Comic-Con Responds to Anti-Harassment Petition: "Safety and Security is a Major Concern"

Earlier this month, a group named "Geeks for CONsent" launched a petition on Change.org, titled, "Stop sexual harassment at San Diego Comic Con, create a formal anti-harassment policy," asking Comic-Con International in San Diego -- the most attended and highest-profile show of its kind in North America -- to adopt a "formal anti-harassment policy." The text of the petition -- which has more than 2,000 supporters as of publication of this article -- puts a specific focus on harassment received at conventions by cosplayers. It's an issue that's received growing awareness in recent months, most visibly in late March at Emerald City Comicon in Seattle, where signs reading "Costumes Are Not Consent" were posted throughout the Washington State Convention Center.

David Glanzer, director of marketing and public relations for Comic-Con and sister shows WonderCon and Alternative Press Expo, states the show already has an anti-harassment policy in place. He points to Comic-Con's existing "Code of Conduct," posted on the show's website and events guide, which addresses harassment specifically. It reads, in full:

Code of Conduct Attendees must respect common sense rules for public behavior, personal interaction, common courtesy, and respect for private property. Harassing or offensive behavior will not be tolerated. Comic-Con reserves the right to revoke, without refund, the membership and badge of any attendee not in compliance with this policy. Persons finding themselves in a situation where they feel their safety is at risk or who become aware of an attendee not in compliance with this policy should immediately locate a member of security, or a staff member, so that the matter can be handled in an expeditious manner.

As Glanzer told CBR News, the policy is intentionally non-specific to cosplayers -- or any other group -- since "any kind of harassment" is a major concern to Comic-Con. Glanzer further discussed the design of the existing policy, the possibility of seeing ECCC-type flyers at July's show and the importance of security and police presence at Comic-Con. He also updates us on this year's Comic-Con (July 23-July 27 at the San Diego Convention Center) and the success of last month's WonderCon in Anaheim.

[Editor's note: When CBR's interview with Glanzer was conducted this past Friday, the petition was at slightly more than 1,200 signatures.]

CBR News: David, let's talk about the petition that's out there, which reads "Stop sexual harassment at San Diego Comic Con" and is up to more than 1,200 supporters as of right now. What was your initial reaction upon seeing the petition?

David Glanzer: It seemed to me that the petition indicated that Comic-Con doesn't have an anti-harassment policy, and the fact of the matter is that we do. Is it specific to one group? No, it isn't. It's a very broad policy, and it's deliberately made to be broad. Comic-Con actually does have a policy, and it's not only on our website, but it's printed in our events guide, that's handed to the attendees as they come to the show.

But given the existence of this petition, is there some room to be more explicit? An opportunity to do something here to refine that message, or make it even clearer?

I think if you mean "clearer," [you mean] make it more specific. That certainly is something we could do, but I have to be honest with you: My concern is, the minute you start pointing out the types of harassment you don't allow, does that imply other types of harassment are allowed? I hope nobody would make that leap, but as a gay man, I wouldn't want to see harassment codified against a certain element by omitting orientation, or gender, or race, or religion, or disability. Comic-Con has always had an amazingly diverse group of attendees, and we want all of those attendees to have fun in what we hope is a safe environment. From our very beginning -- certainly when I first started, even as a volunteer -- safety and security has always been one of the most paramount issues at our show. And the primary reason for that is, we've always had a very young demographic. Because of that, it's always been a major concern for ours -- any kind of harassment.

So our policy not only mentions the fact that harassing or offensive behavior won't be tolerated, we also let people know that if they find themselves in a situation where they feel their safety is at risk, that they should report it. I think we're trying to get ahead of the curve on some of these issues. It isn't just when harassment occurs, but if someone finds themselves in a fearful situation that something may happen, we'd like to know about it, so we can address it.

For however much you can address it, has harassment been much of a problem at Comic-Con in the past? Have there been incidents?

There are always incidents of a variety of types that happen at the show. I mean, you have 130,000 people. I want to be clear: One incident of someone being harassed or feeling unsafe is clearly one too many.

There have been reports. They are very infrequent, but I think they're also infrequent because we have a tremendous amount of security on our floor, throughout the convention center, and a tremendous amount of staff. Our security people aren't always knowledgeable about directions and where to send somebody in terms of a panel room or a program time, but they know what to do if somebody approaches them with a complaint about harassment or feeling unsafe, and the same thing is true of our staff, and we have a lot of those people at the convention center.

How much has the emphasis on security changed over the years with the convention's growth?

I don't think it really has. As a general rule, we don't talk about specifics of security, that's just always been our policy. The primary reason for that is, you don't want anybody tot take that information and then try to circumvent the security policies we have in place. But I have to tell you -- since I first started as a volunteer in 1984, security and safety was always a top priority, because we knew that we had families at the show. Back in the day, it was not uncommon for people to drop off their kids at Comic-Con. That was something we always discouraged. [However,] because we knew there might be children at the show who may be unaccompanied, we always wanted to be sure that there were mechanisms in place to make them as safe as they possible could. As the show has increased, we've had to increase that, as well.

