People Are Boycotting Supanova Over Founder's Stance Against Safe Schools

Over the weekend Daniel Zachariou, founder and Event Director of Supanova, Australia's largest pop culture expo, posted a petition on his Facebook page calling for transgender education in Australian schools to be stopped.

The petition claims the 'Safe Schools' program forces children to "learn about sex, gender fluidity and transgenderism at ages as young as 5 without the supervision of parents". It has been publicly criticised as "fear-mongering".

Reaction to this post among con-goers has been swift and negative, with many calling for for a boycott of Supanova.

The Safe Schools initiative is a network of organisations that work with schools in Australia. Their goal: "create safer and more inclusive environments for same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, staff and families".

The initiative has been the source of controversy recently, after Liberal MPs Cory Bernardi and George Christensen called for a full parliamentary inquiry into the program, resulting in Bill Shorten calling Bernardi a homophobe in a terse exchange in front of Australia's political press core. The inquiry caused some aspects of the Safe Schools program to be changed. Some found these changes transphobic, homophobic and short-sighted, others believed those changes didn't go far enough.

The problem: this isn't the first time Supanova has incited controversy in regards to cultural issues like this. Last year Supanova and Zachariou came under fire for inviting Adam Baldwin to the event at a time when Baldwin was considered a high profile supporter (and instigator) of GamerGate. Supanova's decision caused The Ledger Awards to remove the convention as a sponsor. Many popular cosplayers withdrew their support of Supanova as a result; some were genuinely fearful for their safety.

For many, Daniel Zachariou's post confirms Supanova is not a safe space for the LGBTQI+ community and suggests a level of transphobia.

Liam Esler, who runs GX Australia, Australia's first queer gaming convention, was extremely disappointed by Zachariou's post.

"As a diversity advocate and someone who loves pop culture and gaming events, the fact that Supanova and those who run it have now repeatedly shown disregard for the LGBTQI+ community, women and other minorities is hugely disappointing," he said. "As much as I want to support events for gamers throughout Australia, there's no way I'm going to do that when those running it post transphobic asshattery.

"The safer schools program has been effectively shown to help not only LGBTQI+ students but also LGBTQI+ faculty and staff. This is a vital program for a highly vulnerable group."

Cosplayer Eve Beauregard publicly boycotted Supanova as a result of Adam Baldwin's attendance last year. For her, this statement affirms her earlier decision to avoid attending the show.

"Supanova has been a big part of my life since I was a kid. It's heartbreaking that the information that has come to light about the company over the last two years means I can no longer in good conscience support the show," she said. "Our diverse and welcoming community deserves better. The exhibitors, guests and staff who work hard to make Supanova a safe place deserve better."

Jordan Raskopoulos, the lead singer of Australian comedy act Axis of Awesome, is also a trans woman. Jordan too was deeply disappointed the Zachariou's comments.

"I hope that this can be an opportunity for Zachariou to confront his own ignorance," she told Kotaku. "I have worked alongside Safe Schools and Minus18 in Victoria and have seen, first hand, the positive impact their work has on young queer people. It took me until I was 32 to come to terms with being transgender. I was confused and alone with my feelings when I was young and a program like Safe Schools would have made an incredible difference to me.

"The gaming and pop culture community is incredibly diverse and it's heartening to see the continuing efforts of events like PAX and GX to be inclusive. These events have gone beyond merely accepting diversity and are now at a point where they celebrate it. It has been a joy to be a guest at those conventions. It is profoundly disappointing to see how far behind Supanova is in this regard. I hope that they can learn from this and become a better convention in the future."

Daniel Zachariou posted the following public apology on the Supanova Facebook page.

I want to express my sincere apologies to all staff, volunteers, guests and attendees of the Expo, and especially those who identify as LBGTQIA+. Recently I shared a link on my personal facebook page. In doing so I hoped to express some concerns about the nuances of the Safe Schools initiative. In no way did I intend to express transphobic or homophobic views, which would not align with the values of acceptance and camaraderie that I hold and aim to demonstrate through Supanova. Moreover, such views would not reflect the perspectives and diversity of the phenomenal team of staff and volunteers that make up Supanova as a whole.

