ClexaCon 2019 is over and we’ve all left the bright lights of Las Vegas behind to return to our normal every day lives. Typically after a major trip or event I film a recap video, but with the number of topics connected to this year’s ClexaCon I believe an article will be a better vessel for covering everything in a clear and detailed way. This is not a short article and does include some more personal elements to the weekend outside of the convention itself.
I want to begin by saying that while a number of major issues have been brought to light that occurred at ClexaCon 2019, I personally did have an enjoyable time. Now this does not mean I do not have issues with things that took place, but I want to delve first into the positives I experienced during my time in Las Vegas and then I will break down my responses to negative elements and what I think needs to be done going forward.
For those of you that might not know, this was my third year at ClexaCon. On a whim in 2017 I decided to go to the first ClexaCon when it was at Bally’s. I had never traveled alone before and I had never been to a convention. After seeing Elise Bauman and Natasha Negovanlis would be featured guests that year, and at the time I assumed this might be the only time they would be in the United States as the Carmilla movie had yet to be announced, I jumped on the chance to go. While I remember having fun at the first convention the major positive that came out of it was meeting my now fiancèe Krista. Without ClexaCon 2017 we never would have met and I can say that definitively. She lives in very upstate New York and I live in Northwestern Ohio, those aren’t exactly super close geographical points. After the convention ended we continued talking and eventually a friendship evolved into a relationship. We went back to ClexaCon in 2018, which was possibly one of the most stressful things I have ever done. Through no fault of Krista’s I took on way too much and as a first time press person I kept trying to squeeze in everything I could, which was too much for me to handle. We also both cosplayed and that definitely did not help matters, though I did wind up with some clothes I still wear to this day. After discussing how ClexaCon 2018 went for us we decided we would go back in 2019, but with a completely different plan. I also want to say that part of our plan included joint proposals as a celebration of having met in Las Vegas. We wanted our proposals to be special and on the Wednesday before the convention started so that we wouldn’t have to wait any longer to be engaged. Mine involved Krispy Kreme donuts and Krista proposed outside of the room she stayed in at Bally’s at the first ClexaCon, which is where we specifically met for the first time. Our proposals and decision to focus on spending time together did also provide a rosy glow to our weekend.
This year I went back again as press, but decided that I would not push myself to try and do too much. Krista and I drafted up a schedule that focused on smaller panels and the Film Festival. Now we did choose to attend some larger panels, but I wanted to make sure I gave press time to voices from within the community as best as I could. For the main panel room the panels we chose were One Day at a Time, Amber Benson, Hollstein, and LGBTQ+ Actors. I was curious to see what updates ODAAT would give on the possibility of new seasons and had enjoyed the panel the previous year. Krista and I credit Hollstein as part of the reason we met, I never would have gone to ClexaCon 2017 if they hadn’t been guests, and we really wanted to see the scene that Dana Piccoli had written for this year. Krista is a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan and I’m a pretty big fan myself and we both agreed we wanted to see Amber Benson and experience that panel together. Dana Piccoli as always was a great moderator and worked to ask very detailed and thought provoking questions throughout her panels. She was very open to chatting over the weekend and was so sweet when she found out about Krista and my engagement. We made sure to get up early so that we could see the LGBTQ+ Actors panel on Sunday morning. I very specifically wanted to see Ser Anzoategui as they were new to the panel, but I also wanted to support and promote the other queer actors. One comment made by a panelist about the scheduling of this panel was particularly thought provoking. At an LGBTQ+ media convention, they thought it was odd that this specific panel was scheduled first thing in the morning following the Ascension after party instead of during an afternoon block when more people would have been likely to attend.
