Clexa Con: Queer celebration or exploitation?

UPDATED 10-28-2022

Clexa Con tried to be many things: a fan convention where people can watch entertainment based panels and interact with their faves, a film festival where projects by and for queer women are highlighted, an academic convention with workshops and networking. It tries (or more skeptically, it wants to look like it tries) to give a platform to the most marginalized of our community by offering panels led by QPOC, Trans and non-binary folks, people with disabilities and so on.  Also there’s an Artist Alley thrown in there because an event with the success of Clexa Con should definitely want to share some of that success with queer artists by propping them up, right?

In trying to be all of these things, Clexa Con 2019 seemed to fall short of getting any of them right. Clexa Con started in 2017 as a response to the harmful Bury Your Gays trope. It was meant to be a queer oasis where we could mourn the characters we’d lost, celebrate the ones who provided representation when it was needed most, and brainstorm a way forward. So why after the third iteration were many left with the impression that everything Clexa Con did was with one real goal in mind: to make a profit. There’s nothing inherently wrong with making money, this is a full time job for the people who run it, of course they should make money from all the work they put in.    Why are there so many people venting their frustration in the #clexapocalypse tag? A hashtag started by vendors as a way to shed light on how they were treated by the Con, but became a catch-all for people who felt Clexa Con didn’t deliver the product it advertised.
Why did one of the founders “step away” from her position a few months before the Con? 

holly bye

Why did a large portion of the core staff announce they were leaving their positions days after the Convention concluded?

bye

The most innocent conclusion is that they stumbled, that a still young convention bit off more than they could chew and a lot of innocent mistakes added up.money

But the more I thought about the whole thing the less innocent it all seemed. After looking into the Visibility Fund, the charity that would benefit from Cocktails for Change this year, things felt less messy and more shady. By the time the Con was over, things felt messy and shady and frankly exploitative. That probably sounds like a harsh conclusion, but after taking everything in this post into account, is it accurate?

Disabled Attendees

For me the first Red Flag this year came when Annie shared the response they had received from Clexa Con regarding accessibility for disabled Con goers. As a disabled person I found their original policy disgusting. As a someone who relies on proper accessibility to attend Cons I felt completely unwelcome. The policy stated that they would not be issuing stickers to ID people with accessibility needs (something that is common practice at most public events), used language like “we allow” wheelchairs, and their solution to people who are not able to stand for long periods of time was to BRING THEIR OWN CHAIR. There was an immediate response from people with disabilities and allies.

A day later they made an attempt to clarify their policy. They continued to use condescending language and suggested having “someone from your party” wait in line for you. I guess if you go to Cons alone like I do, you’re just screwed.
1010. clexacon

Their implication that disabled people were just trying to get special treatment did not go over well, here are some examples of how people were feeling after this clarification.

On February 11th they issued another statement saying that they were working to see where they could do better. I naively assumed there would be an apology and decent policy in a matter of days. Instead we waited weeks without any kind of acknowledgement of the people tweeting them with concerns and anxiety about if they would be able to attend the Con not knowing if their accessibility needs would be met. During the wait an oblivious tweet from Clexa Con’s account raised some eye-brows.
running In the end it took them until March 4th to announce that they had updated their policy. I can’t speak for other people with disabilities, but even though the policy was a huge improvement, for me this was too little, too late. The language they had used did real harm, as did the amount of time they left us waiting for answers and they never seemed to truly understand that. The final policy still left much to be desired. It’s amazing how complicated they made something so simple just because they didn’t want disabled people to feel special.

Artist Alley

By the time I was heading home from Vegas a new hashtag was in full swing: #clexapocalypse. Like I mentioned earlier, this tag was started in response to the treatment of vendors by the convention. I highly encourage you to read the two threads I linked below written by Clexa Con vendors, detailing much of what went wrong in the this year’s Artist Alley.
Open Letter from the Vendors     and     Official verdict on ClexaCon: Yikes.

These threads include emails between vendors and Clexa Con Staff showing that what was promised to the vendor is far from what was delivered as well as discrepancies in pricing and other issues.  They highlight errors in and a complete lack of communication, issues in how vendors were treated in what should have been a safe space, physical safety concerns, and lack of promotion on the website and visibility at the con.