Nonetheless, I realise the severity of sharing such a link and the impact it has as a representative of Supanova. My post and the discussions that followed have made many valued members of the community feel unwelcome, offended or uncomfortable. I take full responsibility for this and am committed to working with my team to continue doing what we do best and what you’ve enjoyed wholeheartedly these last 15 years; wonderfully inclusive events whose size and scope are a reflection of every portion of the community coming together as one. As a part of this, I am introducing a new Diversity panel to the line up for our June tour. This panel will be hosted by Supanova staff and volunteers, including members of the LBGTQIA+ community. I invite you to come along, share your views and provide suggestions on how we can continue to grow as an inclusive, diverse event.

Everything we’ve done down through these years has been about broadening the team so as to best represent all of you, working tirelessly in doing so, and as the Event Director and Founder of Supanova I do ask that the whole team not be punished for my comments. Both I and the team of Supanova are committed to ensuring it remains a welcoming, enjoyable and inclusive environment for all just as it’s always been.

The reaction to the apology has been mixed, with many still planning to boycott the show.

Elissa Harris, co-founder of Flat Earth Games, is a trans woman. She believes the apology doesn't go far enough. To her, this is about the broader issue of education and awareness.

"It's hard to overstate the importance of efforts like the Safe Schools program for the mental well-being of all children," she says. "The damage that can be done by even a handful of young people who, due to lack of education on the subject, might hurt fellow students who are dealing with their identity in an already-complicated environment is big enough to be a very real problem.

"The personal 'opinions' of people who have positions of power over public events is hugely important and they need to realise this. It is not as simple as a conflict of beliefs — education on this matter can foster human compassion and understanding at an age when it's most important.

"Lack of education doesn't "just" result in bullying, either, it often ends in violence, as evidenced by the incredibly high rate of assaults on trans-people. This is something that needs to change, and education is and always has been the best way to bring about any positive change in a society."

Zachariou expanded on his opinion on Safe Schools, in this Facebook comment, claiming he was not completely against Safe Schools. His issue was with teaching younger children about gender issues.

But many believe this only exacerbates the situation. According to Liam Esler of GX Australia, reaching children at young age is often paramount in preserving the mental health of teenagers and adults later in life.

"Talking about queer and trans people or issues shouldn't be something we only do with teens or adults," he explains, "especially for trans kids, talking about it during childhood is super important in avoiding mental health issues later down the line."

Daniel Zachariou told Kotaku he believed he'd been taken out of context.

"My share, which I didn’t realise linked to an image and supporting text, wasn’t in keeping with the spirit of my post or personal ideals, was never meant to look the way it did nor emphasise any gender," he says. "It was the opposite in seeking not to limit the imposition of gender theory on young children without parental permission.

"Nothing I say will be enough just as my apology is being criticised as simply being bad PR. But as I have indeed sincerely apologised I’m not sure what else I’m supposed to do."

The Diversity panel, which Daniel announced today as part of his apology, is part of a direct response to common criticisms of Supanova.

"Up until now we've been so inclusive as to not need to flag something as Diverse because so much of what we've done simply has been. Like our Stay Supa campaign which was always there, but because of the perception that others were doing more we had to get more vocal about our existing policies, rebrand it, and almost present it as if it were new."

Daniel believes that, with Supanova, his track record in providing safe spaces for LGBTQI+ speaks for itself.

"We have an amazing expo run by an amazing team and we've always sought to provide a space that's inclusive and fun, which we've successfully achieved."


Comments

    Storm in a teacup?
    Thanks to Supanova's organiser I'll continue to take my kids to the event every year. I think this is the best promotion kids' oriented event could get.

    Equality. Dose anyone here know what this word means? You go on about it all the time, but I never seen anyone actually practicing equality. Instead, you do the exact opposite.

