Thinking about Worldcon bids

There is a lively discussion at File 770 about a range of proposed bids to host Worldcons in the next few years.

The issue of bids from fans in the USA, Saudi Arabia, Israel and China each raise questions about the national policies of the governments of each of these countries in terms of human rights abuses and laws that might impact visitors. I made a couple of comments that I’m re-working here into a post because I think there is a distinction worth making.

There are two things to consider:
1. policies national governments place on their population that don’t directly affect visitors
2. policies national governments have that directly impact visitors and people considering visiting

I don’t think 1 is a lesser issue but it makes sense that 1 is left to Worldcon members decide by voting.

Point 2 though are issues that (potentially) change with Worldcon members can actually attend the Worldcon. It directly shapes what the Worldcon will be.

For example, the Saudi Arabian government has denied entry to Israeli citizens and people with evidence of having visited Israel. The US government implemented some sweeping restrictions on citizens of some nations visiting.

I’m not saying it is feasible to come up with rules disallowing bids on the second criterion. However, “who can attend a Worldcon” is a legitimate structural issue around which it does make sense to have minimum standards.

I’d added there is a third issue where discussion around 1 can become and issue around 2. Both the Israeli and Chinese government have passed laws that make some international public criticism punishable. Outside of those countries such laws are toothless but they still can have a chilling effect on speech.

I think it is reasonable for people to say they aren’t going to vote for a bid because they have strong objections to human rights abuses by the relevant national government. Likewise, there is a reasonable counter-argument that people make that international travel and trade can be an important part of a nation reforming. However, if you can’t safely have that discussion then there is a problem straight away. Maybe engaging with country X is part of the process of improving the X government’s approach to human rights? It is a legitimate position and one that gets different answers if we substitute different countries (Cuba say or UAE or Myanmar etc). However if country X has laws criminalising such discussion then you can’t even have that discussion. That renders the question a moot point.

Which takes me back to the question, can a WSFS member visit said country (i.e. will they be let in) and can they visit without being at risk of arrest just for being who they are? The question of engagement with a country becomes irrelevant if a member is already effectively banned.

Put another way my point 1. is a question about a member deciding whether to boycott a country or not (so to speak – not necessarily a formal boycott) but point 2. is about whether the national government of said country is already boycotting the member! Laws criminalising homosexuality (for example) or laws that propose penalties against international criticism of a country are all major red flags.

11 thoughts on “Thinking about Worldcon bids

  1. Keep in mind that the incoming Biden administration will greatly effect how Homeland Security screens incoming travellers to the USA. It’s expected that everything that the Trump administration did by executive orders will be gone shortly. Note the Biden administration has already stated the anti-LQBT policies of the Trump will be reversed immediately. So figuring the travel restrictions of future Wolrdcons can’t be judged by present conditions.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. There is no country in the world that could be relied upon to grant visas to every single person who would want to attend WorldCon.

    This seems to me like a pretty good argument in itself for going to a variety of countries and therefore a variety of immigration policies. That way more people can attend more WorldCons – as opposed to starting by saying “can all the people who attend every WorldCon come here?” which does seem to be an attitude that some people (perhaps unconsciously) start with.

    I know that fans from a number of African countries were denied visas to attend An Irish WorldCon in 2019 – and I imagine many more didn’t bother to apply, knowing they were likely to be denied. Yet there is no solution to that – it is easier to get a visa for most African countries as a white European or American than as a citizen of their neighbouring country, much less one on the other side of the continent. When we consider that even the Olympics – with far more leverage over the host country than WorldCon could ever hope to have – regularly has problems getting visas for athletes competing in the Games, we do have to acknowledge that there is no way to ensure an immigration policy that meets the standards we would seek as a community.

    I do hope that SMOFCon and Fannish Inquisition questionnaires have much more specific and detailed questions about immigration policies and about legal and practical problems for LGBT+, ethnic minority, disabled, religious and non-religious fans. Can a same-sex couple travel safely to your country? An unmarried opposite-sex couple? Is a black person going to be at greater risk than a white person? Are there places of worship for a variety of world religions? As well as venue accessibility, how are disabled people treated in the community? Are hate crimes taken seriously by the police or dismissed because of prejudice?

