SALT LAKE CITY — Some Utah authors and FanX fans are choosing not to attend FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention this September after its co-founder told best-selling author Shannon Hale to “sit this one out.”
Hale, along with several other authors, privately emailed Bryan Brandenburg criticizing the way that FanX’s other co-founder Dan Farr responded to sexual harassment allegations against author Richard Paul Evans in an article by The Salt Lake Tribune.
Brandenburg posted that Evans was not going to be attending the convention in September but did not state a specific reason why, which Hale took issue with. In her email to him, she called for a public statement clarifying and refuting Farr’s statement on the harassment allegations, stating that she would not feel comfortable attending the convention and letting her fans come to a place that was unsafe.
In an email response to Hale, Brandenburg listed FanX’s responses to previous reports of sexual harassment and assault. He also mentioned the company’s new anti-harassment policy released last week, saying that two women had seen it and were satisfied with it.
The last paragraph of Brandenburg's email read, “Maybe it is best you sit this one out and then wait to hear how it went. I don’t think there is anything we can say to convince you to come and quite frankly I’m not willing to try. I know in my heart that we take this seriously and I don’t think you get it. I have four daughters and I have been sensitive to these issues for decades, long before it became trendy with #metoo.”
Hale was shocked, particularly by the last sentence.
“I can think of a lot of really terrible men that have daughters. The fact of procreating does not say anything about how much you understand women,” Hale said in an interview with the Deseret News. “(Sexual harassment) is not a trend. It's the reality.”
The author took a screenshot of the paragraph of Brandenburg’s email and posted it on Twitter Monday morning without citing a person or an organization, writing, "Disappointed with the way an organization has publicly handled a sexual harassment accusation, I've been communicating with them privately, hoping they'd step up. Just got an email response. Please play sexism bingo with this paragraph."
Hale hoped that by posting Brandenburg's email she could get feedback to back her up and make FanX reevaluate their response.
“I really thought it would be a positive thing,” she said.
However, the responses did not go as she expected.
FanX tweeted out the entire private email exchange between Brandenburg and Hale, including Hale’s private email address but leaving out the last line about Brandenburg's four daughters and the #MeToo movement. The tweet has since been deleted.
Hale responded to their tweet on her own account by writing: "This is what @fanxsaltlake does to a woman who publicly speaks up about harassment at their con: publishes her email without redacting her private email address (I did that on this screenshot) but deletes the parts of the email that makes them look bad."
Monday evening, Brandenburg posted a public apology on his Facebook page linking to the new FanX anti-harassment policy.
“I made multiple mistakes in handling the report of harassment at our event," Brandenburg stated in his post. "I was insensitive to people, especially to Shannon Hale, that were communicating to me about this issue. It was me and me alone that responded to one of the people involved and I handled it terribly. I am so sorry. I wish I could take it back but I can't. I was wrong, I made more than one mistake, and it was a very painful lesson. I'm ashamed that I didn't handle it better, and I hope that I can be forgiven. I'm so sorry that I came across like I did. Please forgive me.”
A more formal apology specifically addressed to Hale was posted later Monday on the FanX blog in which Brandenburg states that he “didn’t notice (his) screenshot still contained her personal email.”
Hale, however, said she doesn’t believe that this was done by accident after FanX released Evans’ accuser’s information to the press without her consent or knowledge.
“It’s a pattern of behavior,” Hale said. “They’re showing what they think about women’s right to privacy. They don’t care about it.”
Although the tweet left out the line about the #MeToo movement being trendy, the apology does address it, although it does not explain why the sentence was left out of the original tweet.
“I came off insensitive to people’s pain, and I am sorry. After today’s events, I admit that I am not fully aware or educated about the importance of the #metoo movement, and this is something I am actively working to change,” Brandenburg wrote.
Brandenburg also announced that all of the FanX staff will undergo harassment training in the next 90 days.
In response to an interview request from the Deseret News, FanX representatives did not provide further comment but instead pointed to Brandenburg's statement.
Several other Utah authors spoke up about the social media controversy, including Ally Condie, author of the "Matched" series, who tweeted, "For months, authors have been asking for a better sexual harassment policy from @fanxsaltlake. What happened publicly today on twitter is an indication of how women have been treated privately by those running this con."
"Proper Romance" author Sarah M. Eden also weighed in, tweeting, "Today was my son's high school graduation and I spent a frustrating amount of my day dealing with this. Again. Still. I did not take the brunt of it, but I felt the weight. Again. Still. We are tired. We are exhausted. But you know what we aren't? Defeated."
Author Brendan Reichs and RWBY voice actors Lindsay Jones and Arryn Zech tweeted that they would not be attending the convention in September after viewing the exchange on social media. Many fans on Twitter have also responded to Hale’s tweets saying that they will no longer be attending.
Following the initial alligations against Evans, Hale, along with her Utah writers group Rock Canyon, signed a pledge to not appear at any festival, conference or convention that does not have “a strong anti-harassment policy,” Hale said. Specifically, she and her group were fighting for protection for authors against other authors.
Although Hale has seen that conventions are notorious for sexual harassment, she had hoped that FanX's new anti-harassment policy would be a step in the right direction, but after this controversy, she’s not so sure. She sees FanX releasing her personal information as a direct violation of their new policy.
“It will take more than an apology made from necessity after everything’s falling apart for me to really trust them,” Hale said. “I personally really hope that they can turn it around. I don’t want to be a catalyst for bringing down FanX. … But I’m not going to stop speaking up.”