I don't think it's a big secret that the show is at such a size now that we don't actually employ one security company, we employ several different security companies. Because we're so large, and our needs that we feel need to be met require us to do that. I don't think other conventions necessarily talk about how many members of security they have, and we certainly wouldn't give out numbers, but we have a great deal of security on the floor.

One thing that could be frustrating -- with Comic-Con, there are so many events happening in the downtown San Diego around it, tied-in, but not official "Comic-Con" events. Just part of the entire environment. Do you think there's also potentially a problem there with Comic-Con itself getting the blame for things that happen outside of its purview?

Whenever you have a big event, and there are things that are going on concurrent with that event, whether you're involved with it or not, absolutely. A prime example is the parking -- one of the parking companies made available advance parking the other day, and we have nothing to do with that. I think we had a link on our site as a service, but we're not in discussions with them about how it works, how it's processed -- we don't know anything about it, to be honest with you. They apparently had some problems -- locally, the press painted Comic-Con as having another computer glitch. There's not much you can do about that. The best thing we can do is offer ourselves as a resource to try and mitigate some of those issues. We'll certainly talk to that parking company, and let them know our experience that we've had, maybe that will help them.

The same is true for outside spaces. We work very closely with not only the San Diego Police Department, but various divisions within the San Diego Police Department, with regard to happenings outside the convention center, but also inside the convention center. I don't want to get into too much detail, but Comic-Con has a San Diego Police Department command post in the lobby of the convention center. I don't know that many other conventions have that, but it's certainly something that we think is helpful, so it's something we have done.

This past March, Emerald City Comicon in Seattle posted flyers all over the convention that specifically addressed harassment of cosplayers, reading "Costumes Are Not Consent." That's something that was definitely embraced, people were happy to see that. If there is a perception there, fair or not, that Comic-Con isn't making its harassment policy clear enough, is there an opportunity to broadcast that louder and further at the convention itself, or leading up to the show?

I guess anything is possible. We have a police command post in the lobby. I'm not suggesting that other conventions should follow suit and do the same thing. I think what works right for our convention may not apply to another convention. Likewise, I think what works at other conventions might not necessarily apply to ours. I don't know. I think we're comfortable in the policy we have. I think we're comfortable in the response time of any complaints that we do have, and while we're never happy that there are any complaints, or any people feeling that they're being harassed, I think the precautions that we have, and the elements that we have in place have made it an issue that I think we certainly are addressing.

RELATED: ECCC: Understanding Harassment in Geek Culture

One of the things that I also don't want to do is to challenge people, either. San Diego's a huge event. My fear, too -- and for a smaller show, I don't know if this would be the case -- I just don't want to bring up an issue that may create a situation where someone's saying, "Oh, maybe I can push the limits. Maybe I can see how far I can go." Sadly, with 130,000 people, it's like a small town. I think we have a good policy in place. That policy is on our website, that policy is in our events guide. Our staff and security knows what to do if somebody is approached, and right now it seems to be working. If it seems not to be working, we certainly will try to mitigate that.

But more than any potential changes to the existing policy, if there is a notion, even just among people who are supporting this petition, that it may not be clear enough, is there an opportunity there?

I think the petition, and I may be incorrect in this, but I think the petition calls for Comic-Con to have an anti-harassment policy, and we do. If there are additional specifics that people have, I guess we would address that as it comes up. Our policy is deliberately broad, which we feels allows us more leeway in enforcing that policy. I think it's really important that cosplayers feel they have a safe environment. I think it's also very, very important that those who are disabled feel the same way. Same thing for anybody who feels that they are being singled out and treated in a manner that one would not expect to be treated. "Is this problematic?" I think that's something that this policy allows us to address. It isn't limited.

The fact of the matter is, I think the most important thing is that we have zero tolerance for harassment. If someone doesn't know we have a harassment policy, but they're still protected by it, the important thing is that they're protected by it.

It could be easy to miss something on the website or events guide -- what about doing something like ECCC, posting on the walls, and being a little more blatant?

That certainly is a possibility. I will tell you, though, that because we're really an international show, and have 3,000 members of the media, I think the story would be harassment is such an issue at Comic-Con that they needed to post these signs around there. Now, people within the industry, and fans, know that isn't the case, but the general public out there, and I think the news media, might look at this as, "Why would you, if this wasn't such a bad issue, why do you feel the need to single out this one issue and put signs up about it?" I think that's a concern. I was reading somewhere about anti-harassment policy, and they say, the most important thing is to have an anti-harassment policy, and expectations of behavior. We certainly have that.

There are other security and safety issues that people need to abide by -- costume weapon policies, things of that nature. By highlighting one, does that diminish the others? I just don't know. I would be afraid to have several different signs for different things that are equally as important.

Let's touch on a few other things -- Comic-Con is coming up in less than two months. In general, is anything being done differently for this year's show?

