Ever since the passing of Indiana’s new “Religious Freedom Reformation Act” law allowing for discrimination based on religious belief (e.g. I won’t sell you a cake because you are homosexual and that goes against my religion), I’ve watched many a friend, fellow author, and my gaming-world favorites in the GenCon (the largest tabletop gaming convention in North America) world struggle with the decision about whether or not to continue to attend this year’s festivities , whether they are patron, vendor, or panelist. Peruse the hashtags #GenCon2015 or #BoycottIndiana and you’ll see the discussion clearly, passionately, back and forth. Indiana is known as the Crossroads state. GenCon and the larger gaming community is at a crossroads now. Are you going to sign with the demon and make things less painful for yourself? Or are you going to do the right thing?
GenCon is not alone in its membership struggling over supporting such a law by simply doing business in Indiana. In fact, other organizations have already canceled their events or investments in Indiana because of the passage of this law. This all after GenCon threatened to end its existence in Indiana if the law went into effect. Governor Pence signed the law. GenCon 2015 is still on.
Obviously, empty threats change nothing.
Even though I would consider myself a gamer, I’ve never been to this particular convention, but I can see both sides of the argument – an entire population of gamers, GenCon supporters, is being oppressed by this law, because let’s be fair, this new law by Indiana is straight up Jim Crow-esque and puts the state back 200 years. But do you hurt the good people, the non-discriminatory ones, in Indiana over this by not economically os socially supporting them? It’s a clear choice in my mind. But, let’s explore all of it first.
For some it was a seeming simple and swift decision: they won’t participate in GenCon. Personally, I can see this as a very clear decision. In our modern democracy (cough*oligarchy*cough), money talks. Money votes. Money makes painful change happen. If you think money isn’t behind getting this law passed, you need to look deeper. Even if I’d bought plane tickets, etc. I would firmly state, now 118 days from the convention itself, that I would not participate. What little influence I have as a resident of another state, to influence the politics, or as I see it, the humanity, of Indiana, is that I can say, “I won’t travel there,” as many other entities have done already. I can say to the world – since GenCon hosts participants from 40 different countries – that human rights are important to me. I will vote with my hard-earned convention-going dollars and not support an event in an oppressive environment.
Do I wish the whole issue was not framed around economics and money? Yes, I do. I’d like people to be more human-focused, but… baby steps. However, I needed to put that thought out there. This law shouldn’t have passed, and the only way the bigots that support it are going to listen is by milking their wallets because of it.
That makes it painful for the GenCon organization, sure. It’s not their fault. Sure. It makes it painful for the reasonable people of Indiana who will be economically blackballed by this new law. However, the law is more so painful to those it discriminates against.
Some GenCon supporters have publicly discussed their quandary with attending, because they don’t want to hurt the reasonable people who are not being represented by this bill. They don’t’ want to hurt the organization of GenCon, or by default its supporters, and the gaming community. I can see this, but I go back to the change is painful facts.
GenCon has countered saying that it is fighting the RFRA. That they are working with the Indianapolis leaders, especially its mayor, who by executive order has denounced the RFRA and deemed the city as anti-disciminatory. In GenCon style, perhaps we could just get Indiana’s Governor Pence and Indianapolis’ Mayor Ballard in a ring and have them duke it out? But, seriously, having a haven among the Thunderdome of discrimination is a good first step, but it seems impotent, in my opinion, at this point. Could Indiana’s government move quickly enough to retract the law before the Con goes? Who knows? Knowing that government is a freighter turning in the water and not a jet ski, it is unlikely.
There’s been talk of folks attending GenCon2015 all rainbowed-clad and wearing t-shirts in rainbow tie-die that say “The Cake is a Lie and so is RFRA.” Again, if you did that before the law was signed, sure. Now that it’s in effect, it seems pointless and very slackivist. You’re still giving them your money. You’re still supporting them.
This is where I call tough love. I love gamers and the games we play. It’s an important life skill and the creativity that abounds in that community is unending and inspiring. But, we as a community that should profess progression and inclusion (yes, yes, we have our sexism and racism, which is why this stand is so important). We can’t afford not to take this stand. We need to vote with the influence we have – our dollars, despite the pain it causes. In 2015 to allow this to stand is untenable, and does not bode well for the gaming community, in my opinion.
Change is painful. Humans are very “my backyard.” Their backyard has to be threatened before they do something. You can’t use your privilege to go have a great convention because you don’t want to hurt the reasonable people – the participants, the vendors, the panelists. It has to hurt everyone for change to occur. That’s just a fact of life. #BoyCotIndiana is just getting started. We’re going to have to gut the pig of discrimination via its slop subsistence – money in this case – to get it overturned.
So how do things proceed? I’d love to see GenCon kill the con in Indiana for 2015. There’s still time to scramble and reorganize. Will there be resources lost? Will people’s hard work be for naught? In the beginning, perhaps this will be so. But in the end, I think not. I think that the community could come back even stronger. Let me tell you why I think that. It’s all about framing. Instead of the participants, vendors, and panelists feeling as if they just “lost out,” a reframing about what they put their resources to is needed. You need to look at the energy and monies around GenCon 2015 as a campaign to support anti-discrimination. They could easily ask their participants to “donate” their memberships as a vote towards overturning RFRA. That way those resources wouldn’t be lost. I think the community would be very agreeable to that. Sure, sure, you tell me, that’s easy for me to say. I haven’t spent two years planning, or saving, or anything. But, I put myself in the mindset, of if this was happening in my state, to the cons I’m attending this year.
It’s also possible that another convention center – say maybe even in neighboring Chicago or elsewhere (Denver, California, Minnesota have all said, “come here!”) might provide agreeable change of venue to help the con move forward as planned (save location) as another strong statement. Anything is possible if people deem it to be so, I believe that.
As a community, we need to take a tough stand on this. We’ve been lax for too long given things like #gamergate and general con harassments or even the ridiculousness of PAX’s new slippery-slope rules regarding booth babes policy. Today we have an opportunity to not support discrimination and the reversal of so much progress in our country. One bad apple spoils the bunch is a true adage here. Right on the heels of Indiana’s RFRA passing, Arkansas did the same. South Carolina and Texas already have similar laws. GenCon2015 can help make a statement and boost the gaming community’s credibility with its members, all its members, as well as the rest of the world.
I’m proud of those taking the stand not to support Indiana’s discrimination by not supporting events, activities, and companies in Indiana. I’m hoping GenCon2015 joins those brave equality warriors. Change is painful. Let’s make the pain not last so long?
#BoyCotIndiana #GenCon2015 #EndBigotry