    Equality is very simple. You, as a person, are to be respected in the same capacity as others. And in return, you do the same for ALL other people. There opinions may differ from yours, but it gives you no right to clam sexism or racism. None. Being offended is on you, not them. You have a right to YOUR option, and to conduct YOUR life how you see fit. This apply to ALL people, not just the Trans or Gay or Black or ect communitys. Stop being a bigot. Start acting like you want equality, rather than just saying you want it. Be a person, not a persona, and stop being offended by every little thing someone says, because in the long run, it just makes you the bad person.

    As for the Safe Schools program, I think you have proven his point by acting in this way. Safe Schools is meant to be teaching kids about bulling, and what it dose to people that are effected, and yet hear you all are bulling him over his opinion. Like, what sort of message is that sending? Just grow up. Be an adult. Don't act like a little kid every time someone says something.

      Fifty bucks says you are a Libertarian. I know this because you are employing a philosophical argument a five year old can deconstruct.

      I'll give you the simple version.

      Equality is not about 'respect', it's actually about power. Respect is simply one of the ways of expressing this.

      Your view of equality is predicated on a level playing field of power. If that were the case, you would be right.

      But this status quo has never existed in human history.

      This 'being offended' that so offends you is how power imbalances get addressed. You see otherwise you simply condone and support the existing power structures.

      The inability to understand this is the basic issue with contemporary internet Libertarian burblings about equality.

      But given the vast majority of contemporary internet Libertarians are the people who sit close to the global summit of the power inequality pyramid, this isn't exactly a surprise.

    Ok, firmly standing in the middle of the issue and not taking any position in the topic in question, I really have to wonder: Is it really going to be impossible to be a honest critic of measures that involve the LGBT community? Are we 100% confident that every single decision EVER taken in favour of LGBT people is going to be fair, necessary, risk-free, a good investment, etc, etc, etc? Are they, unlike us pig-cis-folk, holy, all-knowing and infallible? We better hope that's the case because we are making it so that criticism, completely independent of value and warrant is being immediately quashed off with a swift application of the pariah-rendering label of "homophobe". Examples like this go to show that you are literally risking your livelihood if you ever dare to question a LGTB initiative.

      You're not standing "in the middle" of anything, you are painting LGBT people as violent oppressors, when in fact, they have been, and are, denied basic rights that you take for granted.

      Being labelled a homophobe doesn't make anyone a "pariah", and never has. Cory Bernadi hasn't suffered in the slightest, and in fact, he got exactly what he wanted, which was an audit into (and ultimately the discontinuation) of the Safe Schools Program.

      The only people being hurt are LGBT. While you pretend to be a victim of some imaginary cis-oppression movement, gay kids are having a program that demonstrably reduced bullying taken away from them.

      It is not impossible to critique measures involving a minority. Consultation with the group in question and an understanding of the subject matter before wading into discourse are simple ways to foster an environment of constructive criticism. Both methods are sorely lacking when it comes to this issue.

        Note that this originated from a post on a person's (not the company) personal Facebook page. He was not starting a discourse, he was expressing a personal opinion/criticism. People dug this out, dragged his private and public endeavours (like Supanova) over it and now are seeking to destroy an event that represents the livelihood of that person and several others. He's literally being made an example of. I don't know what name are we going to give to the social paradigm of 0 tolerance to anything not 100% supportive of LGTB that we are moving towards, but I can tell you that it should have the suffix -archy attached to it.

          This is what you consider to be "standing in the middle" and "not taking a position"? You are blatantly trying to drum up fear of some sort of LGBT-controlled, totalitarian state. Putting aside the fact that such a society does not, and has never existed anywhere in the world, we don't even have the right to marry our long-term partners! The notion that Australia is in danger of becoming a Queer-controlled fascist state is delusional paranoia at best.

          As for Daniel Zacahriou, he's experiencing nothing more than the same consequences that everyone, famous or not, has to face when they make their political opinions public. He is in no danger whatsoever of losing his livelihood, at all, just like he didn't lose his livelihood when he banned crossplay from Supanova, or when he said same-sex couples would be kicked out for PDA! Being a homophobe doesn't have any consequences, not really. It sure hasn't hurt Cory Bernardi, or the rest of the Liberal Party for that matter, and it never hurt Orson Scott Card. Criticism isn't a "consequence", it's something that everybody has to face at multiple points in their life.

