There are many reasons to go to conventions. To see celebrities, to buy hard-to-find and/or unique merchandise, to attend panels, special events, or premieres, or to dress up as your favorite character are just a few of them. One of my favorite things to do at a con is hang out—and/or geek out—with family, friends, and strangers who share my interests.
Back in June, Vanity Fair published an article claiming Star Wars Celebration, the annual convention dedicated to the galaxy far, far away, was a welcoming space in opposition to the toxicity of online Star Wars fandom. The post was met with backlash from many sides. First of all, social media is free, while conventions conservatively cost hundreds of dollars to attend. So it might be a “safe space” but it’s one that many fans can’t access. But it’s also not a safe space for everyone. Huge crowds, no mask mandates, and few elevators make cons risky for disabled populations. Sexism ranges from gatekeeping to harassment to assault. Transphobia, fatphobia, and racism are rampant in cosplay. Both giant and niche fandoms, and the geek genre in general, appeal to a wide swath of populations and not everyone is going to get along. Cons can be wonderful, a big party of peers if not friends, but they are not welcoming by default.
ConnectiCon is my local con, just twenty minutes away from home. Like Connecticut, it’s comparatively small and somewhat eclectic. Also like Connecticut, it hasn’t solved the exclusivity problem associated with conventions, or society, but it has put in effort. This is most apparent for the LGBTQIA+ population, and in particular the transgender population. While state legislatures across the country have introduced a record number of bills targeting LGBTQIA+ Americans, Connecticut is one of nineteen states to introduce protections for transgender children and their families. According to both business leaders and TikTok teens, Connecticut is the second-best state to live in if you are trans.
ConnectiCon, particularly in the past five years or so, has leaned into this same attitude of refuge. Gender-neutral bathrooms are standard. It’s normal to see kids draped in a Pride flag among the crowd of cosplay and fandom t-shirts. This year I was offered a pronoun button with my press badge. And at least half the vendors and artists had LGBTQIA+ merchandise on display.
To gather these examples, I explained I wanted to highlight inclusivity at the con and asked permission to take a picture of their display. No one refused me. Most thanked me. Some were allies, others made a point to identify themselves.
“This is a queer-owned business.”
“I’m nonbinary and I really appreciate your interest.”
“Our staff is as diverse as our product.”
Nor was inclusivity confined to LGBTQIA+ identifications. One incredibly talented Black woman artist proudly displayed her portraits of Black women original characters alongside her prints of Baby Yoda. A security guard kept a path and rail clear for anyone who needed help getting around. One of the panels was on Plus-Size Cosplay and they had LGBTQIA+ and Disabled Cosplayers photo shoots. There were wheelchair users among the staff, vendors, and cosplayers.
Connecticut and ConnectiCon are small and perhaps easily dismissed by bigger states and conventions. But the ConnectiCon show floor is more welcoming than the likes of New York Comic Con or the entire states of Florida and Texas.