Diversity Panels I’d Like To See

Generic “diversity panels” are boring.

Header image: “Backstage” by Gabriel Garcia Marengo. CC-BY.I get it: you schedule “Women in Gaming” and “Disability in Genre Fiction” with the best of intentions. You know these are hot topics of discussion in the fandom community right now, and you want your con to add to the conversation.

But these generic panels don’t so much add to the conversation as recap it. It’s impossible to go into a subject as broad as “Race In Science Fiction” in any depth in a one-hour slot, and without knowing how well the audience has educated themselves on the topic, the panelists generally just end up summarizing the background reading.

What makes this worse for panelists is that, as members of underrepresented groups, we’re in high demand for this kind of “diversity homework.” We get scheduled for these panels instead of panels on subjects related to our actual expertise or current projects. While folks with more privilege get scheduled for memorable topics that will help them raise their profile and promote their work, we’re stuck explaining Empathy 101 to folks who could just as easily look it up on Tumblr.

So if ignoring diversity topics completely isn’t the answer, but including diversity programming isn’t good enough either, what’s a programming head to do?

The very best thing you can do is make sure you have a diverse concom, especially on your programming and safety teams. A diverse team can help you develop engaging panel topics and recruit underrepresented panelists.

But getting underrepresented people to volunteer when you don’t have many to start with can be tough. Developing panel topics that will actually contribute meaningfully to ongoing conversations about diversity in the SFF community is a good first step.

A good diversity panel doesn’t try to tackle the entire ‘diversity issue’ in a single hour. Instead, choose a more focused topic that will give panelists a chance to share their perspective and experience while grounding the discussion in something concrete, so it’s accessible to an audience that hasn’t necessarily done all their homework.

I asked folks on Twitter for some examples of diversity panels they’d like to see, and we came up with some examples.

Instead Of Disability In Genre Fiction:

  • Accessibility in Futuristic Societies
  • Re-Inventing The Wheelchair: Assistive Devices in Science Fiction And Fantasy
  • Positive Portrayals of Neuroatypicality in Genre Fiction: who’s doing it right and what we’d like to see
  • Protagonists With Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Medicine After The End Of The World: Managing Chronic Conditions and Serious Illness After The Apocalypse

Instead of Gender In Genre Fiction:

  • Marginalized Perspectives On Mass Surveillance
  • Science Fiction and the Future of Childbirth (careful not to be cis-normative!)
  • Beyond The Boob Window: Practical and Stylish Fighting Clothes For Your Intrepid Heroine
  • Toxic Masculinity As Villain (This panel was proposed and led by @Sinboy at Readercon. Check out the full panel description here. Or watch the panel on Youtube, courtesy Scott Edelman. (h/t @rosefox))
  • Saving The World After Fifty: Celebrating Genre Fiction’s Silver-Haired Heroines
  • Standards of Beauty in Secondary Worlds. Beauty/fashion is always related to a display of wealth. Think past slender and fair.
  • The Female Gaze Is Coming For You: Romance’s Assault on Patriarchy
  • Men In The Post-Patriarchy: Inter- and Intra-gender Friendships, Collaborations, and Rivalries in Societies that Don’t Dehumanize The Feminine
  • Female Characters In Video Games: What makes a female character fun for women to play?
  • Hell Hath No Fury: Ways To Motivate, Impede, and Change Female Characters (That Don’t Involve Rape)
  • Queer Identities After The Apocalypse: Trans Health Care and Queer Reproductive Choices In Post-Apocalyptic Worlds (h/t Kelly Szpara)

Instead of Race In Genre Fiction:

  • Marginalized Perspectives On Mass Surveillance
  • The Future of Racism: The past’s virulent racism against the Irish has now faded to linguistic artifacts like “paddy wagon” and “red-headed stepchild.” What traces will present-day racism leave behind, and what new forms of racism will emerge?
  • The Colonialism of Fairytales
  • Colonialism in Secondary World Fantasies
  • Describing Race In Secondary Worlds
  • Religions of the African Diaspora in Genre Fiction: Beyond Zombies and Horror (h/t India Valentin)
  • But Where Did This Chocolate Come From? Even Fantasy Cultures Don’t Exist In Isolation
  • Creating Imaginary Races Doesn’t Erase Racism: How Real-World Racism Bleeds Into Secondary Worlds
  • “But Her Race Isn’t Important To The Plot!” and Other Terrible Reasons not To Include Non-White Characters In Fiction

More Suggestions:

  • Language, Dialect, and Code-Switching
  • Beyond The Hero’s Journey: Non-Western Narrative Structure in Genre Fiction
  • Alien Cultures That Don’t Dehumanize: creating original alien societies without portraying real minority races, religions, and cultures as literally not human
  • Defense Against The Dark Arts: Dealing With Internet Trolls (I give a forty-five-minute talk on how marginalized people can keep themselves safe, and how others can help protect them. Invite me to give it at your con!)
  • How to Fail Gracefully: You’re going to make a mistake. Here’s some things that will keep an error from turning into a Fail.

