When Flame Con returns for its sixth annual show this August in Times Square, it will be implementing changes based on feedback from attendees and exhibitors. As the world’s largest LGBTQ fan convention, Flame Con has long been heralded as a space for queer geeks of all stripes to enjoy a weekend of cosplay, art, socialization, programming, and networking.
However, the convention itself and Geeks OUT, its founding org, have long faced criticism for its accessibility (or lack thereof), including a highly congested exhibitor space that is difficult to navigate for anyone, but especially people who use wheelchairs or other mobility aids. Last year, Flame Con also received criticism for its exhibitor lottery system and its decision to limit the ability of exhibitors to share table space with fellow creators who did not get into the show through the lottery.
This year, new Flame Con chair Maya Bishop hopes to implement positive changes for better accessibility and inclusion at the show. These include a new exhibitor registration system, which allows exhibitors to register at specific times on specific days, with instant confirmation when they have confirmed their table, as well as reduced congestion at the venue and more.
The Beat caught up with Bishop via e-mail to discuss planned changes, as well as how Geeks OUT and Flame Con have grown over the last six years.
Samantha Puc: Congrats on your new position! First and foremost, can you speak to what you did as the head of programming, and how that role has prepared you for your new position as chair?
Maya Bishop: Thank you! As head of programming I was responsible for making sure our programming process (panels, workshops, meet-ups, etc.) ran smoothly. I coordinated the team responsible for reviewing submissions, selecting which ones we would host, and getting them scheduled for the year. Working in programming is great because it regularly interacts with every other team here. The last two years have enabled me to learn in great detail how Geeks OUT and Flame Con operate, and the array of planning and coordination needed to make Flame Con happen. It’s also given me a chance to build trust within Geeks OUT, as someone the planning teams can feel confident will help guide and grow this event.
Puc: What are your specific goals for making Flame Con more inclusive and accessible, and how do you plan to accomplish those goals?
Bishop: Last year we held a public feedback session on this, and we are looking at ways to implement changes that have come from that feedback. These include: reducing congestion in the venue space, reducing time in line for registration, providing more detailed accessibility information before the con, more space for casual seating / resting and socialization, and offering non-alcoholic, all ages, on-site alternative events on Saturday night. We will also be expanding the disability accommodations available in our Gaymer Lounge, as well as providing opportunities for more community organizations to participate at Flame Con.
Puc: Last year, Flame Con received a lot of criticism from creators for how the org handled the table lottery and special guests. What did you learn from that experience, and what changes are you implementing as a result?
Bishop: I think one of the main things we took away from that experience was around how we communicate. We saw reactions to the lottery from people that felt we were operating out of greed, exclusion, opacity, and ingratitude to our community. We have always done our best to try and create a transparent, fair, balanced, and inclusive process for our exhibitors.
This year we have implemented a system that allows exhibitors multiple days and times to register. We have attempted to set accurate, transparent expectations about the process. We also wanted to provide as much advance notice in order to make sure word got around about the dates, and everyone had a chance to ask questions and offer feedback. We are hopeful that this year’s process will be a positive one for exhibitors, and we want to make sure folx feel comfortable giving feedback and criticism whether positive or negative.
Puc: Can you speak to what Flame Con has planned for programming at the 2020 show?
Bishop: There is so much to look forward to this year! We are looking at expanding the venue space in order to offer more programming, gaming, and professional development events. We have some really exciting special guests lined up that we’ll be announcing over the coming months. We are also working to build on our Professional Development series which included our Micro Mentoring sessions that were very popular. We will also be planning some Saturday night events to provide options for folx looking for quieter, non-alcoholic alternatives to our annual post-Saturday party.
Puc: Based on your experience with the org, what would you consider Flame Con’s biggest triumph to date? What would you consider its biggest failure?
Bishop: Our biggest failure? Two years ago I implemented a project management platform that almost everyone disliked and we had to abandon. We’ve had our share of learning experiences as an organization, and some growing pains.
But by far I think our greatest triumph has been that Geeks OUT and the queer community have built a successful, growing, stable convention going into its sixth year. Flame Con serves thousands of creators, fans, and participants from across all corners of the queer geek community, all planned by a group of amazing volunteers who do this out of a sense of love, generosity, and dedication. Every year that feels like a huge triumph.
Puc: What are you, personally, most looking forward to about Flame Con 2020?
Bishop: Each year the thing I look forward to most see is thousands of queer folk building communities and reveling in queer joy. I am also pretty thrilled about the expansions we’re looking at making with the venue space and programming that we’ll be offering.
Puc: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Bishop: Flame Con lives and thrives by our community; we literally can’t do this without them. I want to welcome and encourage anyone interested to help participate in Flame Con and its continued growth. We welcome feedback, especially in our yearly surveys that go out after Flame Con, and we are regularly seeking volunteers to help either during the convention or as part of our planning team.
Flame Con 2020 takes place August 15-16 at the New York Sheraton Times Square. Exhibitors interested in tabling at the event can see registration details here; those interested in doing panels, performances, or cosplay programming can apply here. The next two registration blocks for exhibitors open on Thursday, February 13 at 7 a.m. ET and on Friday, February 21 at 9 p.m. ET.
For attendees, full weekend passes are $50 and single day passes are $30 each. Attendees under 21 may attend Flame Con free of charge on Sunday, August 16 for the show’s annual Youth Day. Tickets are on sale now.