For smaller panels we admittedly did not get to everything we hoped to, primarily due to scheduling on our part. I was able to attend Disabled and LGBTQ+, which was tremendously informative and I felt like I came away with a lot of new knowledge that I think will help me to be more supportive of our community. I also attended Misconceptions of the Plus in LGBTQ+ and not only were the panelists exceptional and very well spoken, but the audience was open to discussion and it felt like a larger open conversation. The messages conveyed in this panel were powerful and emphasized how the community needs to be united and focused on supporting everyone within our umbrella. I did miss Trans Representation in the Media and am hoping this panel gets posted because I really did want to attend, but Krista and I were running late and also would have had to leave early due to the scheduling of the Web Series block in the Film Festival. I also very specifically chose to attend the Bi+ Representation panel because I identify as bi and was interested to see what would be discussed in this session. Each panel I attended that was focused on members of the community was so powerful and I want to applaud the information that was shared by all of these people. I do want to note that I did miss the Queer People of Color Representation panel this year as I had committed to attend the Web Series block and they took place at the same time.
Krista and I also chose to attend the live taping of Happy Wife Happy Life, a series we had both reviewed for our respective sites previously. Two other major parts of the weekend that I had been anxiously awaiting and enjoyed tremendously were the live shows for Lez Hang Out and Coming Out with Lauren and Nicole(Coming Out Pod). It was so much fun to be in the room as these women recorded and I also finally got to meet Lauren Flans, who I had been communicating with via email prior to the convention. I also had a great evening at the Web Series Premiere on Friday night. I was able to meet creators and actors that I had only spoken with via email and Twitter and could finally see BIFL and Functional. I had been given a sneak peak of Passage and Hillary Esquina was a delight this weekend, both just in person and on her Passage panel. Krista and I also got the chance to have a lovely dinner with Butch and Sissy owner, Connie Collingsworth, and her wife before we left Las Vegas. They are both such kind people and you should definitely support Butch and Sissy.
As return guests to the Tropicana ClexaCon, Krista and I had set aside time to just wander the vendor area. We both picked up more than we expected to buy. I was constantly on the lookout for books and comics to review for The Nerdy Girl Express and left Vegas with about 20 books. We also both bought art, pins, buttons, and we even wound up buying t-shirts, which we hadn’t planned to buy. This is where I am going to start mentioning some of the issues I noticed in this area personally. As mentioned in the open letter from vendors that The Nerdy Girl Express posted following the release of the letter on Twitter, there was no signage showing where the vendor room was and guests did not receive a list of vendors in advance. I had managed to print out a map of the area, but I did this in advance and do not believe this map was available in the app. I admittedly used the app very minimally and pre-made personal printed schedules for Krista and I to use each day. We just wandered through the rows and did our best to stop at each table, though I am sure we managed to miss at least one. The room itself was never exceptionally busy, which seemed odd to me, but I had thought perhaps Krista and I were coming at off times. I will also say that I had planned to do a vendor feature article prior to the convention and had asked for a vendor list, but never received one.
In terms of signage, Friday morning I learned that the area designated for those with mobility issues outside of the convention hall did not have a sign. That morning Krista and I were chatting with a number of people in line and one mentioned that she had needed a chair because standing in line was causing her legs to swell. After a period of time I finally went and asked a volunteer if there was an area for those with mobility issues to wait in instead of having to wait in line. This specific person said she had been asked already and really wasn’t sure, but thankfully a staff member appeared and stated that yes there was an area and pointed to a small alcove to the left of the entrance doors. There were no chairs there and no signs and the person I had been in line with asked if chairs would be added and was told they would be. I never saw any chairs in this area and no sign was ever added to show this was where people with mobility issues could go instead of the general line area. As someone who does not have mobility issues I do not have any additional information about whether this was corrected or dealt with in a way that I was not privy too, but it felt very important to bring up.
