (We have contacted Supanova via Twitter to ask for more information on this panel, but they do not yet have any confirmed information – granted, it was announced yesterday.)
Many responses to the statement have been critical, questioning the sincerity of the statement and branding it a public relations move. This may come from the wording of the statement, wherein Zachariou did not refute claims that he was homophobic or transphobic, rather that he “did not intend to express these views”. This does leave the impression that he is skirting around the issue of LGBTIQ+ rights and education to avoid conflicting with his personal views.
In another communication attributed to Zachariou that spread through social media, he has expressed his personal feelings on the matter, acknowledging that he has ‘made mistakes’ in expressing ‘his concerns’. This reinforces the impression left by his public statement. He also notes that he was unaware of how different the petition looked when it was shared on Facebook. Comparing what was shared and the original petition website, it does look drastically different as seen below.
Why Has This One Instance Generated Such Anger?
Unfortunately this is not a stand alone occurrence for Supanova Expo or Zachariou. In 2014 independent comic creator Scarlette Baccini was asked by Supanova to remove her comic Jesus Reloadeth’d from sale at her stall during the final hours of the convention. Baccini and other comic creators claimed that Supanova management had a homophobic or religious agenda behind the removal of the comic. On Facebook Baccini said:
“At an event packed with extreme gore, horrific violence, and all manner of sexually explicit material, my little book about love and hypocrisy was removed because it depicts two adult men having boring consensual sex.”
It is easy to see why this claim had legs. Comic books feature horror and violence as a routine story telling device, and depictions of sex are not uncommon. Comic book stalls carry a very large stock at conventions, with many books deemed to be classics featuring adult content. The most obvious example is Watchmen, widely considered to be one of the best comics ever written, which contains scenes of sex, violent rape and…well, whatever you call that bit when Doctor Manhattan splits himself in half for a threesome with himself and Silk Spectre. Given the number of titles with similar content, it does seem as though Jesus Reloadeth’d had been singled out.
Supanova’s stance was that Baccini’s book contravened exhibitor guidelines. At the time the official line from Supanova was that this was not the only book that was withdrawn from sale for breaching guidelines, although they did not identify any other titles. At the end of the day if exhibitor guidelines were in place and a book breaches them, it becomes difficult to argue that there is another motive behind it.
Problems arose again in 2015 with the announcement that actor Adam Baldwin was to appear at Supanova’s Sydney and Perth events. Being an actor on Firefly pretty much opens every convention door for you, so it’s little surprise that they booked him alongside co-star Nathan Fillion. Not everyone was happy with this choice of guest though. Through his Twitter account Baldwin had spoken out against issues including feminism, gun control and abortion, striking out at anyone he deemed a ‘liberal’. In one especially nasty moment he equated gay marriage to incest.
What’s wrong, now, with a father marrying his son for love & to avoid tax penalties?
— Adam Baldwin (@AdamBaldwin) February 21, 2014
That particular tweet, and others like it, were deleted shortly after it had been posted but the Internet has a habit of remembering these things. The most pressing matter was that Baldwin had coined the term ‘Gamergate’, a name used to identify groups of people who harassed and threatened women prominent in the gaming development field.
Supanova attendees took issue with this, and created a petition to rescind Baldwin’s invitation as his public comments on these issues were not in line with the conventions Code of Conduct. Some voiced concerns that his presence advocated harassment of women and LGBTIQ+ groups. A counter-petition was also launched, but accuracies were called into question when it was shown a Gamergate board on 4chan was encouraging followers to create fake accounts to drum up their numbers.
Ultimately Supanova responded with a Facebook message from Daniel Zachariou confirming that Baldwin would still be in attendance. He also spoke about the need for inclusion and that asking a guest not to attend for their political or ideological views would go against that ethos, asked that people be mindful of each other’s views and reinforced that the Code of Conduct will be in effect. This response was not enough to satisfy many who opposed his appearance at the convention for the reasons discussed above.
With this latest outcry against Supanova and their organisers it is easy to understand why people are upset and declaring their boycott of the brand. This is not a one time error in judgement, but an issue that Supanova has been forced to address three times in as many years. It is easy to see this latest controversy as a continuation of the previous problems or a repeating pattern that paints an ugly picture. In every case the argument can be made that Supanova has been misrepresented, or made a mistake in the public arena, but when it recurs this frequently those arguments become harder to accept.
We Reached Out to Both Sides of the Controversy
That brings us back to today. When the image taken from Zachariou’s Facebook went viral on the weekend, I was furious. I took it at face value, looked at the petition website and was disgusted that such a position could be promoted by anyone. That it was linked to Supanova, a convention that we have provided coverage of many, many times over the past few years made me especially angry. Supanova had supported this site in its early days and even provided us with our first major interview with the amazing Alan Tudyk. In addition to this, I work as a teacher and have worked with homosexual, transgendered and bisexual students and have seen first hand the personal and public struggles they face. I am lucky to work at a highly supportive and inclusive school, but when working with a teenager going through a gender transition you get to see how hard life can be even in a positive environment. I have learnt through my students that even small occurrences, like having a teacher being hesitant to speak to you because they don’t know how to address you, can add up and take a toll when dealt with every single day. What young people must go through in less supportive environments must be horrible.
