Over the weekend, friends of mine in east coast fandom started sharing news links about attendees of Fur Fest being evacuated from their convention hotel because of a deliberate release of chlorine gas into the hotel space. Fandom was pissed, and for good reason.
Details of the criminal act:
The Hyatt-Regency in Rosemont was completely evacuated at roughly 1AM. (For those of us that have attended TransWorld? Yes, it’s that Rosemont.) Guests sought shelter in nearby hotels and in the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center. 19 attendees ended up going to the hospital. Powdered chlorine was found in a stairwell on the 9th floor of the hotel. Firefighters on the scene reported that there was a reading “as high as 20.6 on the chlorine meter” and also stated that “whatever the substance is, it is overloading our chlorine meter.”
To give you an idea of how bad a rating of 20.6ppm is? Let’s go back to Wikipedia, because this article references a bunch of stuff I was already going to include…. “Chlorine is a toxic gas that irritates the respiratory system. Because it is heavier than air, it tends to accumulate at the bottom of poorly ventilated spaces. Chlorine gas is a strong oxidizer, which may react with flammable materials. Chlorine is detectable with measuring devices in concentrations of as low as 0.2 parts per million (ppm), and by smell at 3 ppm. Coughing and vomiting may occur at 30 ppm and lung damage at 60 ppm. About 1000 ppm can be fatal after a few deep breaths of the gas. Breathing lower concentrations can aggravate the respiratory system, and exposure to the gas can irritate the eyes. The toxicity of chlorine comes from its oxidizing power. When chlorine is inhaled at concentrations above 30 ppm, it begins to react with water and cells, which change it into hydrochloric acid (HCl) and hypochlorous acid (HClO).” And the CDC cautions, “Hazardous concentrations may develop quickly in enclosed, poorly-ventilated, or low-lying areas. Keep out of these areas.”
If you’re wondering what it was like to be there, here’s one attendee’s story of what it was like to try to get off the 9th floor via the stairwell.
So having this crap in a stairwell that people were forced to use during the hotel evacuation? Really bad news.
Ok. So someone exposed a bunch of convention attendees to a hazardous gas. Good reason for fandom to be pissed off.
So why the hell was my Facebook news feed flooded on Tuesday with stories about reporters laughing about this story?
Because Fur Fest is a fandom convention for “people who are interested in the concept of fictional non-human characters with human characteristics.”
These folk are more commonly known as “furries”..some of the most maligned people in fandom.
If you’ve ever been in downtown Pittsburgh in June or July, you may well have seen this charming sector of fandom running around the city in mascot-esque costumes during the weekend run of Anthrocon. It’s rather adorable, actually…the variety of detail and creativity in the costuming is lovely to see. One collection of photos can be found here. And if you have either never heard of a furry or you think it’s some deviant sex group, I strongly encourage you to go take a look through that album, or any of the others on Anthrocon’s site.
Fur Fest is one of the largest conventions of its kind, warmly received by the Hyatt-Regency, whose Twitter feed shows some great love and support for Fur Fest. (Really, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a convention hotel be so sweet to a con. I mean, really..themed meal options? A free room contest? This hotel is pretty awesome!)
This convention had roughly 4,600 attendees from 15 different countries.
According to Furfest’s website, “Our charity, Critter Camp Exotic Pet Sanctuary, was able to raise $11,000 by charitable donations from our attendees and an additional $20,000 was donated from Midwest Furry Fandom, Inc., our parent 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation. Part of our core mission is to raise money for animal focused charities in the Midwest.” HOLY POOP THAT’S GREAT!!
But what do most people know about the event?
They know that reporters over on MSNBC responded to a story about 19 people being sent to the hospital as a result of a criminal act by laughing on the air and having one of their reporters run off camera because she couldn’t deal with the idea of people wearing fur suits.
How far is this, really, from the media making fun of fandom and costuming of any sort?
Why does it suddenly not matter that 19 people went to the hospital?
Oni Hartstein rather brilliantly summed up the story with the question, “It’s ok to commit terrorism toward children if you don’t like them?”
Victoria McNally wrote a much more detailed description of the story than I have here in her blog post over on TheMarySue.com, entitled, “Let’s Stop Making Jokes About Furries While Discussing That Recent Terrorist Attack on Furries.”
You should read those posts. These women make some fantastic points.
And then think, really think, about what this story, and the sadly common public reaction to this story, is saying.
Because, while this is a very dramatic story? It’s not an isolated incident sort of story. Fire alarms get pulled at conventions to force con attendees out of hotels and into the street..sometimes to try to ’embarrass’ the costumed attendees, sometimes to evict attendees that don’t have hotel rooms. I’ve read a lot of stories today about what sometimes happens at conventions, and I’m appalled at what people are doing to my fellow geeks.
Most of my fellow con goers can tell me of at least one convention they’ve attended where there was another group of people in the same hotel that didn’t appreciate sharing hotel space with fandom or haunters. We’ve seen the looks of disapproval and we’ve heard the grumblings. It’s not hard at all to imagine a repeat of what happened at Fur Fest last weekend.
If you have something you love enough to attend a convention to celebrate? Do not think for a second that your convention is immune from something like this. The only way that works is if we stop trying to decide who ‘counts’ – which passion is ok to have and which one isn’t good enough.
Each of us, every single one of us, has an interest, a something we love that makes us a geek.
Stop saying that your love makes you better than anyone else.
Once we get to that point? Crap like this stops happening.
(If you’re appalled at what happened on MSNBC, TELL THEM. firstname.lastname@example.org)