On Saturday via Twitter, I became aware of a specific issue of behavior that made me upset and angry. Going into ClexaCon 2019 I had discussed my thoughts on trans, nonbinary, and genderqueer/genderfluid identities and the lack of representation these identities had in the scheduling and guests. While I was not privy to this I did learn that someone had come out as genderfluid over the weekend and while rocking an amazing outfit was told they were in drag. This is just unacceptable and if you are not inclusive of all gender identities you are not supporting the full LGBTQ+ community. Everyone’s identity is valid and no one has the right to say someone is wrong or can’t identify in the way that they feel comfortable. As a promoted safe space, this never should have happened at ClexaCon. After hearing about this issue I realized there was something available last year that wasn’t available this year. At the ClexaCon merch table in 2018 there were free pronoun pins that attendees could pick up and add to their lanyards. This year these pins didn’t exist, though there were free pins with ClexaCon 2019 on them that were done in the various LGBTQ+ flag colors. The pronoun pins would have been an easy addition and would have furthered the work of normalizing asking pronouns or stating pronouns as part of your introduction. I will admit I forget to do this often, but my goal is to actively become more cognizant of identifying my own pronouns in conversations.
Two additional elements that surprised me this weekend were the lack of security and the lack of guest updates. The first is more pressing and was something that again was present in 2018, but was not this year. When guests arrived at the main doors to the convention there were no bag checks and no visible security guards. There were also no noticeable security personnel in the convention space at all. In 2018 when you entered the main convention area each person had their bag checked and I believe they also verified we had on our badges. This year no one checked my very large tote bag and the only time I remember my badge ever being looked at was when I would walk through the press line into the largest hall. The other element that I didn’t realize until Sunday night was that at least two guests did not come this year that were announced and I do not remember any explanation or update being given about their absence. It is possible that I missed these updates, but one guest who was slated to appear on the LGBTQ+ Actors panel was still listed on the app during the panel as a guest and no reference was made to why they were not there.
There were also some major staffing changes that appeared right after ClexaCon ended and seem to signify that something is going on internally that is relatively major. I cannot speak to that specifically, but any time more than one person leaves any sort of staffing position so close to an event it hints at larger issues. If you are looking for more specific examples from attendees and vendors, please check the #Clexapocalypse tag on Twitter. There has also been mention of some sort of survey being sent to attendees, but as of now I personally have not received any type of survey from anyone on the ClexaCon staff. I do also want to say that there were a number of people who did enjoy themselves this weekend and while I have critiques I do not want to take away from people celebrating being in a space that they felt comfortable in. There were definitely positive elements throughout the weekend and we should be allowed to also celebrate those moments. The issue is that while there were positives there were some very glaring negatives that also arose, which does tarnish the experience in some ways.
While there are a number of issues and concerns that have arisen more prominently this year, though I will say there had been rumblings prior to 2019 about issues with the convention, I do still think that ClexaCon needs to exist. With so few safe spaces in the world destroying ClexaCon would take away something that I do still think the community needs. The convention allows friends, found families, and strangers to come together and connect in a way that is not available to many people, myself included. I would suggest a major rebrand of ClexaCon and for a more inclusively collected group of people to work on drafting not only the schedules, guests, and panels, but also to create a policy that promotes inclusion with steps that would actively make the entire community feel welcome in the space. The use of the word women in the marketing of ClexaCon I believe should be replaced with people or perhaps the larger phrase “members of the LGBTQ+ community.” I also think while yes, bringing celebrities who represent queer couples on screen is a major perk for many people and something that can make a convention unique, that there should also be more invited guests who are not cisgender and white. There were a few more people of color in the guest line up this year, but again I think there should be more. I will say that with the pressures of the industry I do not want to assume that some guests are not in the closet, but will say that inviting additional out actors and creators to be guests would also be a major benefit to the convention. What ClexaCon needs are diverse voices and people behind the scenes who will be allowed to actively work to better the organization. If changes can be made I think ClexaCon could be the positive space it set out to be in 2017. In the months leading up to 2020 I think it is important for those in charge to reevaluate their priorities and examine how this convention can become the powerful safe space that the LGBTQ+ community needs.
*Editor’s Note: I have now received the ClexaCon 2019 survey. It went to my Promotions folder in Gmail and may have gone to spam folders for other attendees. The form does not allow you to skip certain questions for example I did not attend any workshops and had to provide a rating. Also the form has you respond in green text, which may pose issues for those with red/green colorblindness as a warning. 4/19/19 2:13 pm est*