          Let's also not forget that many LGBT people are actually protecting Zachariou's livelihood by continuing to support Supanova, despite the fact that it's event director has been openly homophobic and transphobic on more than one occasion!

          If you care so much about other people's livelihood, where are you when LGBT people lose their jobs for the heinous offence of simply existing?

          Last edited 06/06/16 11:41 pm

    A few lines from a TISM song to mind...
    Daniel Zachariou may be a C$#T but he is not a F$#King C$#T

    Here is my Question: What year is Sex Ed now taught in shool theses day. I ask this because for me personally in NSW we had a Sex Ed session in year 5 and 6 and then again in years 8, 9 and 10. I will add that was during the mid to late 90s (I finished year 12 in 2000)

    Because it seems to me that issues about LGBTI+ should be taught as part of Sex Ed and as part of PE/PHD classes

      Gender identity and sexual orientation is not necessarily a nuts and bolts sexual topic. You can teach kids that "some people might want to grow up and marry/love someone of the same gender" without having to elaborate on sex acts.

    There was a point when my traditional upbringing informed my bias against LGBT rights ... until I had a gay son. I love my son with all of my heart, which breaks to think he'll have to batte for the same freedoms I've taken for granted and experience bigotry and persecution.

    Trust me, the unfortunate resistance to LGBT people/rights is a whole different ball game when someone you love is gay.

    Last edited 07/06/16 3:19 am

    seriously.. its not like people have to have their gender preference printed on their badges, I could walk past 1000 people at the event and have no clue as to what gender they think they are, what sexual preference they prefer, nor how they live their lives outside of the expo and more to the point, I don't give a crap about any of that at all.

    I have friends who are gay, both male and female, I recently made a connection with a transgender person and nothing they do personally has any impact on me or my life. If they asked me to help them move, I would do so, if they said lets head out and grab some beers, I would do that. Expecting people who identify differently to yourself to be strange is just wrong, Gay people don't hate on me because I am straight, so why should I hate them them for being Gay.

    And finally to all these people complaining about the man who runs the show, that is the same as stating you hate all of a country because of its leader. The people who work to make the shows the best they can be are not this man, they might have the same thoughts, but they are not telling people not to come. The guests who travel from all around the world are doing so to meet fans, not get involved in this and then there are those who use events like this to let loose, dress up like their favourite character and have a little fun. If you feel that you would be discriminated against at any expo or event, I urge you to think about how, unless you tell every single person you meet you hate them, most people won't care what you wear or what you are doing.

    Not that this will likely be seen because of the huge number of posts in this article; But here is a fun story for you all.

    A few years back now, the team at Supanova wanted to add "Cosplay Dating" like overseas conventions have. The overseas conventions also allow gay and bisexual people to participate in the speed dating style event. Upper management at Supanova wasn't happy with the idea of those groups being involved as they wanted to keep it their definition of "family friendly", so they blocked the motion to create the event.

    Basically I think they realised that they would have to try to force the dating to be heterosexual only to suit their views, which would bring down an absolute shit storm on them (as it should really). As such, they opted just to kill it entirely to avoid any form of unwanted conflict.

    Fuck me, now I remember why I only read these threads now and don't actively take place in them. Ahm oot.

    I know I'm going to catch flak for this but let's have a show of hands, so to speak: how many people here, who are adults or even in highschool now, were made aware in school during their early childhood of gender fluidity, orientation, identity, transgender, etc? How many of those that weren't now view those who identify/are as genderfluid/trans/whathaveyou as anything different from anyone else? Probably not all that many, right?

    My point is this: children at a young age are very aware of their surroundings, probably even more so than we were at a young age. If many of us grew up during an era that was less accepting of those who identified differently from the perceived norm, but we still accept it now as being nothing out of the norm, then why do we need to have it rubbed in the faces of future generations at an early age when it's generally already accepted by our society? If we want children to be more accepting and understanding of this, then make it feel like the norm in the what they take in outside of school like children's shows, books, etc. We already see this in a multitude of games now. Sure, there are always going to people who don't agree but the majority will grow to see it as the norm and, in time, it won't even be a thing anymore. I don't know about the rest of you, and maybe it was just a sign of the times, but whenever differences between some children and others were pointed out during my early school years, it rarely made anyone more accepting of those difference; it just made them more obvious and blaring regardless of the school's intent.