No selfies and sub-par Photo-Ops
selfies

Prior to the convention an attendee posted this screen shot of an email they received from Clexa Con:
selfies 1

This is the second time important information had only come to light because someone shared an email on twitter, Clexa Con made no official announcement regarding selfies. The most obvious implication of this was that people would be forced to purchase photo-ops for significantly more money if they wanted a photo with a guest. Why this year were they suddenly so interested in selling more photo-ops? Hint: The people who own Clexa Con also own the company that was doing the photos this year. I’ll have a lot more to say on that further down.
I love selfies so I was pretty disappointed by this news. I buy plenty of Photo-Ops too, I just usually save those for groups. The email itself is annoying because of the wording “unfortunately guests will not be doing selfies” as if it were the guests’ decision (it wasn’t). To add to the confusion many guests were doing selfies at the Convention. Why were some allowed and some weren’t? Did they lie about it being a blanket policy just to boost photo-op sales?

Now to the photo-ops themselves. One attendee had this to say:photos
Another attendee talked to me about many issues they noticed with the overall impression: “The poor quality of the photo ops and their lack of flexibility in making it right, were totally unprofessional.” Once people started posting their photos the quality was so bad that other photographers were tweeting out offers to fix photos free of charge.

Clexa Con=Dash Productions = Visibility Fund

When all is said and done, this convention was about making money for three businesses and a “charity”. A convention that aims to “celebrate positive representation for LGBTQ women in the media”, a network that hosts and produces content for and by queer women, an event production company, and an organization “to promote positive representation of underrepresented communities in media”.

The Visibility Fund uses donations (like all of the tickets sold to Cocktails for Change) to “promote” LGBTQ media, Tello sells subscriptions to it’s network to enjoy LGBTQ media, Clexa Con celebrates LGBTQ women in media, and Dash gets paid to put on the convention and take the photos. At first glance it seems like a great way to spread the love, to use this unique partnership to benefit as many LGBTQ women as possible. So how many queer women are benefiting from it? The original version of this post implied equal responsibility among three people:
– Ashley Arnold: Visibility Fund, ClexaCon, DASH Productions, and Tello Films.
– Danielle Jablonski: Visibility Fund, ClexaCon, DASH Productions, and Tello Films.
– Christin Baker: Formally DASH Productions and Tello Films.

2022 Update and Clarification on Christin Baker’s involvement.

Near the end of 2021 Christin became aware of this post and invited me to meet with her and discuss the reality of her involvement with Ashley Arnold and Danielle Joblonski. She listened to and addressed my concerns and it became clear that the scope of her involvement with the actual Con was limited almost entirely to the Filmmaker Panels. I don’t believe Christin shares any blame for the problems with the Con as whole. Below is a statement from Christin Baker detailing her business partnership with Danielle and Ashley, her attempts to take back full control of a company she founded in 2009, Tello Films, with Danielle and Ashley becoming partial owners of in 2018, and other ways she was cut ties with them.  It’s worth really thinking about the fact that a huge portion of of the Clexa Con staff, including a founder, left the organization in 2019 then after a brief partnership Christin Baker was left fighting for a company she founded.

A Statement From Christin Baker , Jan 5th 2022

“I was hoping to bring in the New Year with an announcement that I had bought back the majority of my company, Tello Films. Unfortunately, I write this statement unable to share that news and I am uncertain if I will ever be able to. For reasons I will explain below, I have not been able to speak publicly regarding things that I have wanted to address for some time. However, I feel that now is the time to do that as I move forward in 2022.

I consider myself a very loyal friend, almost to a fault – which has been to my detriment at times. This loyalty allows me to blindly trust people, so much so that I sometimes fail to see the full picture And now, as a result of that, my name is being incorrectly connected to an event in which I was nowhere nearly involved to the degree that may have been perceived by others. Worst of all, this connection has also hurt my reputation in the LGBTQ community.

I want to share my truth about my involvement with ClexaCon and its organizers, Danielle Jablonski and Ashley Arnold, as well as clear up any misconceptions or rumors.

In 2017, I was a sponsor through Tello Films and participated on panels as an industry guest/sponsor.
In 2018, I was a sponsor through Tello Films and participated on panels as an industry guest/sponsor.
During ClexaCon London, I was in charge of the photo booth area and participated on panels as a guest
In 2019, I was responsible for organizing the panels for the Thursday Filmmaker panel, and I was responsible for the photo op area as I was one of the owners of DASH Photos. I was not in charge of the quality control of the photos but rather the operations and logistics of the photo ops.
I was not involved in the 2020 virtual convention or the in-person 2021 convention.
One thing I would like to be very clear about is that I was not and have never been involved in any decision-making processes for ClexaCon. I was not involved in acquiring guests, making convention policies, or communicating with anyone as a representative of ClexaCon except in my discussions with the other filmmakers involved in the Thursday Filmmaker Convention in 2019.

