Odyssey Con Fucks Up But Good

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice.
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April 11, 2017

Live footage of the Odyssey Con concom.

Odyssey Con, what the actual fuck are you thinking? ARE you thinking?

When one of your Guests of Honor emails you and says she doesn’t feel safe around one of your committee members—the guest liaison in this case—you believe her. You don’t gaslight her, you don’t dismiss her concerns, and you certainly do not call the women he harassed over decades liars.

When your Guest of Honor withdraws from your convention because of your refusal to deal with the serial harasser because you’ve known him for many years and have never observed him harassing anyone and anyhow all those women were exaggerating, you don’t then turnaround and throw her under the bus.

You made a choice, Odyssey Con. Your choice was to prioritize your comfort over the safety of every single woman at the convention. I’m sure that you think this was an expression of neutrality since no one’s ever reported this man at the convention where he is close friends with the conrunners and is on the concom (GOLLY), but it’s not. It’s apologizing for abuse and redirecting blame and it’s not a good look.

Furthermore, when people figure out the choice you’ve made and are upset by it, you need to own your choice. You don’t gaslight people, you don’t selectively post emails, and you don’t point at your code of conduct like it’s a +20 bonus to defense because you’ve just proven to the entire world that it’s utterly worthless. Not worth the paper it’s printed on or the electrons to display it on a screen.

And then there’s the statement. Oh, the statement. I don’t even know where to begin with it, but this post from K. Tempest Bradford should shed some light on the history between the president of Odyssey Con’s parent organization, the programming chair, and the guest liaison. In other words: the riders of Brohan are on the move.

The thing is this: the statement starts with what we’re calling alternative facts these days.

“Last night, one of the members of our committee contacted her to try to address her concerns. Unfortunately the position and words were his own, but did appear to be an official statement from the convention. It wasn’t, and he sent a further communication to Ms. Valentinelli to help clarify that.”

Monica Valentinelli’s post went up around 9:43 am Eastern time (8:43 am Central time, the time zone in which Monica lives).

The “clarifying” email was not sent until 10:11 am Central time, nearly an hour and a half after the post went up and nearly 12 hours after the dismissive email. This was not an immediate clarification and I’m finding their claim that it was done without their imprimatur dubious at best.

This afternoon, Janet Lewis posted the texts of the email exchange to Odyssey Con’s Facebook page in “the interest of full transparency”. Did she ask for Monica’s permission? Nope! They’ve taken the posts and the statement down, but I have preserved them here:

I’ve asked Monica if Janet Lewis was copied on Gregory Rihn’s email the evening of April 10 and she was. And yet it took 18 hours before anyone but Rihn reached out to her—it took the internet falling on their heads for them to realize that this was something they needed to deal with.

As for the rest of the statement: it’s a trashfire.

They claim to not know anything about Jim Frenkel harassing anyone at their convention—of course they don’t. Who would report him and expect any action to be taken? Better to not put yourself through that.

They attempt to blame Monica Valentinelli for not realizing until this week that Frenkel was on the concom—the thing is this: the Guest Liaison job is the single point of contact between a Guest of Honor and the rest of the convention. Once Frenkel was no longer Monica’s liaison, they probably believed his presence was no longer going to be a problem.

Jim Frenkel’s offered to throw himself on his sword for the sake of the convention. How fucking noble of him. He may not have the ability to learn to not harass women, but conventions certainly have the ability to not allow known harassers on their concoms. There is absolutely no excuse here—many of the Odyssey Con concom are former members of the WisCon concom, so they know perfectly well what kind of person Jim Frenkel is. And they don’t care.

And finally, the statement that Odyssey Con is opening and welcoming to all—no, it’s not. They’ve made it clear both through Jim Frenkel’s continued presence on their concom and their transparent attempt to paint Monica Valentinelli as the villain here that they don’t care.

Oh, and since Odyssey Con has taken down the page which identifies all the concom members, enjoy this screencap I saved this morning. Just in case.

A few other people have had things to say:

Thanks to Joyce Chng for making me aware of the existence of the glorious gif at the top of this post.

Previous posts about Jim Frenkel and WisCon:

ETA: Odyssey Con posted the following statement in the middle of the night.

I, for one, am incredibly tired of the “run by fans, for fans” excuse. The writers and other people on programming are working. They deserve a professional working environment and pulling out the old “we’re just fans, we didn’t know any better” excuse is increasingly not a good look. No one cares that you’re all volunteers when their personal safety is at stake.

