Welcome to Calgary Expo (Alternate Opinions Unwelcome) : The Honey Badger Affair
(Disclaimer: As of 7/31/2017, we have started offering free video stream republishing to the Honey Badger Brigade)
Things happen fast on social media. This weekend at The Calgary Expo in Alberta, Canada a collective known as the Honey Badger Brigade were accused of wrong-doing by people on social media and then very quickly removed and banned from the event. There has been a lot of noise, fury and competing stories on this issue, so I find it best to detail all the information I have been able to gather so far.
First of all the Facts: What happened and in what order?
The Honey Badge Brigade raised almost $10,000 in crowdfunding to bring some of their members, including comic artist Alison Tieman, and their merchandise to Calgary Expo 2015. Their stated goal was done openly: promote freedom of expression within gaming.
On Friday, some convention attendees and a number of people not attending the convention took to social media to remark on the “GamerGate booth” they were seeing. This is where the misinformation started, as they were the Honey Badgers who happened to be selling merchandise, some of which included: merchandise baring GamerGate logos and the mascot Vivian James.
Accusations that they had disrupted a Women in Gaming panel was leveled by some attendees.
There was a furor raised by people on social media, notably by Maya Kramer (formerly of Silverstring media), that garnered a reply from Calgary Expo that the booth was not a GamerGate booth and that they were “Looking into it.”
#ClargaryExpo explodes as a hashtag, with people tweeting support for the Honey Badgers as well as others condemning the “GamerGate Booth.” Confusion about what was actually going on started running rampant.
Within a short period of time, Rachel Edwards, a Honey Badger member on the convention floor, confirms that the booth is being taken down and they are being removed from the convention. This is confirmed by other convention attendees.
Calgary Expo posts and then later deletes a tweet linking to a Mary Sue article, purporting the article to be the explanation for why The Honey Badgers were kicked from the convention, eventually putting out an official statement later. It is worth noting The Mary Sue is affiliated with the event.
A Voice for Men alleged that not only had the booth and attendees been removed, but members had been issued a life-time ban from all events owned by the event organizers, which includes female comics’ artist and creator Alison Tieman. The Honey Badgers also released the audio of the “confrontation” at the panel and a raw unedited version of the Women in Games panel.
Here is the only official statement from Calgary Expo
For contrast we have the Honey Badgers Statement in full:
Early this morning, Fan Expo Canada banned Honey Badger Brigade (HBB) from the Calgary Comics and Entertainment Expo (CalEx). Security staff approached the HBB booth, ordered us to leave, and refused to state the reason why unless Alison Tieman agreed to speak to them away from the other members of the group, without recording. They informed Alison that they had received complaints on social media, including 25 allegations of harassment. No evidence was presented, no request was made for information from HBB, and no specific incident was cited until further questions were asked of security.
Upon further questioning, security mentioned the Women in Comics panel discussion from the previous day, where Alison was given permission to speak. Alison spoke briefly in relation to a topic brought up by the panelists. Accusers, however, claimed that Alison derailed the conversation. Alison and myself were in attendance, and you can listen to Alison’s statement in the panel here on YouTube. You can hear Alison, myself and indeed the entire panel in the full discussion record.
As you will hear, there was no harassment. Expo staff and mob rule, in their crusade for ending harassment against women, harassed the Honey Badgers despite having no evidence of any policy violation. To those unfamiliar, HBB was founded by three women and has a highly diverse staff of volunteers, creators and lovers of free expression. Alison Tieman, a woman who spent 7 years writing graphic novels and fighting censorship, was censored by other women for speaking her mind, and advocating equal compassion for men, and true strength in character for women.
We ask all involved to question what it means to provide an open forum, and to examine how CalEx treats it’s patrons and exhibitors. Do they provide a safe space from harassment, or a safe space for the people who want to define what harassment means?
Please send press inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information as the story develops. Also be sure to follow us on Twitter.
Nowhere in the Calgary statement does it cite a rule The Honey Badgers broke, or even mentions a specific case of wrongdoing they are accused of. This is a very weak and generalized statement and does not, in my mind, hold up as the basis for such harsh and quick action. Someone on Twitter summed it up best: “If that is going to stand as your official explanation, it is completely inadequate – and not even coherent”
Hitting the Presses
Immediate Media coverage followed. Headlines like “GamerGate Booth Kicked Out Of Canadian Comic Expo” abounded with many publications parroting The Mary Sue’s line of a “plan of infiltration,” praising the expo for expelling the Badgers. Kotaku using the headline “GamerGate Booth” is particularly disingenuous, as that was one of the myths even the Expo itself tried to dispel — once again serving as an example of oversimplified and dishonest clickbait. The word “infiltration” implies that the convention was closed off to these viewpoints from the start. Why would the “Straight White Patriarchy” that holds all the power, according to their internal logic, have to “infiltrate” anything? Their lies expose their in-build bigotry: that someone who supports GamerGate should not and would not be allowed to attend an expo. Once again, very little right of reply is given and once again judgement is rushed to within hours if not minutes in the race to be first, but not the race to be accurate.
Where Does This Leave the Convention Circuit?
What it comes down to is this: You can’t control who is and isn’t in a fandom. When you have comic artists threatening to boycott any convention that has true equal representation then you have a problem. When you have mobs of people on social media dictating who can and can’t stay in the convention hall then you have a problem. Gaming and Comic conventions are not the political playthings of the organizers, or for a handful of big names. They belong to the community, to the fans. If there is sufficient economic demand for The Honey Badgers and they keep within the rules of the convention then there is no reason to remove them beyond sheer ideological bigotry. From the evidence in front of me and from primary sources, including a recording of the entire Women in Comics panel, I think I can safely draw this conclusion: Calgary Expo ejected the Honey Badger Brigade under pressure from outspoken individuals on social media and made up a reason for their removal after the fact. The seeming lock-step with The Mary Sue and later deletion of their tweet shows their alleged reasons shifting as things unfold. By the time they had come up with their, frankly, empty statement, The Honey Badgers had already been ejected from the convention hall with no discussion or opportunity to defend themselves. They got railroaded, this is a farce predicated on, at best, dishonest bending of convention polices and, at worst, flat-out malicious lies. Through the series of events that took place, I see no way to justify their removal and banning.
