Mar. 29th, 2016

yagathai: (Rocketeer)

Formatting note: Commentary by committee members will be indicated with differently colored text and set off by the initials of the author. Commentary generally applies to the section immediately preceding it, except where noted otherwise.


[MVH]: Mike VanHelder

[MAH]: Martha Harbison

[MAS]: Marguerite Smith

[KAR]: Katie

Code of Conduct


Valley Forge 2017 is dedicated to providing a positive conference experience, free of harassment, for everyone. This policy applies equally to all members present at the convention, including (but not limited to) con staff, vendors, exhibitors, and guests.

[MVH] This seems fairly self-explanatory to me. The first sentence is lifted directly from the Geek Feminism Wiki (GFW), and I’m not sure if the second was a copy/paste from somewhere or something we came up with whole cloth, but I don’t think that it matters.

The next three paragraphs are original. In my experience the most common things that bad actors do is attempt to retroactively justify their behavior by making the same tired, facile arguments over and over again, and this verbiage was an effort to head those arguments off at the pass. They also set a tone (firm but reasonable) for the rest of the doc.

[MAS] The main source for this document is the Geek Feminism Wiki. However, we also drew inspiration from the following sources, among others.

*Rocky Horror Picture Show 40, the probable inspiration for that second sentence:

*Continuum (Australia)

We expect everybody to observe all the laws and regulations of this jurisdiction and venue while participating in this convention. That said, “I’m not doing anything illegal” is not a defense against any accusation of conduct contrary to this policy. Just because something is legal does not mean that we will tolerate it.

We are aware that there has never been a system that someone hasn’t tried to hack, be it jurisprudence, firewall security or Dungeons and Dragons. Any attempts to circumvent the intention or spirit of this code of conduct will be considered a violation of this code of conduct.

[MVH] AKA the “Well, the rules don’t say a dog can’t play basketball” clause.

We do not anticipate that anyone will intentionally violate these guidelines, but we are also prepared to handle whatever situation may arise. We promise to evaluate situations covered by this code to the best of our judgement and resources. Keep in mind that this evaluation is not a jurisprudential procedure. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” does not apply here.

We expect participants to follow these rules at all convention venues and convention-related social activities.

[MVH] I think I lifted this sentence from somewhere but I don’t remember where. There’s some grey area in what is or is not a “convention-related social activity”, but room parties and (for example) convention-organized tours definitely apply.

There’s a common misconception that we can’t regulate people’s behavior during “off-campus” activities. The fact is that as a private, membership-based organization, we can regulate pretty much whatever we want. Imagine that we were a strict vegan group; if we caught some of our members eating meat while they were on vacation somewhere, we would be totally justified in expelling them.


[MVH] I believe that Marguerite did the initial work on this section, so she can tell us where the initial verbiage came from. Subsequently it was heavily edited by several of us.

[MAS] I think the original inspiration for this came out of a discussion that Mike had with our lawyer, and which he summarised for us later. One of the main points I wanted to reinforce is that consent should be sought, not assumed, and ought to be explicit. Also, as in the first paragraph, that consent covers more than just sex.

Oh, also also, one of the common refrains I have heard in discussions about this is that certain fans might have different mores, or might read social situations differently. In order to forestall this, I wanted to give a “rule”: Ask. Don’t do something and then make someone tell you after that this made them uncomfortable.

Also^3, the source for that first paragraph is Continuum (AU):

We believe in creating a space where consent is proactively sought, where everyone feels comfortable asking about others’ boundaries and expressing their own. Consent is not only about potential sexual situations, but also includes other social interactions, such as  “Can I sit with you?” or “Do you mind if I take your photo?”

Silence is not consent. Cosplay is not consent. In order to give consent, a person should be a legal adult and not of impaired judgement. Judgement may be impaired by many things, such as intoxication or other physical states.

