I’ve been thinking a lot about the tension that exists in creating inclusive spaces since last Nine Worlds. We got a lot of positive feedback with regard to inclusivity, diversity, and the perception of safety at the event. This particularly focused on LGBTQ and women attendees; race and disability were more problematic, and that’s something we’re working to improve on this coming year.

However, one of the common elements of feedback was that we were seen as a safe space. Given this term invites misinterpretation, it’s worth exploring what we’re trying to do with Nine Worlds, and what we aren’t.

First, some history adjusts spectacles. The concept of safer spaces originates in LGBTQ and feminist activism, and has several formulations. It does not denote a space where there is no danger of assault or offensive speech or views. It does not denote a space that is generically ‘inclusive’. In general use, it often means a space that excludes people who are not members of the group in question (e.g. a safe space for women would exclude men), but can also mean the attempted creation of a non-discriminatory environment through a mix of communication, education and policing.

What we’re trying to do with this convention is to create a maximally inclusive space. That is, a space that welcomes many different groups of people, including those that have often felt unwelcome or experienced discrimination at conventions more generally. Our focus covers interaction between groups and fandoms in geek culture more generally (e.g. discrimination against MLP fandom or fanfic authors) in addition to discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, disability etc. This partly fits with the non-discriminatory definition of a safe space, but is entirely different from the idea of an exclusionary, single group safe space.

So, could Nine Worlds be a safer space? Yes. Could it be safer and still inclusive of and attractive to a range of different groups of attendees? Yes, but with more limits. Bringing together different groups means bringing together different cultures and expectations of reasonable behaviour, and this will inevitably increase the overall likelihood of someone’s behaviour being experienced as offensive. No gathering is entirely safe, nor can it ever be. Instead, we can communicate our position and expectations clearly, listen when things go wrong (or right!), and take the actions that we’re capable of to make it as safe as is reasonably possible. There is a fundamental tension between inclusion and safety, and we are committed to maintaining both to the best of our abilities.

Originally published at https://danieljohnston.co.uk/2014/01/22/inclusion-and-safer-spaces on January 22, 2014.