Not that I can think of, overall. We spend a tremendous amount of time after the show going over what worked, what didn't work, and what can be fixed. We spend a lot of time right before the show just to make sure that we can try to implement that. I think a result of a lot of that debriefing was the badge sales that we had last time, the general sale. While, again, we have more people who want to attend the show than we have badges to accommodate, [the sale] went on with fewer glitches than had been in the past. I assume for that reason primarily, that resulted in a lot less returned badges. So we weren't able to have a badge resale.

We hope to learn from our mistakes and implement changes. That's one of them. Because of a lack of space, we're still trying to utilize outside facilities to hold panels, programs and things of that nature. I know this year, Xbox will be back, I think at the Hyatt hotel. That's going to be an anchor that people will hopefully go and visit. There's always new things going on, but hopefully it's all, in the end, for the enjoyment of the attendees.

One thing that got some press last year was New York Comic Con using RFID enabled badges for entry and exit. Has Comic-Con discussed the possibility of doing something similar?

Yeah, we have. We've been very, very lucky in that we've always been able to move our crowds around pretty effectively. We've noticed that our attendees come very early in the morning, and don't leave until late at night. A lot of conventions have a lot of turnover. Our 130,000 people are 130,000 people who end up staying for the entire show. It's important for us, and it's always been something that we've focused on, to make sure that those people have something to do within the show. Our attendees are pretty well-versed in going to a panel, coming back on the floor, going to an event, coming back. While it's crowded, you can still move around in there.

But we have looked at RFID. There are mechanisms that we may be able to track crowds, so if one area's getting too impacted, we can address that. I don't know what the status of that is, to be honest with you, but we're always discussing different things to try to make the experience for the attendees better.

It's a little more than a month after this year's WonderCon -- is there any info you can divulge about how this past year did attendance wise? Was there a growth from 2013, now that it's been three years in Anaheim?

There really was. WonderCon was an amazingly phenomenal show. We saw a huge increase in cosplayers, who all seemed to have a really great time. Our Masquerade there was not only very well-attended in terms of contestants, but well-attended in terms of the audience. I think we had 60,000 people this year. It was just really good. The news from WonderCon not only went national, but international. There was a great piece that appeared in China. One of the attendees said they felt it turned a corner; they didn't consider it a regional show anymore, they considered it a national show that's just held in Anaheim. I tend to agree. We had some really good programming, great guest list. And you know what? It's maintained that relaxed atmosphere that WonderCon is known for. I think people really had a good time. I actually really enjoyed the show. Not that I don't enjoy Comic-Con or APE, but often times I don't have the ability to enjoy it as much as I would like, or I enjoy it in a different way. This one, I was very blue to see Sunday come at 5 o'clock, because it was over.

One of the things that we were really happy to hear about was, our exhibitor base said that a lot of people were really spending a lot of money there. One of the things that we've always tried to do with all of our shows -- it isn't just getting people through the door, it's getting the right people through the door. It's people who really genuinely have an interest in the stuff that we have to show. And we love to introduce new people to the party that is Comic-Con or WonderCon, and that seemed to happen at WonderCon, certainly. All the reports we heard back were pretty positive, and we're very excited about that.

In 2012, the first year WonderCon was at Anaheim, it was seen as at least a potentially temporary move during construction at the Moscone Center -- but it's been three years in Anaheim, and as you noted, a success. So can it safely be say that Anaheim is the new permanent home for the show?

Anaheim has been really, really good to us. Not only the city, the convention facility, but probably more importantly, the attendees. They've been really, really wonderful in embracing us. But the show started in San Francisco, and I think we'd like to get back there. It's just been a bear. We can't get dates far enough out, and you can't tell an exhibitor to keep your calendar open, and three months or six months out, we'll give you an idea of a date. You can't plan that way. So our hope is to eventually have WonderCon in the bay area. I don't believe I'm going to say this, because I don't know that we would actually have the resources to do this, but people have suggesting WonderCon North and WonderCon South. I don't know if that's a possibility, but I would hate to take away the show from Anaheim, but at the same time, I'd love to see the show in San Francisco, as well. That's a great venue, and a great city.

We've been very lucky -- we have a certain reputation, and I think that sometimes attendees hold us to a higher standard, and they should. We're fans, too. We put on the types of shows that we want to attend. They make the show. If they don't like something, they should let us know, and they often do. I think that allows us to put together the kind of shows that we enjoy and they enjoy. San Francisco has a wonderful fan base. I would love to be back up there. It's just a great city.

Is there anything else folks should know about this year's Comic-Con?

We want to make sure that the people who attend Comic-Con are as safe as they possibly can be. We spend a great deal of time, effort, and I'll be honest with you, a great deal of money to try to ensure that. Again, anyone who feels unsafe -- even if it's one person -- is clearly one person too many. We're grateful to our security teams, and especially the San Diego Police Department, who take a very active role in Comic-Con. I think that helps to mitigate a lot of the problems that I think are experienced in some other places around the country. We're grateful for that.

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