Agreement does not need to be verbal; it can also be written or given by a gesture such as a clear nod.  Except for on-going consent established between parties beforehand, such as between spouses and close friends, we expect our members to establish clear and explicit consent before involving another party in other social interactions.

[MVH] This was a contentious paragraph. On the one hand, whether or not a husband and wife can hold hands or kiss each other without doing the explicit consent dance should be a matter of common sense, but if you’re going to have a document with high specificity then you have to make sure that even common-sense scenarios are covered. The way that I had initially worded it made some committee members think that I might be leaving a loophole for marital rape. This was obviously not the intention but see my above statement about common sense, and so we reworded it.

Consent can be revoked at any time. “Stop!” is a complete sentence.

If someone does not want their likeness to be recorded (still pictures or video), do not start or continue any such recording. We are aware that it is legal to record anyone in a public place regardless of consent. We may not be able to legally compel you to stop recording somebody who does not want to be recorded, but we can absolutely bar you from our event for that reason.

[MVH] Photography clauses are often controversial, though internally we were mostly in agreement. As a photographer myself, I’m very acquainted with the laws and rules surrounding taking pictures. On the one hand, I definitely believe that there is value to documenting visual culture, and there are journalism issues to consider. On the other hand, as Chair, I have an obligation to consider the privacy and comfort of the convention members. In the end, asking “can I take your picture” seemed like a very low bar.

In practical application I think we’re going to have to make a distinction between pictures of a person and, say, a wide-angle crowd-shot panorama. In terms of enforcement, context will be critical here.

[MAS] I admit that I was not thinking of wide-angle shots when I originally drafted this part. I was mostly concerned with individual shots, and shots outside of any scheduled time for cosplayers to be publicly admired. In addition, people might have their own reasons for not being recorded (in costume or not), and I wanted to touch on that.

[MVH] Yes, we may have to think about revising this a little to account for that kind of filming.

Be polite and ask permission before moving forward with any personal interaction. No matter what type of interaction you are trying to pursue, stop if the other person or people involved say no, or otherwise withdraws their consent.

[MVH] This is a heavily edited version of the heart of the Philcon code of conduct, which is an elegantly-stated way to basically summarize this entire section.


[MVH] A lot of this section came verbatim from GFW, and was only lightly edited and reworded.

Anyone that we ask to stop any behavior in violation of this code is expected to comply immediately.

We may take action to redress anything designed to, or with the clear impact of, disrupting the event or making the environment hostile for any participants.

In the process of assessing any complaint and deciding how best to address it, we will take into consideration all pertinent factors, including the first-hand account and wishes of the person issuing the complaint.

[MVH] We added this to make clear that we would consider the wishes of the complainant, but not be bound by them.

We have the right to sanction participants violating these rules, at our discretion, up to and including expelling offenders from our convention and any future conventions we may organize. In the case of expulsion, no membership refund should be expected.

[MAH] We weren’t sure exactly what legal rights we as organizers had with regard to those breaking the Code of Conduct, so we asked our lawyer to review. And yes, it turns out we do have a legal right to revoke memberships under Pennsylvania law.

If we decide the circumstances warrant it, we will request the involvement of venue staff and/or local law enforcement.

yagathai: (Rocketeer)

Formatting note: Commentary by committee members will be indicated with differently colored text and set off by the initials of the author. Commentary generally applies to the section immediately preceding it, except where noted otherwise.


[MVH]: Mike VanHelder

[MAH]: Martha Harbison

[MAS]: Marguerite Smith

[KAR]: Katie


Harassing behavior at our event is prohibited. Harassing behavior includes, but is not limited to:

[MVH] Most of these bullet points were lifted directly from GFW, except as noted.

  • Disparaging or vulgar comments related to gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race/ethnicity, nationality, age, and religion.

    [MVH] The original verbiage was “Verbal comments that reinforce social structures of domination”, which TBH made me throw up in my mouth a little. More importantly, it is so vague as to be difficult to enforce without seeming capricious.  The language of academic feminism often does not work outside the very specific context in which it was created.