    So, I don't really understand. How does not wanting your kids to learn about sex and sexuality at the age of 5 make you a bigot, a homophobe and a transphobe? Seriously, I don't understand. I would not want my child learning about that stuff at such a young age. I believe it will mess with their heads and make them think that they are gay or trans when they really aren't. I just think that it's really not something children should learn about until they are old enough to fully comprehend and understand what's happening.

    Also, call me a bigoted, homophobic, transphobic nazi if you will, but what the hell is "QIA+" in LGBTQIA+?

    Last edited 07/06/16 11:12 am

      im not sure if its the Q or I but one them is term used to discribe hemaphrodites ( a person born with both male and female genitals

      I don't fully understand this argument. You're not against explaining that "Mum and Dad love each other very much", why is it so bad to teach kids that it's possible to have two Dads or two mums that also love each other very much. Sexuality does not always equal sex. To me, it's important to teach kids that just because something is unfamiliar to them, it doesn't make it strange.

      Q- Queer - often used as an umbrella term or alternative that can cover multiple terms such as gay, lesbian, bisexual and more. Someone may feel uncomfortable identifying as a specific group and much rather be seen a queer

      I - Intersex - someone who's sexual anatomy does not correspond full with either male or female. (please note, it does not mean hermaphrodite, a term meaning someone with both full sets of genitalia something that does not occur in humans)

      A - Asexual - Someone who is not sexually attracted to any group

      Teaching children that gay people exist will not make them gay. Most people i know over the age of 20 were brought up in a society that did not have any gay representation at all. All of the media we consumed was overwhelmingly straight. To use your logic we would all be straight today purely because we weren't taught to be gay.

      What makes you a bigot, specifically? The fact that you are threatened by your child even questioning their sexuality at all, just for starters.

      Nothing and nobody has the ability to "turn" your children gay, but you'd know that already, if you had ever made any effort to actually educate yourself on the issue. If it were possible to alter people's sexuality through "education", then homosexuality would already have been eliminated, because society was been "teaching" everybody that it's wrong to be gay for literally centuries before a counter-argument gained any traction at all.

      Since you believe that learning about sexuality will "mess" with your kids' heads, then can I presume that you will also wait until the early teens before you teach your kids about heterosexual relationships? After all, you wouldn't want them to think they're straight and cis when they really aren't, would you???

        To be honest, I wouldn't even teach my kids about anything sexual. It's a natural thing that they just learn by themselves. If they want to be gay, then they can be gay. I don't need to tell them what gay is. Gay is a pretty common thing nowadays. I'm sure my kid has the ability to learn things without being explicitly taught them. Hell, that's how I learn things. I didn't need anybody to tell me what sex is or what being homosexual meant.

    While i have no issue with this kind of education in high schools what are they doing thinking its ok for 5yr old kids? seriously wtf?

      When I was a 5 year-old kid, I was already getting beaten up at school because other kids thought I was "gay". That was my introduction to the concept of homosexuality, and I continued to receive that "education" until Year 11.

      Waiting until High School to teach kids to respect LGBT people is too late. Kids have already been sent home with black eyes. Kids have already killed themselves.

      It is ignorant and naive to think that kids aren't already aware of these concepts. But go ahead and wring your hands about "age appropriate". Who cares if kids die in the meantime?

        Trying to think back, I have a specific memory of being in year 4 (so... about 9?) and one of the guys had a tendency to hang out with the girls at lunch, which (ironically?) got him labelled as gay. Though I can't at all remember actually being aware of what homosexuality was at all. I know at the same time I knew the word "fuck" and that it was a very bad word but again, fairly sure I had no clue then what it actually meant. It's really hard to figure out just when all these little bits of knowledge came to be, though I presume it must've come about by year 6 once we actually had our first round of sex education.