Special thanks to Mary Robinette Kowal, K. Tempest Bradford, and Natalie Luhrs for helping me generate panel topics. Feel free to use any of these topics for panels at your cons. I ask only that you be conscientious about who you put on these panels, or any other diversity programming you schedule. Finding people who’ll volunteer for these panels to talk about what great allies they are is easy. If you really want your con to move the conversation forward, make it a priority to seek out and center marginalized voices, and folks who can speak to these topics from their personal lived experience.

Are there diversity panel topics you’d like to see? Feel free to suggest them in the comments below.

Edited to Add: Michi Trota of Uncanny Magazine has an excellent post up about diversity panels, and how underrepresented panelists deserve to be included in all kinds of programming instead of being sidelined: Diversity Panels Are The Beginning, Not The End. I highly recommend it to everyone involved in con programming.

24 responses to Diversity Panels I’d Like To See

  1. James Bacon says:

    These are some excellent suggestions – I expect the ideas will turn up in cons – and your generosity in putting them out there is fabulous. Finding marginalised voices, and indeed those who want to speak from their life experiences that relate, is the challenging task for programing people that will make these really good panels.


  2. Simon says:

    Reblogged this on Simon McNeil and commented:
    Cool suggestions for alternatives to generic diversity panels from Annalee Flower Horne. There’s some REALLY good ideas here (basically all of them).


  3. crystal sarakas says:

    Reblogged this on Crystal Sarakas and commented:
    Annalee nails it when it comes to diversity panels that go beyond what is offered at many cons.


  4. Michele Cox says:

    Oooooh — these are wonderful, both in themselves and as jumping-off points and inspiration! Would it be ok with you for me to add them to the programming suggestions list for FOGcon 6? (FOGcon gets its programming from member suggestions that are then chosen based on member interest in attending or being on the panels.)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. mwinikates says:

    What a truly excellent list! I would go to any/all of those panels as an eager listener.

    I’d also like to suggest “Appropriate vs. Appropriation: How to stay on the right side of cultural inspiration” (which is related to your Aliens without Dehumanization panel, but with a slightly different focus). And possibly (since not everyone is on tumblr or wants to be, and some people start their research at cons instead of beforehand) “Liberal White Guilt 101: how to be a better ally.”


  6. Laurie Mann says:

    These are good ideas. I’d urge you to send suggestions to to conventions months ahead of time, rather than at the last minute (6-9 months before a Worldcon and probably 4-6 months before a regional). It’s also helpful to make a a panelist suggestion or two when you do.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Kate Moran says:

    Heroines that Nap: Chronic Illness, disability and strong women who are physically weak in genre fiction


  8. Annalee says:

    Laurie Mann: Good point about the lead-time on panel-planning. Folks who are looking to submit panels should pay attention to conference websites and check their timelines. Many conferences put out public calls for panel suggestions, or request panel ideas from folks who’ve been invited to be on programming.

    I also want to give a shout-out to Sasquan for the “Female Characters in Video Games” panel. We had a great conversation and got a lot of positive feedback from the audience. Even being slightly more specific than “Women in Video Games” gave us a direction to focus the conversation.


  9. Seth Gordon says:

    “How To Make A Religion For Your Secondary World That Isn’t Just Modern American Christianity With The Serial Numbers Filed Off”

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Annalee says:

    Hey folks: this post got linked to by some people with some particularly boring opinions. As a result, a lot of comments got trapped in moderation. I’ve gone through the mod queue and addressed everything that was waiting.

    If you wrote a comment and it didn’t make it through moderation, please have a look at our comment policy. The Bias is a feminist website, and we moderate our comment threads to ensure that they contribute constructively to the conversation.

    Some of the comments I did not publish were made in good faith. I’m sorry I can’t provide individual feedback on why your comment didn’t make it through. We plan to have a more detailed and explicit comment policy in the near future. Right now, we’re on high alert for trolling and erring on the side of caution.

    Most of the comments I trashed were from folks who wanted to share their boring opinions about how diversity is stupid or unrealistic. Yawn. If you’re in this category, I refer you to the last two sentences of our comment policy, and suggest you see yourself out.


  11. Jason K. Burnett says:

    I attended a panel at this year’s Wiscon on diasporas in speculative fiction and found that to be a very interesting away of approaching the topic of diversity.


  12. Reblogged this on crippledscholar and commented:
    This is genius and gets at what I think is so important about discussions of disability in the media. This pushes people to go further than just generic constantly rehashed narratives of not just disability. A great read and fantastic suggestions.


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