I had feared things would progress like this since last year, but to actually see a group of “The wrong type of women” be thrown out of a convention on the whims of a twitter mob, most of whom were not attending the convention, is distressing. I think the word I am looking for is “Injustice.” Not very many things make me angry, but the cowards and bullies running Calgary Expo make me angry now because they have knowingly carried out an injustice for their own political expediency.
This is a signal that if you do not pass an ideological purity test then you are not allowed an equal platform. This is a real world example of expo organizers and social media mobs shouting “GO HOME GAMER GIRL!!” to The Honey Badgers, most of whom are female. This mirrors earlier events where two separate Vivian James cosplayers were harassed, threatened and then abused at Magfest 2015, with one victim being a staff member of the even who went on to write a detailed account of the incidents. It also mirrors the attempts to ban actor Adam Baldwin from Supernova Expo in Australia.
Unsafe Safe Spaces, Exclusionary Inclusion Policies.
This is the polarization and politicization of the convention circuit. This is creating an environment that is unwelcoming and the opposite of “safe”; where objections from people with the right connections can have you ejected and banned at any point arbitrarily. The Honey Badgers are openly supportive of GamerGate. They’ve never hidden that fact. Once Calgary had approved them, it was already too late. Now we have the worst of both worlds: you got the hopes up of these people, made them do a ton of work in creating merchandise and then banned them once they had set up. This is pretty cruel and could have been avoided by either: having the most basic background checks on hand if you really do want to turn your convention into a no-go zone for GamerGate supporters, or by having some human decency and allowing them to continue with their booth as long as no rules were broken.
Calgary had a much touted program called #ExpoEquality, where they claimed to be making a push towards inclusion, but as some have pointed out, their treatment and ejection of the Honey Badgers proves them false.
When a small group of people are allowed to impose their will and create misery for those they have even a little power over, what do you call that? I call it bullying. I think this is a clear instance of a convention royally screwing the pooch and this will create both animosity and a dangerous precedent for the next time someone objects to… well anyone at a convention. Safe space culture is fundamentally unsafe and programs meant to encourage inclusion are fundamentally being used to create exclusion. Someone tweets about removing people from the convention and moments later they were removed, accompanied by much cheering and chest-beating from those who wish to police and lock down the convention circuit. This is not the sign of a healthy community and not a sign of a community that practices any level of political and ideological plurality. What Calgary Expo perpetrated this Friday was farcical, its stupidity second only to its dishonestly. I want to leave you with one final thought. Remember the line about “Infiltration?” That was a line from a weary and sarcastic joke being taken out of context and used as part of the main basis for their removal. This joke has a serious message about how exclusionary the community has become and now comes off almost as foreshadowing. It reads:
In April of this year, the Honey Badgers plan to put on a booth at the Calgary Comics and Entertainment Expo! We plan to infiltrate nerd culture cunningly disguised as their own. Each of us has been carefully crafting a persona of nerdiness through decades of dedication to comics, science fiction, fantasy, comedy games and other geekery, waiting for this moment, our moment to slip among the unaware.
The coverage of this farce conveniently left out the last part, and it makes it all the more poignant as these events have unfolded:
Once there we will start distributing the totalitarian message that nerd and gamer culture is… perfectly wonderful just as it is and should be left alone to go its own way… Just letting creative communities create; consumers consume what they want; and gamers get down to the business of vidya without being judged.
I believe Videogames and Comics are wonderful too. If you’ll excuse me, I have to go and lie down for a while and consider what kind of community would ban artists and fans for the crime of upholding and promoting these beliefs.
Note: This article has been edited to fix a few grammatical errors. Also corrected “The Honey Badgers also released the audio of the “confrontation” with security…” as it was incorrect. “The Honey Badgers also released the audio of the “confrontation” at the panel…” is the corrected line.
Note 2: Alison Tieman has released a video response which can be seen here:
Note 3(10:17pm EST 4/18/2015): We had erroneously said that the Calgary Expo was owned by Fan Expo Canada. We have edited the line mentioning them to reflect this. It now says “…members had been issued a life-time ban from all events owned by the event organizers…”
Note 4(5:05pm EST 4/20/2015): This story just does not stop! On Sunday, a group of people that included The Honey Badger Brigade had the cops called on them by Calgary Expo security. Their crime? They were hanging out at a park… We can’t make this up.
— Rachel Edwards (@naughty_nerdess) April 19, 2015
— Rachel Edwards (@naughty_nerdess) April 19, 2015
Note 5(4:15am EST 4/25/15): Calgary Expo has responded to our request for more information and to answer questions with this reply:
“Thank you very much for reaching out to us. We sincerely appreciate that you took the time to write. Your message has been received and will be reviewed by our organizers. All information was released last Friday regarding the situation. The group in question did not adhere to the Expo policies and were asked to leave. The feedback from our guests has always been an integral part of creating and continuing to build a great Calgary Expo. We take all of our guest feedback seriously, and this comment will be taken into consideration in the planning of future Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expos.”
Meanwhile, The Honey Badger Brigade has released a statement on their website saying that they will have a “significant press release” later today. The word we have is they have been able to obtain legal representation, so it will be interesting to hear what comes out of this development. We will keep you posted!
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