    We believe that it is possible to discuss controversial or sensitive issues critically without resorting to disparagement or vulgarity. We are also aware that sometimes this line can be blurry, and different people may have different ideas about what constitutes disparaging or vulgar language. When in doubt, we recommend compassion in word and deed.

    [MVH] This section is original. I know a lot of people have concerns about “language policing”. While personally I often find these concerns to be self-serving, I also didn’t want to make anyone feel like they couldn’t discuss difficult issues. The free exchange of ideas is the heart of convention culture, after all.

  • Inappropriate sexual behavior in public spaces

  • Deliberate intimidation, stalking, or following

  • Unwelcome or inappropriate photography or recording

  • Sustained disruption of talks or other events

  • Unsolicited physical contact

    [MVH] The original adjective, “inappropriate”, was too vague and undefined in this context.

  • Unwelcome sexual attention

  • Advocating for, or encouraging, any of the above behavior

Remember that this is not an exhaustive list: other behaviors may be seen as harassing and dealt with by our staff as such. Harassment is mostly about action, not intention, and so it is primarily a person’s actions we will consider in evaluating the situation and not whether or not they meant harm.

[MVH] An attempt to preemptively counter the most common argument we hear from bad actors, “I didn’t mean to XYZ, I was just trying to [be friendly | apologize | be helpful | have fun]”. I added “mostly” because intention does matter a little -- but usually as an aggravating factor when bad, not mitigating factor when good, and never as the major determining factor.


If someone makes you or anyone else feel unsafe or unwelcome, we would encourage you to point out the unwelcome behavior to the person(s) involved. This may solve the problem immediately.

If you feel unsafe or are otherwise unwilling to engage directly with the person(s) involved, please report it to our staff as soon as possible.

[MVH] These two sections were boilerplate, taken directly from the World Fantasy Con 2014 CoC who I believe lifted it from the Origins CoC. You will find it in many, many other conventions’ verbiage.

Anonymous Report

You can make an anonymous report here [link TBD]. You will be asked for your badge number, but this is only for the purposes of preventing non-convention goers from accessing the reporting method. It will not be used for identification purposes.

Because of the anonymous nature of the report, we can't follow up with you directly, but we will fully investigate it and take whatever action is necessary to prevent a recurrence.

[MVH] Gosh, this was probably by far the most contentious section  of the entire document. It locked us in a stalemate for days until Martha managed to broker a compromise. I was 100% against an anonymous reporting system -- as a security professional, I look at systems in terms of “how can a malicious actor break this”, and an anonymous reporting system is the most obvious way to do that to our system. It would be trivial for a bored jerk to flood the system with bogus complaints, or even worse a harasser could use it to hide reports of their actions in a blizzard of bullshit. Also, I felt like there should be some level of personal accountability in reporting. Katie strongly disagreed with me, and I’ll let her give her own reasons.

In the end, Martha’s idea of using a badge number to authenticate a person as a member of the convention but not using it to identify was one that made neither party especially happy, but we could live with it. I think that’s a hallmark of a good compromise?

[MAS] I don’t want to speak for Katie, but I tend to ‘err’ on the side of protecting reporters / victims of alleged harassment rather than worrying about people trying to break the system. Of course, that’s in large part because it’s not my job, and I am perhaps not (yet) cynical enough about this potential behaviour from others.

[MAH] I am pleased to have made everyone equally malcontent. (More seriously, I sympathized with both camps. I personally fall more on the side of protecting the reporter/victim, but I also have two decades’ worth of experience moderating large online discussion forums, and I’ve spent untold hours dealing with the havoc that griefers can unleash. As such, I hope we can build a system that will deter most potential bad actors while still preserving the dignity of reporters/victims.)

[KAR] I insisted on an anonymous reporting method because it is a standard component of many harassment complaint systems, both for employment purposes and at universities. I approached this from the perspective of survivor’s rights. Given that reporting harassment or rape is usually very difficult for the survivor, whatever we can do to make the process ‘safer’ for those needing to make a report is best.

