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SYFY WIRE Interviews

Flame Con reveals dates and special guests for 2020 convention, showcasing commitment to diversity

By Caitlin Busch
Flame Con 2020 new Flamies

The largest queer comic con in the world, Flame Con, is gearing up for its sixth annual celebration. Founded by Geeks OUT, Flame Con is a place where "geeks of all types are invited to attend and celebrate the diversity and creativity of queer geekdom and LGBTQ contributions to pop culture."

The festivities kick off on August 15 at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel, and there’s plenty for fans to get excited about ahead of time. This includes two special guests — two-time Hugo Award finalist Chuck Tingle and Tanya DePass, founder and director of I Need Diverse Games — and two new Flamies.

"The Flamies are our growing team of rainbow adorned queer superheroes!" newly appointed Flame Con Chair Maya Bishop told SYFY WIRE in an email interview. "They are our mascots, and nearly every year, we've made it a point to have two new ones created for us by the wonderful Terry Blas. They are a way for us to show a wide array of queer expressions that we hope people will identify with — to say that these identities are part of our community, that they are seen, valid, and super!"

"I chose to add the Tech and Cosplay Flamies this year because I wanted Flamies that also acknowledged the geek and fandom aspects of our event, and that those expressions can be just as much a part of the queer identity," she explains.

And SYFY WIRE has an exclusive look at Flame Con 2020's two new Flamies, Cosplay Flamie and Tech Flamie, both of whom were chosen by Bishop.

In an email interview with SYFY WIRE, Bishop gave us more insight into Flame Con 2020, how the convention has grown over the years, and how it continues striving to provide a safe, loving space for every kind of fan.

What do your duties as Flame Con Chair entail?

Think of me as a glittery rainbow Captain Janeway. I help make sure we are headed in the right direction and that we get there before the coffee runs out.

Primarily, I am responsible for keeping our overall planning on track. Ensuring our deadlines are met, roadblocks are cleared, and supporting our teams as they work to put Flame Con together.

Oh, and I get to pick the new Flamies. :)

I’ve heard you have a new exhibitor registration process this year. Could you tell me a bit about that? I know it's a challenge for a lot of cons.

Establishing a good exhibitor registration process can definitely be a challenge, especially when we receive three times our available capacity in exhibitors who want to come to Flame Con. We want a process that balances ease, efficiency, inclusivity, and fairness while being aware of the communities we serve and who support us.

This year we are piloting a multi-block release process, where we make quantities of our tables available over a two week period. We wanted a system that gave exhibitors enough time to prepare, had multiple opportunities to register, but didn't require waiting a month or more to know if they would get a spot.

Additionally, we are providing exhibitors with the chance to select their own table locations.

What other problems has Flame Con run into in the past that y'all are looking to fix in 2020?

One of our biggest challenges has been adapting to the rapid growth Flame Con has experienced in the last five years, all while being crewed entirely by volunteers.

We have focused a lot on process refinement, resource management, and functioning as the medium-sized, non-profit organization we have become. We want to ensure Flame Con continues to follow Geeks OUT's mission and retains the feeling of being a community-focused event that is welcoming, inclusive, and accessible.

It's rare to see a cosplay firearm ban at a convention. Has the ban ever proved controversial?

I don't know of any times it has proven controversial at Flame Con. The queer community experiences enough real-world threats of violence, especially gun violence. I think it is reassuring to our attendees to know Flame Con is a space they don't have to be reminded of that, even as part of someone else's costume.

What does "queer-positive" mean to you in terms of the art and entertainment being showcased at Flame Con?

To me, "queer-positive" means we are providing space for our amazing queer community to express the full spectrum of the queer experience in the ways that are most meaningful to them.

At other events, the queer community is treated largely as an afterthought, especially if we aren't actively campaigning for inclusion. A queer-positive space means we aren't an afterthought, we are THE thought.

For you, what does it mean to be a geek in the queer space?

For me, personally, being a geek in queer space means I have things I can use to interact and engage with others on grounds I'm comfortable in.

As an autistic person, I find a lot of social interactions to be challenging. Being a geek gives me things I can speak about with others — a chance to share my joys, with the reasonable hope that they will share that joy too or at least be interested.

Where it can become hard though, is being a queer person in a geek/fandom space. While acceptance is growing in a lot of areas, there is still a lot of work to be done to make marginalized communities feel safe and welcomed within geek/fandom spaces. Which is a large part of why Geeks OUT and Flame Con exist in the first place and resonates so strongly with so many queer geeks.

What do you enjoy most about this con?

It is impossible for me to pick just one thing, but I can narrow it down to two.

I love hearing about the ways in which folx come to Flame Con and get to spend a weekend being unabashedly, gleefully themselves in ways they may not get to at other events or in their daily lives. Whether that's through their expressions of queerness or geekiness, or combinations thereof, it's wonderful to see people experience that kind of happiness.

I also love that Flame Con provides a growing list of opportunities for queer folx to network, make new friends, expand their support resources, and develop their creative careers. This isn't just a two-day space to revel in being a queer geek, but a chance to build opportunities that will help them thrive well into the future.

Will you be cosplaying? And if you aren't, who/what would you go as if you were?

I will be cosplaying as a respectable, calm, capable adult. HA!

But seriously, as much as I love seeing the impressive array of cosplayers at Flame Con, it’s not something I personally engage in doing. I'm at a point in my life where I'm enjoying getting to be myself more than anything.

But if I had to pick someone, I think right now I would love to go as Kizzy Shao from Becky Chamber's book The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. She's got a delightful sense of style that would be fun to do for a day.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Flame Con 2020 will take place on Saturday and Sunday, August 15-16 at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel, with tickets available today through Eventbrite.

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