    I really love these 'Whoops I displayed my bigotry publicly now I am being called out, time to pretend I didn't actually do it and plead ignorance but while doing so I kind of need to still keep defending the bigotry that I totally didn't display.' social media events.

    It's not a secret the guy is a conservative with pretty hardcore views. The conservatives pretending otherwise are being disingenuous at best.

    The actual question is whether people want his conservatism to be a factor in patronising his events or not, so let's not waste time pretending he is ignorant of what he did.

    As a trans woman, I'm just dissapointed.

    This is a perfect opportunity for us all to further the discussion about inclusion and equity in public spaces/events, but it has instead turned into even more division. A distraction that detracts from the heart of the issue.

    I felt the apology by Daniel, and the action taken by Supernova is a step in the right direction for LGBTIQ+ people.
    It deeply saddens me that some members of the queer community are so thirsty for blood that they seem unable to seperate that an individual can stand in opposition to some part of Safe Schools and not be homophobic/transphobic.

    Let's start these discussions with some respect and dignity for all difference. Even if an opinion is divurgent from your own it can still hold a great deal of merit if it is allowed to be explored.

      Are you sure you don't want blame conservatives a thousand times and mourn about the global summit of the power inequality pyramid?

      What saddens me is that a trans person would be so completely ignorant about Safe Schools and the good it does for LGBT Youth. Being in opposition to a program that is proven to reduce LGBT bullying is homophobic and transphobic.

      Daniel Zachariou's apology is completely meaningless. This isn't the only time he's displayed homophobia and transphobia. He's already had opportunities to learn from his behaviour and he didn't. He didn't learn when he banned crossplay, he didn't learn when he banned same-sex kissing for not being "family friendly".

      I and other LGBT people shouldn't have to wait for Supanova to "step in the right direction", they had years to get with the program already. There are other conventions I can go to, if I was so inclined, where I don't have to worry about being kicked out for kissing my boyfriend. I don't need Supanova, and I have the right to withhold my money from any business I choose, for any reason I please!

      If Supanova shuts down because not enough people attend it, then that's their own fault for offering a sub-par service, compared to other, more welcoming conventions.

        I'm sorry you feel saddened by my opinion.

        I'm neither ignorant about safe schools or the good it does for LGBT youth, I am in fact working within a Melbourne school that has had some great success with the program.
        Just because I believe in it, doesn't mean everyone has to. I recognise my bias. Parents have the right to object to programs that are offered within the education system (i.e - sex education, religious education, who teaches their children/and what) and safe schools like -any- initiative that is run within a school should be subject to scrutiny.

        I wasn't aware of the history of Supanova if what you have written is true. Certainly that sounds rather restrictive and I can see why people would take issue with policies like those. I have a male partner and present female, so I haven't run into that discrimination at Supanova. If I did, I wouldn't go again.

    Get the F^%^ over it, so it come to the point that people cant express opinions on their own page without someone getting their panties in a knot. Truthfully parents should be talking to their kids about lbgt issues when they are ready and not leaving it to the overworked teachers to do it for them.

      What do you do when the parents tell their LGBT kids that they are disgusting, and should kill themselves?

        And who's to say the teachers wont, or social media or any number of ways kids learn stuff these days.

          That is the whole point of safe schools. To tell these kids that they aren't alone. They aren't disgusting and they shouldn't kill themselves.

          A teacher who is caught being openly bigoted will be fired, at least from a public school. If someone is openly bigoted on social media, they will receive criticism, as we've seen with poor, sensitive Daniel Zachariou.

          LGBT kids with homophobic, abusive parents have no protection unless they actively seek it out themselves, which they won't necessarily be in a position to do.

    Good on Daniel! Roz Ward is a Marxist nutcase & all safe schools is is a platform to push her wacked out agenda.

    All I've realised after 10 or so years on social media is that the internet still isn't the best medium to have a (proper adult) discussion on such issues

    late to the 'party'

    Last edited 09/06/16 12:33 pm

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