For many people in the United States, Labor Day weekend has come to represent the final opportunity for beach vacations and cookouts, the last days of summer, and the beginning of a new school year. For others Labor Day weekend means one thing: Dragon Con.
In its thirtieth year, Dragon Con is a huge (over 80,000 attendees) four-day convention held annually in Atlanta, Georgia, that focuses on science fiction, gaming, comics, literature, art, costuming, and fantasy literature. Incidentally, the convention grew out of a sci-fi and gaming group called the Dragon Alliance of Gamers and Role-Players, the “Dragon” referring to the name of the Dragon Computer that served as a central hub for the group and meeting.
Individuals certainly come to Dragon Con to attend the engaging seminars, panels, and workshops, but for many the quality of the cosplay (a term for those who dress up in costume and play characters) and costuming distinguishes this one convention from all the others. Costume contests and the Saturday parade are now a staple of Dragon Con and serve as opportunities for cosplayers to display their craftsmanship as well as fandom. In addition, Dragon Con boasts a long list of various “Fan Tracks” attendees can follow, ranging from anime to animation; alternative history to horror; and Filk singing to puppetry.
The American Humanist Association tabled at Dragon Con in 2015 in an attempt to both increase our visibility as an organization and normalize humanism. After having such a positive and welcoming experience the first time, I wanted the AHA to have a table again this year. Ours was a part of the “Skeptic Track,” which offered live entertainment, topical discussion panels, and talks for science lovers, free thinkers, and skeptics who come each year to keep the flame of critical thought alive.
There was truly never a dull moment at the AHA table, as over the course of the weekend over 400 people stopped by, and I spoke with every single one of them. Some were openly humanist and wanted buttons and stickers to take home, some wanted to learn about opportunities to become involved locally, and others approached the table and asked, “What is humanism? Teach me!”
Here are just a few sentiments shared by Dragon Con attendees who visited the AHA table:
- I am so happy to see that you are here!
- Knowing that there is a national organization that supports my philosophical beliefs makes me feel not so alone.
- Finally an organization that understands that I can be a moral and ethical person without believing in a god.
- I am religious yet I still believe in the separation of church and state. Can I take one of your buttons?
- Can you help me find a local humanist group in my area?
- Can I take fifteen of the “I Believe in Good” stickers? I know my friends who aren’t here would love them!
The “I’m Humanist” and “Keep Church and State Separate” buttons were by far the most popular items from our table. Throughout the rest of Dragon Con, I watched as people confidently wore their AHA buttons on their bags, shirts, and costumes.
Based on the conversations and amount of literature taken, people appreciated our humanist presence. And I really appreciated and noticed the open-mindedness of the attendees and the fact that Dragon Con is a safe place where everyone is welcome and anybody can be whomever they desire. The weekend was full of costumes that challenged gender stereotypes, such as men dressed in skirts and tights and woman dressed as Doctor Who and Spiderman. Instead of criticizing or gawking at their choices, attendees celebrated and embraced the costumes with applause and words of encouragement. The positive energy was infectious and the unspoken message of “all are welcome here” was palpable.
Not even the presence of a few angry and very loud conservative Christians on the street below the conference hotel yelling at people to repent (repent for having a nice time and bringing business to their city?) could damper the mood of Dragon Con attendees. In fact, several thanked us for being there as a counter to that message. Humanism for the win!
What other “out of the movement” conferences or meetings should the American Humanist Association table at next? Leave your suggestions below.