LGBT gaming convention opens up conversation about minority representation, inclusion

Anna McCreary

Shane Brown was sitting in a cubicle, working a nine-to-five tech job after he was diagnosed with cancer. With what felt like finite time remaining, Brown abandoned his cubicle in pursuit of something more meaningful.  

Though Brown eventually discovered he’d been misdiagnosed, that initial momentum to make the most of his remaining days spurred the planning of HavenCon, the first LGBT gaming and geek convention in Texas in April of 2015. 

Now approaching its second year, HavenCon is a three-day event focused on celebrating fandom culture and discussing the representation and lack thereof of LGBT and minority individuals in video games, television, film and comic books. In its inaugural year last April, the turnout was around 1,200 people across two days.

“It blew my expectations for sure,” Brown said. “And it looks like we’re on course to meet — possibly even beat — that this year.” 

Initially, Brown said the concept came from wanting to create a safe place for his younger brother and his friends to spend time off the streets and out of trouble. 

“I started the process of creating what was sort of an arcade, or a gaming center, with a bunch of different things they could do,” Brown said. “It wasn’t originally LGBT-related at all, but the concept stuck with me.” 

Though the plans for this gaming center eventually fell through, Brown said the idea later evolved toward the LGBT community. He said he had always wanted to create a different sort of space for LGBT individuals, outside of the typical pride festival or gay bar. 

While the focus of the convention is on the LGBT community, Brown said they are not specifically driving any agenda but are instead setting the stage for the conversation for issues the community faces.

“At HavenCon, we obviously encompass the same sort of fandoms as other conventions like Comic-Con — but we do it from the perspective of LGBT and other minority groups,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of crap out there [in the world] — let’s just not deal with that for a few days and get together and be ourselves.” 

While the treatment of LGBT individuals has become a more widely discussed issue in recent years, Brown said it is still one that needs broadening, particularly online. 

“Jumping on a random server, you never know who you’re going to run into,” Brown said. “That’s when you hear a lot of the ‘f-word' thrown around and things like, ‘That’s so gay.’” 

Harassment online and in real life is an exceedingly distressing experience for LGBT youth, which is why HavenCon’s partnering organizations like OutYouth, a program that provides services to LGBT youth, are particularly relevant to the event’s audience. 

UT alumna Kathryn Gonzalez attended last year as the program director for OutYouth, and said HavenCon is a supportive environment that aligns with OutYouth’s main purpose of creating “families of choice” for LGBT youth without support from their biological families. 

“One of the things that is important to me in the work that I do here at OutYouth, but also out in the community, is building a sense of family,” Gonzalez said. “[HavenCon] is like a big old family meet-up. I can’t wait to see all the people again.” 

Brown said HavenCon establishes a solid ground for fans to interact in an environment without the anxiety of being rejected by other fans.

“People are more confident when they’re openly talking about the things they care about within a community of people who are similar,” Brown said. “For me, just standing back and watching people connect over something like ‘Doctor Who,’ you can see their whole face light up. And that’s what means the most to me.”

HavenCon
When: April 22-24, 12 p.m. — 2 a.m.
Where: Holiday Inn, 6000 Middle Fiskville Rd.
Admission: $15-$45