Personal Report

[MVH] This section mostly directly lifted from GFW.

You can report harassing or other unsafe behavior by:

  • Calling or messaging this phone number: [Phone number for reporting]. If a live person does not answer immediately, please leave a message. This phone number will be continuously monitored for the duration of the event.

  • Contacting a staff member, identified by STAFF badges, buttons, or shirts. If you can’t find a staff member, one should be on duty 24/7 at the convention office, located at [location TBD].

When taking a personal report, our staff will ensure you are safe and cannot be overheard. They may involve other event staff to ensure your report is managed properly. If you would like to be accompanied while giving a report, that’s fine too. Once safe, we will ask you to tell us about what happened. This can be upsetting, but we will attempt to handle it with compassion and respect.

You will not be asked to confront anyone and we will not tell anyone who you are if you ask us not to.

Our team will be happy to help you contact hotel/venue security, local law enforcement, local support services, provide escorts, or otherwise assist you to feel safe for the duration of the event.

[We are currently refining our code-of-conduct procedures, but many details are dependent on our finalized organizational structure. Additional details, such as reporting processes and a timeline for responses, will be linked to this document in the future.]

Other policies

[MVH] None of this stuff is from GFW.

Some of our panels or events may be recorded or streamed online for the benefit of our members. We will do our best to inform you when and where this happens at the start of each event. However, if being recorded is a serious concern for you, we encourage you to assume an event is being recorded until you can establish otherwise.

[MVH] This was all original, I think. Apart from their historical or cultural value, recordings or transcriptions are an accessibility concern as well. We have to balance this against the privacy rights of people that may not want to be broadcast or recorded, and I wanted to make expectations explicit.

Any weapons or weapon-like objects such as replica swords or Airsoft replica firearms purchased in the dealer’s room must remain boxed, bagged, or secured, and be transported immediately from the dealer’s room to your hotel room or vehicle.

You may not, as part of your costume or regular attire, display or carry any weapons or props easily mistaken for weapons except foam, resin, plastic or wooden props which are easily identifiable as toys or props and have no moving or working parts. For our purposes a chain or rope may be defined as a moving part.

Prop bows must be strung with zero tension.

Replica firearms must have a non-removable bright orange tip.

[MVH] The previous four paragraphs I got from other conventions’ weapons policies, then modified them slightly to fit our needs. To be perfectly honest, this is less about keeping our attendees safe from each other and more about keeping them safe from law enforcement officers.

No live steel props are permitted outside of scheduled, specially authorized convention exhibitions such as swordsmanship demonstrations. Live steel is defined as any object functioning as, designed as or resembling a weapon which is made of metal that can take an edge. Live steel is live whether or not it is sharp. Live steel is live whether or not it is sheathed. If you sharpen a wooden or plastic or resin weapon prop so that it has a functional edge or tip, we’re going to call that live steel too. Just don’t do it.

[MVH] “Why not just peacebond?”, you may ask, and I would answer “because peacebonding is a joke”. It’s like a lock on a screen door -- it keeps honest people honest, but doesn’t do anything to deter someone determined to be a jackass, and it only takes one jackass to ruin a thing for everyone.

Notwithstanding the above, we will not prohibit anyone with a valid Pennsylvania concealed carry permit from carrying a firearm in accordance with all relevant laws and statutes, so long as you keep the weapon concealed. If you brandish, flash, or otherwise display your firearm, you will be in violation of this code of conduct. We may ask law enforcement to become involved.

[MVH] I grew up with guns, so I am in general fairly acquainted with and sensitive to gun rights issues. On the other hand, despite my personal politics, as Chair I have an obligation to consider the desires and feelings of our members who are not a part of gun culture, and see them as something much scarier than a tool. The goal of this document is not to make a political point -- it is strictly utilitarian, and as such I had to make a reasonable compromise that respected the rights and wishes of both sides of the debate.