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Just to add: if you are to adopt a minimum standard of the place with the lowest respect for human rights that has hosted a past WorldCon, then that’s probably New Orleans in 1951 – the only Worldcon in the South before the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

    The others I’d be particularly inclined to point fingers at are Los Angeles 1946 and St Louis 1969.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Being a woman with opinions, a driver’s license, and gay and Jewish friends, and one who disapproves of both slave labor and murdering journalists inside embassies, there’s no way I’d even THINK about voting for or attending a Saudi Arabian Worldcon.

    There’s “some people can’t get visas” and “some people may be in danger, or at minimum have their normal way of behaving completely changed”.

    I’m not too keen on China either. I’d probably spend all my time biting my tongue to keep from asking “Do guys still stand in front of tanks in Tienanmen Square?” or “What about those Uighur prison camps?”

    I also suspect the accessibility isn’t up to the standards we’re used to.

    The US policies are going to be changed really quickly, thankfully.


    1. I’m bi. There’s no way I’d vote for or attend a Saudi Arabian Worldcon.

      But I do think that a lot of people who come from countries where they can generally get a visa to most anywhere underrate how significant “can’t get a visa” is. If you can’t get a visa, you can’t go. If you can get a visa but the place isn’t safe, or you’d have to radically change your normal behaviour, or you can’t take your partner, then that’s still more choice than “you just can’t go”.

      There are lots of countries that I boycott on ethical grounds – where I personally would be perfectly able to go, but where the way their government treats their people is out of bounds. And Saudi Arabia is one of them. China is another.

      I’m not arguing against things – I’m just saying that there are three separate things here, one is “ethical standards for governments”, one is “personal safety of attendees” and one is “visa policy”. All three matter, but if I drew up the minimum standards I would want, then there could not be a WorldCon anywhere, because no country meets those standards.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “But I do think that a lot of people who come from countries where they can generally get a visa to most anywhere underrate how significant “can’t get a visa” is. ”

        As a Brit, I certainly used to underestimate this because we can basically just rock up to a border or fill in a 10-minute online form and that’s it, we’re good. Then I saw the ring binder of documents that my wife needs when applying for a UK tourist visa and learned how often the applications get rejected and on what grounds.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I guess I’m rating personal safety of attendees highest. Because visas are hard so many places for so many people, I guess those are last priority. And even if you can easily get a visa, you still can’t go if you’d be in danger, so it’s really not any more choice.

        If you’ve got 2 years’ notice and all your documents in a row, you *might* be able to overcome visa problems to some places. But 2 years isn’t going to make Saudi Arabia give women and gays equal rights, or have China stop censorship and putting thousands of people in concentration camps because of their religion.


  5. The recent Jeddah bid made me stop and think about my long-held desire to visit Saudi Arabia. (I’d be prepared to keep my mouth firmly shut about having been a kibbutznik, and about being a lifelong agnostic.) It’s a fascinating place from a variety of perspectives, and it’s not like I haven’t been to a few dozen other countries with bizarre legal systems and repressive governments. It’s no skin off my back that they’re a one-religion state that doesn’t permit other houses of worship at all. I’ve been to some of those, and feel OK about that.

    The thing I keep not being able to wave away is the Kingdom’s guardianship laws. If I went to the Kingdom by myself, I could try to not think too much about that legal system’s effect on every woman, Saudi or foreigner, I see.

    But I’m married. To a fellow Worldcon regular, subtype female. Deirdre would not, in a million years, want to visit a country that would require her to be my chattel from the moment we disembark the airplane. Even if she would be OK with that, I would absolutely not. The very idea is horrifying.

    On the other hand, if the UAE ever bids, I might even presupport.


  6. //On the other hand, if the UAE ever bids, I might even presupport.//

    May I ask why?

    My wife (who happens to be Muslim) point blank refuses to go to any of the Gulf states, including the UAE.


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