ETA 04/13: Tad Williams has pulled out of Odyssey Con.

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17 Comments

  1. Marie Brennan

    you don’t point at your code of conduct like it’s a +20 bonus to defense

    “But — but — we recited the magic words that we are welcoming and safe! Why isn’t the spell of Protection Against Criticism working like it should?”

  2. --E

    I don’t hold it against them, publishing that last statement in the middle of the night. That suggests only that they wanted to get the statement out ASAP once they crafted it. Which is not unreasonable.

    And it’s even a decent statement, especially the first paragraph!

    I would have a lot more sympathy for the second paragraph except that:

    1. The Frenkel Situation is NOT NEW and was easily predictable, even by volunteers who are bad communicators.

    2. “We’re just fans” is bullshit when most of the ConCom are SMOFs who have been running conventions FOR YEARS.

    There are reasons conventions rise and fall, and 90% of it is indeed that folks are volunteers with little or no vetting/hiring process. Someone shows up, and seizes power by dint of actually doing something: now they’re in charge of that something. This often puts them on the governing body of the organization, which is more power.

    I get it; it’s hard to tell folks you’ve worked with for a long time that their presence is no longer welcome. And knowing what I do about how (general case) fan-run event internal politics go, I can imagine some of the crap and nonsense that has probably been going on.

    It’s not an easy situation, and fixing such a thing requires what is essentially a palace coup (see Readercon), which might not be possible.

    But again, THE FRENKEL SITUATION IS NOT NEW. I wonder how much discussion of his participation was weighing on the minds of some members of the ConCom, but they lacked the numbers/support to do anything about it until they had an internet explosion to point to.

  3. Simeon Beresford

    The responses seem timely to me. I check twitter far less often than once every hour and a half. Even assuming Someone notified The “clarifying statement”, which to my mind seems both straight forward and unmassaged by other hands. Is a faster response than I would have expected. The statement in the middle of the night looks like the carefully composed letter by a committee that has finally managed to contact all its members and agree a strategy, After first clamping down to ensure none of its members starts any other fires.

    • Natalie Luhrs

      You’re assuming that the rest of the concom had no idea that Rihn had sent that original email. Janet Lewis and at least one other person were copied on Rihn’s email sent April 10. They knew that he had sent an email that read as if he spoke for the entire concom and did nothing about it until the shit hit the fan. And as for their claims that they’d gone offline–in the middle of a potential PR crisis, who the FUCK does that?

      People who are knowingly giving safe harbor to a serial predator, apparently.

  4. Quantumpanda

    No kidding that the Frenkel issue isn’t new. I’m in Ohio, and I’ve never been to a con in Wisconsin, but I have been a regular attendee at a few Chicago cons (and friends to a few concom members of said cons) in the past, and I first heard talk about Jim’s “issues” years ago. Any actual or aspiring SMOFs in the Midwest/Great Lakes region should already be aware of the fact that there have been problems, even if they don’t know the details.

  5. Clayton Woods

    The one thing that I haven’t seen widely mentioned yet is the OCSI, or Odyssey Con Society, Inc. This is the corporate entity that was created to have a legal entity overseeing the convention.

    This is taken from their website: http://www.odysseycon.org/ocsi.html

    Executive Board
    The OCSI executive board comprises the five officers elected every year at the annual meeting held in July. It manages the affairs of OCSI between meetings of the general membership, subject to direction from such meetings.

    The officers currently are:
    President: Richard S. Russell
    Vice-President: Jim Leinweber
    Secretary: J Laakso
    Treasurer: Janet E. Lewis
    Ombudsperson: F. J. Bergmann

    See how Russell is the President of the Executive board? Food for thought as to where this all comes from and why Frenkel was even involved.

    • Natalie Luhrs

      Thanks for making this explicit! I mentioned that the president of the parent org was involved in my post, but I had so much to wrangle into a narrative I didn’t feel like a detour into corporate organization would be helpful–but it is good information to have. 🙂

  6. Zeph

    So let me get this straight Monica a GOH at Oddcon decides not to attend because She says Jim F harassed her at previous conventions as the reason for not attending. She at the time of the harassment does not report it to anyone at Oddcon. How is Oddcon supposed to do anything about the harassment if nothing was reported?
    How can you say that OddCon is unsafe or there code of conduct isn’t worth the paper it’s written on when there have been no incidents of harassment have been reported at Oddcon? If there has been please show the facts, instead of hearsay, to back up your statements.