I have also learned, the hard way, that throwing yourself into an issue without considering both sides can be a mistake. I waited until an official response was made by Supanova and followed the subsequent discussions that took place online. For the most part I stayed out of them, being aware that any comments I make would also be representative of this website. Eventually I felt like we should discuss it, so we reached out to the group Queer Geeks of Oz and the publicity co-ordinator of Supanova with requests for statements to be published as part of this article.
A founding member of Queer Geeks of Oz was kind enough to write a statement for us in between attending to other events and responsibilities. Supanova also responded positively with a request that we interview Daniel Zachariou by phone. We encourage everyone who has been following the story from either perspective to give equal time to both.
In the order of which we received the responses, we first have the statement from Queer Geek of Oz.
As a geek and a queer geek it really concerns me that the Event Director, clearly someone who has great influence and a founder of a pop-culture organisation affiliates himself to a hateful petition that has an anti-Safe Schools stance. So why do I think that? Well, my background is as the organiser or helmer (if there is such a word) for the very 1st LGBTIQ discussion panel in Australia at any major pop-cons called Queer Geeks of Oz. QGOO was developed on the premise that our queer geek community needed a voice and to be visible in what used to be a very hetero-normative environment. Geeks come in all shapes, sizes and genders and backgrounds…that couldn’t be ignored any longer in my opinion, hence Queer Geeks of Oz was born! We have done, to date, 2 Oz Comic Con panels and 1 at the former Armageddon con and last year at PAX Australia. The support across the platforms of geekdom has been and is fantastic and positive, but there has been one absence and that is the other large major player: Supanova. Whether we have been snubbed,ignored or neglected by the Supanova organisation is not the point but our invitations in the past to talk to them have been met with silence. So, basically, I think of well their loss. All I have ever wanted to do as an organiser of QGOO is to make sure our little but resilient niche community is included in cons that have an invested interest in representing diversity and we have happily acted as spokespersons on LGBTIQ issues and topics that arise in the nerd world. Now with this post of the owner of Supanova who have hosted the likes of great advocates like Lucy Lawless to the wonderfully out and proud John Barrowman and icons of such importance as George Takei, it pains me and distresses me to see Mr Zachariou have such a position that threatens to harm our young queer people. What is Safe Schools (actually called the Safe Schools Coalition?) ‘Safe Schools Coalition Australia is a national network of organisations working with schools to create safer and more inclusive environments for same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, staff and families.’ (from their website http://www.safeschoolscoalition.org.au/)
As LGBTIQ young people are tragically amongst the highest in suicide numbers (after indigenous Australians) it worries and naturally makes me defensive to protect and to speak out about Mr Zachariou’s stance.
These are queer youth, and of course our future, and such a matter and action that he has taken supports the putting at risk all those beautiful young people, some of who no doubt would frequent Supanova and similar pop culture events as they are one of the biggest entertainments, he says through his actions that these young people don’t really matter. This is where I draw the line. Our kids are at risk and Mr Zachariou needs to apologise to those kids, explain why he shared and obviously signed the petition, and acknowledge he needs to do something like relinquish his control of Supanova and he needs to make amends through a donation to Safe Schools or Minus 18 or offer his time as a volunteer to such an organisation.It’s Time, Mr Suapnova it’s TIME.
Click below for a recording of our interview with Daniel Zachariou and Supanova Event Co-Ordinator Melanie. Under normal circumstances we would provide a transcript of the interview in addition to the audio but unfortunately we have been pressed for time.
Speaking personally and as a member of House of Geekery I maintain my support for the LGBTIQ community and will continue to support the community going forward. I would absolutely love to see more official representation of this community at conventions celebrating geek culture. I also support the Safe Schools Coalition and advocate education of these issues in Australian schools. I do not agree with Daniel Zachariou’s viewpoints on issues surrounding homosexuality and Safe Schools (as they have been reported), but after speaking with him personally I do feel that he is sincere in wanting to make Supanova a safe space for all attendees and for it to be an inclusive environment. I also feel that he is genuinely sorry over what has happened this past weekend.
Personally I hope that these past few days act as an indicator that people do want to see a greater effort made towards inclusivity, that people want to see issues surrounding representation in the geek community put on the table. I hope that Supanova and other events can find a way to help promote issues important to the geek community such as transgender acceptance, representation of women and anti-bullying initiatives.
To finish we would like to remind everyone that there are real people behind every account and every organisation. Be mindful of what you choose to post on social media and how it can affect people. Whether it be a petition you have signed or an angry response to how you feel about such a post remember that it will be read by someone on the other side. It’s something that I, for one, could do better.
Or to put it in simpler terms – let’s all try to follow Wheaton’s Law: