GeekGirlCon: The Nerd Convention that Stands for Something

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By: Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)

Plenty of conventions out there appeal to our nerdy side and respective fandoms. Most pop culture conventions naturally bring people from a great variety of backgrounds together to bond in their shared obsessions… I mean, interests. But what if a pop culture convention took it one step further and made a concerted effort to be an event with a conscience? What if a convention focused not only on the nerdy things we love, but threw in some social awareness and justice as the cherry on top? GeekGirlCon does just that, and last weekend was the seventh year they made it happen!



How did GeekGirlCon come to be? A panel called “Geek Girls Exist” at San Diego Comic Con in 2010 was the spark that started the fire. Women and other supporters (most of whom were based in the Seattle area) were inspired and came together, sharing thoughts and ideas that eventually coalesced into a purpose – an organization that works to empower girls, women, and other underrepresented groups in geek culture, forming a nerdy community where all can be supported, welcomed, and encouraged in the pursuit of their passions! GeekGirlCon lives and works by five explicit values: welcome, community, empowerment, diversity, and inclusivity.

GeekGirlCon participated in more than 50 events before finally putting on the first official convention in October 2011 at Seattle Center’s Northwest Rooms and EMP Museum. Starting with a modest 4,000 attendees (400 of which were under the age of 10), more than 70 hours of programming over two days, put on by 50 volunteers and 30 staff members, GeekGirlCon has grown. Now classified as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with 50 staff, this year’s convention boasted approximately 12,000 attendees for the two-day convention at The Conference Center in Seattle, WA September 30 and October 1.

This year’s 100% volunteer run convention featured not only content for underrepresented identities (with a special focus on women and girls), but featured contributors such as voice talents Kimberly Brooks (Rugrats), Erica Luttrell (The Magic School Bus), Lucie Pohl (Red Dwarf), and Fryda Wolff (Mass Effect Andromeda), hypnotist Maritess Zurbana, and others! Full of talent and passion, their interactions with fans were genuine and honest, serving as a wonderful contribution to the convention this year!



Panels ranged over a wide variety of subjects from a “Voice of a Hero” that focused on women working in voice acting in the industry to a panel with Portland, Oregon’s “The Bug Chicks” who use the world of arthropods to educate and talk about issues like bravery, diversity, and acceptance. You could go to a panel to hear about Wonder Woman, how to get started with reading comics, or how to help girls to go confidently into the world of STEM.



GeekGirlCon this year wasn’t just about panels. It had more to offer! GeekGirlCon Fashion Show brought everyday geeky wear from Seattle area designers to the runway as others went full nerd with the convention’s cosplay contest! The Let’s Play Stage allowed a watch-and-play interactive experience, looks at game development, Q&As with voice actors, and more, while real scientists and educators answered questions and got adults and kids alike involved with interactive experiments in the DIY Science Zone! Not to be forgotten were GeekGirlConnections – spaces to share with a focus on leadership development, mentorship, and helping women network with professionals in their desired fields!



A step above and beyond, GeekGirlCon ensured accessibility and inclusivity for everyone, from a nursing room for mothers and their babies to gender inclusive bathrooms, ASL interpreters, and even an “Introvert Alley” for those who just needed some quiet after the hustle and bustle of convention craziness. GeekGirlCon also worked with nonprofit organization Con or Bust, which provides financial support to people of color and non-white individuals to attend SFF conventions. They also coordinated with local organizations serving at-risk youth and families in crisis to help provide passes to the convention to those who might otherwise be unable to attend.

Will GeekGirlCon extend its reach in the future? The convention broadened its scope from more than 180 exhibitors in 2016 to 236 exhibitors this year. However, members of the board of directors and staff stated that their current goal isn’t to spread, but to deepen. They want to make geek culture accessible, increasing information exchange while also reaching out to communities (such as the local Native American population) to promote inclusion. Board of Directors member and author of www.parentinggeekly.com, Sharon Feliciano, also hopes for even more kid-friendly content in the future.



Despite the grand vision of GeekGirlCon, 2017 brought some unfortunate drama for the organization, with the resignations of five volunteer staff members in August. Taking control of the GeekGirlCon mailing list and website after their resignations, the volunteer staff announced their departure and alleged discrimination and financial mismanagement by the Board of Directors and Executive Director. GeekGirlCon responded to the accusations, citing a lack of evidence as well as some other issues surrounding the allegations.

The board was quick to assure the fans and event attendees that the convention would go on. With such a focused effort on representing and honoring the legacy of women (and other underrepresented populations), along with the drama involving organization leadership, some might fear harassment or other discriminatory issues arising. But GeekGirlCon had an answer for that too! Not only do they have an anti-harassment policy in place, they also had “Special Agents” present at the convention with a “Reaction Team” specifically available to deal with reports of harassment. Board of Director and staff members reported that most of their volunteer convention staff have previous convention experience, while also going through training to deal with possible issues that may arise. For example, if someone was harassed, they could report the incident to a Reaction Team member. The team member would assess the situation while also doing their best to make the reporting individual feel safe. Depending on the results of the investigation into the matter, the harasser could be evicted from the event and even banned from all future events. Staff made it clear they are constantly updating and evolving their processes to ensure they provide a safe and comfortable environment for convention-goers.

All seriousness aside, the convention was a testament to the social awareness and compassion of its geeky attendees. Feliciano stated that one of her favorite things about GeekGirlCon is the body positivity encouraged. Walking around the convention, it was easy to see that she was right. People appeared to feel welcome and comfortable. Board of Directors member I-Wei Feng noted that people are treated with respect at the convention. Another staff member remarked that many attendees have a sense of self-awareness coming into the convention, which helps everyone get through the tough topics they care deeply about. It’s a relief to not have to take the extra steps to explain the issues, but have genuine conversations about the challenging topics.

Overall, the convention was a joy to attend. Walking a strange bordering line between education and pop culture, GeekGirlCon was an experience demanding acceptance and growth, while also providing some smiles, laughs, and entertainment! In an ever-changing society, GeekGirlCon is clearly determined to lead the crowd in terms of social justice within geek culture and beyond.



If you live in the Seattle area and missed GeekGirlCon this year, have no fear! There’s high hopes for another convention next year. While you wait, the organization will put on other nerdy events all year long, such as Board Game Nights at Wayward Coffee or work with GeekGirlScouts and PAX West. If you want to support GeekGirlCon and its cause, you can choose it as your preferred non-profit with Amazon Smile. Visit www.geekgirlcon.com for more information. Meanwhile, remember to keep calm and comic con!


    2 Comments

  1. Mark MartinezOctober 6th, 2017 at 9:31 pm

    This sounds like this was an exceptional event!

  2. Mark MartinezOctober 6th, 2017 at 9:33 pm

    This was a great…exceptional and much needed experience.

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