    • Natalie Luhrs

      I believe Monica Valentinelli when she says she was harassed by Jim Frenkel. Why don’t you?

      Conventions are private events. You don’t have to be convicted of a crime to be refused entry. Therefore, since Jim Frenkel lost his job after a formal complaint was made to his employer, Odyssey Con should have taken the pro-active step to protect their attendees by removing him from the concom and programming. Unless they don’t believe any of the women who have spoken out about his harassment and how he makes them feel unsafe.

      So I guess they’re a lot like you in that respect. Have a great day!

  7. rmhartman

    “Although there have been incidents in the past”. ” His reputation since the WisCon incident has been spotless ”

    … And these quotes were from his _friend_! They validate everything that Monica was fearful about, while at the same time denying there was a problem??

    Wow. Just… Wow .

    • Natalie Luhrs

      Oh, he also never apologized to anyone. So you can’t even use the “he’s reformed!” excuse.

  8. Jess Klahn

    Wow, just wow. I was not aware of this situation or this convention until I read Tad’s statement about not attending and looked for the reason why. I attended these types of conventions all over the Pacific Northwest in my teens and early twenties and can not think of one event where at least one creep felt it was okay to say something sleazy, put his hands on some part of me or in few instances actually pull me onto his lap. Anytime I complained about these lecherous trolls I was told “he’s just having fun” or “maybe you shouldn’t wear such a skimpy costume” and everyone blamed/shamed me and excused the man. It’s one of the top ten reasons I stopped attending events. I am sad to read that nothing appears to have changed in the twenty years I have been away. I am sadder still that this woman felt so let down by her community that she chose to stay away from what should have been a weekend full of greatness. Good on you for bringing so much information out into the light, let’s hope someday the “old guard” pulls their collective heads out their collective posteriors.

  9. Norbert G. Matausch

    I’m confused. Nowhere in the article is mentioned WHAT Frenkel has done. Just saying “harassment” is absolutely not sufficient in this case.

    Have the alleged incidents of harassment been brought to the attention of the police or lawyers? If not, why not?

    I’d appreciate any clarification.

    • Natalie Luhrs

      By demanding details, you are delegitimizing the lived experience of the women he harassed and making it clear that you don’t believe them.

      You know what happens when a woman gives details? People like you start rules lawyering about how it’s not bad enough to count, how he didn’t mean it, that the woman must have misunderstood, and so on.

      Why don’t you believe women?

  10. Abi

    @Norbert

    Note that the standards for harassment that is unacceptable in a convention may not be the same as the standards needed to bring in “the police or lawyers”. Conventions are private gatherings with their own rules, and behavior that doesn’t warrant civil or criminal charges can still be unacceptable.

    Frenkel’s behavior was considered sufficient to get him banned from WisCon by the people whose job it was to make that decision. It was considered sufficient for Monica not to want to be at the convention. Neither of these judgment calls was yours to make. Your opinion about whether they are right or wrong is irrelevant to their validity, independent of whether you get all the salacious details.

    I understand that the web–like our culture as a whole–is full of encouragement to form opinions about everything, but sometimes the details are private, for whatever reason (Natalie has explained one above), and we just have to live with that. And sometimes it’s really none of our beeswax.

  11. Shammy

    Or if you don’t consider that ‘enough’ to go on, perhaps the fact that he ‘left’ his job at Tor suspiciously close to the time of those harassment reports. Unless you’re going to argue that he chose to leave there to protect them as well… Personally, I believe they asked him to leave because they felt the reports had validity enough to start the ball rolling on a dismissal.

  12. SMD

    “No claims of harassment have taken place at our convention.”

    But they have at OTHER conventions, and VERY publicly.

    Also: how is this even remotely a valid excuse? This is like saying the murderer on trial for murder isn’t guilty in court because he didn’t murder anyone in court. Yeah, but he murdered someone over THERE. He still DID it.

    FFS.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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  7. Pretty Terrible | Odyssey Con: Still on Fire - […] I write this, is just over a week since Monica Valentinelli withdrew from Odyssey Con.  Since her withdrawal, Tad Williams…
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