I haven’t seen this issue addressed in most CoCs, especially when a convention has other weapons policies, and personally I think it ought to be in more of them.

[MAS] Honestly, I was shocked when I read this, and wondered if we could bar license holders from carrying at our event. One consequence of living in a country with no right to bear arms, I guess. We have no such legal ability, however, so far better to address it head on.

[MVH] That’s not entirely true. We can ban carrying firearms the same way that, say, we can ban playing a banjo or a carrying a lit oil lamp -- you’re allowed to violate our ban, which doesn’t carry with it the force of law, and we are equally free to then revoke your membership. The problems come with enforcement.

Let’s say we prohibited it. Person A is carrying concealed, and person B knows about it and complains. Now we’re obligated to at least ask person A to stow their weapon in a safe place. If person A doesn’t comply with our request, we have to ban them from the event and ask the hotel to bar them from the premises. As soon as we ask the hotel to do that and we tell hotel security that person A is carrying, they’re most likely going to call the police so there’s an armed presence in case things go sideways. Now we have an armed police presence pulling someone who is also armed out of our convention… and for what practical purpose?  The people with permits are generally the ones you have to worry about least.

That isn’t the only concern, but it’s probably the biggest one.

No roughhousing, fighting, or other physically unsafe behavior is permitted.


[MVH] AKA the “Goofus and Gallant” section. Most convention policies don’t have these, but GFW recommends them and personally I think they’re very useful.

These items are wholly original. They went through substantial revisions by the whole team as my original attempts were, to put it mildly, disastrously bad.

[MAS] He’s not kidding. I think we have come up with examples we all approve, though.

To help our attendees understand what we expect from them, here are some examples of acceptable and unacceptable behavior in the context of this code of conduct. These are examples that illustrate the principles and spirit of the Code of Conduct, and are not to be taken as prescriptive limits on what is acceptable.

Acceptable: Someone is standing in a doorway, facing away from you and blocking your path. This person does not respond to a verbal “excuse me”. You tap them on the shoulder and ask them to please move.

Unacceptable: Someone is standing in a line in front of you and looks tense. You start giving them a shoulder rub without first establishing consent.

Acceptable: You are at a party and you approach another person. You tell them that they have nice shoes.

Unacceptable: You are at a party and you approach someone. You tell them that they have nice shoes. They tell you that they do not want to talk to you. You continue to compliment their shoes.

Acceptable: You see a friend sitting in front of you at a panel. You make eye contact and smile.

Unacceptable: You are sitting behind a stranger at a panel. They see you, get up, and change seats. For no apparent reason, you also get up and change seats so that you are once again sitting behind them.

Acceptable: You see someone in a Storm cosplay and compliment her on the makeup and hair.

Unacceptable: You see someone in a Storm cosplay and compliment her on the makeup and hair. You then proceed to make lewd and lascivious comments to her.

Acceptable: Walking around with a resin replica of Gandalf’s staff.

Unacceptable: Walking around with a metal replica of Gandalf’s sword Glamdring, so named when it was forged by the Noldor smiths for Turgon, King of Gondolin in the First Age, wielded in the Nírnaeth Arnoediad and during the Fall of Gondolin, then lost until it was found by Gandalf in the goblin lairs under the Misty Mountains in the 2941st year of the Third Age, known as “Foe-hammer” in the tongue of Man, and to the Orcs as “Beater”.

[MVH] Gandalf, incidentally, was known as Olórin when he was a Maiar. Once incarnated as one of the Istari, he became known to men as Gandalf, as Tharkûn in the Dwarvish tongue and as Mithrandir in Sindarin.

Useful Contact Information

[Email address & phone number for convention operations]

[Phone number for hotel security]

If you need non-emergency medical care, counseling or victim services, that information is available at [link] or at our Ops office at [location TBD]

In case of emergency, please dial 911.


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