With regards to my involvement with Danielle and Ashley and Tello Films: In 2018 they became partial owners of Tello Films, a company I founded in 2009. While they own the majority shares in the company, I have remained President and CEO and I continue to be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company. Together, the three of us produced Season of Love and I Hate New Year’s.

In the fall of 2020, it became clear that our business goals were not aligned and I began the process of severing ties with them. Around this time, I launched A Baker Production and produced Christmas at the Ranch with different producers. In April of 2021, the production property that was jointly owned was sold and I started the process of trying to buy back Danielle and Ashley’s shares of Tello Films. It was my hope to have this completed by the end of the year, but after 10 months of negotiations, unfortunately we were not able to come to a resolution. As of this moment, I am unsure about my future with the Tello Films organization due to them still owning the majority of the company’s shares.

I would like to emphasize that my professional future does not include a partnership with them or being part of ClexaCon. I have divested my involvement with DASH Productions and Dash Photography as well.

There have been incorrect and defamatory statements made about me due to my previous associations with ClexaCon and DASH Productions. While I understand these assumptions were made because of my prior professional involvement, I hope that in finally being able to speak my truth people will stop negatively associating me with the decisions made at ClexaCon. I have worked hard to be a collaborative person who sets high standards for myself and my honest dealings. My involvement with the aforementioned individuals and entities has tarnished my reputation and I want to get it back. Most of all, I want to continue making films to further LGBTQ representation for our community in healthy, positive ways and I hope this statement is the start of that.

Hoping for a creative 2022,

Christin”

Treatment of POC

I am not a POC, and I have no intention of speaking for a community I’m not part of, but for three years I’ve seen people share concerns over how POC are treated. I encourage to read this piece written by a WOC who was there: CLEXACON: WHY LGBTQIA+ WOMEN CAN’T CLAIM SAFE SPACES JUST YET

Treatment of guests

All weekend during the Con and in the days that followed there was lots of talk about certain guests being treated badly by the people in charge and even put in uncomfortable and unsafe situations. There are a lot of questions on this subject that we probably won’t get the answer to due to contracts and NDAs. However, the wife of one of the guests, Dot Marie Jones, did speak out and confirm a lot of what people were worried about.

D494crIVUAAseRH

Security, or lack there of.

security

Clexa Con cut a lot of corners to save money this year, one place this was especially obvious was at the entrances. There was no Security, volunteer or hired. There may have been a few bag checks and a volunteer sporadically checking badges, but for the most part  there was no accountability of who was entering the convention or what they had with them.

Overall

Clexa Con was a beautiful idea and for three years has given queer women and our allies a place to come together an celebrate our stories. Unfortunately, in the end it felt more like using celebrities as bait, intersectionality as a smoke screen, and an under-served community as an easy target.

I’m far from the only person who feels this way. Here are two wonderfully written threads by other attendees:
 – Attendee @EGBridges thread “It has turned into a profit-centered media industry con instead of a fan-run, fan-centric con, as it began.”
 – Attendee @divinagpena thread: “everything seemed to be a money grab and greed had somehow contaminated what once seemed to be a celebration of diversity”

I should note that Clexa Con issued a statement following the criticism: Dear ClexaCon attendees and the larger LGBTQ+ community:
They mention the vendor floor, they say they are addressing issues around transphobia and members of the LGBTQ+ community not feeling welcomed, and they mention that they “re-worked” their accessibility policy.

I’ll be interested to see what steps are taken to improve on the issues they addressed, but I’m also concerned about several issues they didn’t mention.

Will they take an honest look at the ways they fell short? Will they put in the work required to do better? Will it be enough? Will people buy tickets to the already announced Clexa Con 2020?

I can’t answer any of that yet, but I do know that the queer community will soon have options when it comes to this type of event. There are a few groups who’ve already started planning similar events and seem committed to making everyone feel safe and welcome.

Update: ClexaCon addresses some of these issues on their website.  https://clexacon.com/about/team-blog/

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