The 79th Worldcon, and fifth in the Baltimore/Washington area, Discon III (DC3), originally scheduled for August 25–29, 2021, was held December 15–19, 2021, at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC. The con was sponsored by the Baltimore-Washington Area Worldcon Association ("BAWAWA").
GoHs: Author GoH, Nancy Kress; Artist GoH, John Harris (who did not attend); Fan GoH, Ben Yalow;
Editor GoH: Toni Weisskopf; Special Guests, Malka Older (who did not attend), Sheree Renée Thomas and last-minute add-on Andrea Hairston.
It was first co-chaired by Bill Lawhorn and Colette Fozard. Fozard resigned in January 2021, and Lawhorn in June. After a short search for a replacement, Mary Robinette Kowal, a pro, joined the concom and took over in early July, serving through the convention.
- 1 Disasters
- 1.1 Covid-19
- 1.2 Controversies
- 1.3 Discon III Itself
- 2 See Also
The con conducted a poll in December 2020 to determine fan preference, but did not release the results until April 7, 2021, due to legal issues over its hotel contracts. Two-thirds of the respondents said they preferred a live Worldcon in December over an earlier online-only event. The Worldcon still offered virtual memberships and events in addition to the in-person convention.
On August 21, 2021, DC3 announced that everyone attending would be required to present proof of vaccination. Children too young to be vaccinated and others who could not be vaccinated were not permitted to attend. Masks were mandatory.
Flare-ups of the Omicron strain of Covid-19 just before the convention caused many members to decide not to attend in person. Among them was Special Guest Malka Older, who decided to attend only virtually since her children were not old enough to be vaccinated. Since she and Sheree Renée Thomas were meant to co-host the Hugo Ceremony, the concom invited an additional special guest, Andrea Hairston, for that role.
Despite the con’s policies and members’ precautions, at least 31 attendees tested positive for Covid-19 during or just after Discon III (which had somewhere between 2000 and 3000 attendees). A January 12 report stated:
The only cluster event we saw evidence of was the WSFS Business Meeting.... The WSFS business meeting ... has a disproportionate number of cases relative to the percent of DisCon III members who attended it. Our best guess is that the WSFS business meeting involved a lot of talking, which generates more aerosols, and consistent repeated exposure. The other panel rooms were cleared every hour for a half-hour break but the business meeting was not.
In the summer of 2020, the Marriott Wardman Park announced that the hotel, which had been closed since March due to Covid-19, might shut down permanently, with a final decision scheduled for sometime in the Fall of 2020. Subsequently, the Wardman Park’s owners filed for bankruptcy, announced the hotel’s permanent closing, and their intent to sell the property.
The convention had announced Baen Books’ Toni Weisskopf as Editor GoH. After Jason Sanford publicized on February 15, 2021, what he viewed as toxic content by some users of a few of Baen’s online forums, the concom announced it was “monitoring” the situation. Weisskopf took down the forums the next day, promising to investigate. However, Discon issued a statement on February 19, saying, in part:
DisCon III condemns the violent and hostile content found within Baen Books’ forums. We also cannot condone the fact such content was enabled and allowed to ferment for so long. We want to make it clear abusive behavior is not, and will not be, tolerated at DisCon III. Such behavior goes entirely against our already established policies concerning inclusivity and creating a welcoming environment for our members.... As a result, after discussion with her, we have notified Toni Weisskopf we are removing her as a Guest of Honor for DisCon III.
This marked the first time a Worldcon had ever removed a GoH. The decision was controversial, to say the least. Several concom members and volunteers resigned in the wake of the announcement and some con members said on social media that they would not attend.
Bill Lawhorn and Colette Fozard were originally co-chairs, but Fozard resigned in January 2021 due to abuse from the online community over the Worldcon’s (quickly rescinded) announcements regarding limits on certain credits for large teams receiving Hugo nominations. She issued a statement on File 770.
Other resignations included Jared Dashoff, the WSFS Division Head (explained here), the Hugo Administrator, the Facilities Division Heads, and several others. Then, in June 2021, the replacement Hugo Administration team resigned en masse.
Shortly afterward, a beleaguered Lawhorn resigned, according to an announcement on June 25, 2021.
Latinx Fanhistory Error
On September 3, 2021, DisCon III announced that Marguerite Smith and Lauren Raye Snow were joining the concom as vice chairs, describing Snow as “the first Latinx to serve as a Vice Chair” of a Worldcon. This was untrue, as Fred Duarte was a vice chair for LoneStarCon 2 in 1997, and for all anyone knows, someone else with that heritage may have had the job earlier yet.
Not every Worldcon has vice chairs, nobody maintains a historical listing of fans who held the title, nor have conventions generally highlighted the ethnicity of their concom members, so the initial mistake might be forgivable poor research. However, Karen Meschke, chair of LoneStarCon 2 and the late Duarte’s ex-wife, immediately contacted Discon to correct the error, asking, “Could the wording be changed to first female Latinx Vice Chair and Fred be added as a footnote?” After Meschke notified two different Discon advisors and got no action, she went public on October 19 in a guest post at File 770.
After others intervened, the online announcement was amended, with Fred mentioned in a footnote, and the correction was sent out on October 28 with no word on why it took two months.
The first Hugo controversy had to do with policies over how many of the people behind a nominee would be listed on the ballot, engraved on the award and welcome at limited-attendance events. A second, possibly related, internal flap (see File 770) led to another round of committee resignations.
Then, among the 2021 Hugos nominations for Best Related Work was “George R.R. Martin Can Fuck Off Into the Sun, Or: The 2020 Hugo Awards Ceremony (Rageblog Edition),” a blog post critical of Martin’s performance as MC of the Hugo ceremony at CoNZealand. Since it achieved enough nominations to appear on the ballot (37), Hugo Administrator Linda Deneroff (part of the third Hugo Administration team) allowed it, apparently without considering whether it was in violation of Discon’s “established policies concerning inclusivity and creating a welcoming environment for our members.” The Code of Conduct explicitly forbade “Comments directly intended to belittle, offend, or cause discomfort including telling others they are not welcome and should leave.”
Martin was offended enough that he skipped both sponsoring the semi-official Hugos after-party he’s personally funded for many years and attending the Worldcon (the first he had missed in decades).
Editor GoH Toni Weisskopf, who was disinvited under those same policies, received sufficient nominations for the Best Editor, Long Form Hugo to appear on the ballot, but, according to the administrators, withdrew.
The awards ceremony itself was delayed for an hour due to a minor fire in the ballroom.
Christian Opening Ceremonies
Opening Ceremonies featured a concert by the Duke Ellington School of the Arts Show Choir of Washington, DC, which had been invited by Chair Mary Robinette Kowal, who had previously announced, “I was a theater kid, and as soon as I learned about the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, I knew we needed to have them involved as a true expression of D.C. We are thrilled that the students will join us both on stage and behind the scenes. The show choir’s performance will be the highlight of the Opening Ceremonies.”
What was not announced ahead of time was the choir’s program, which was devoted to Christian, gospel and Christmas music. Many Jews and other non-Christian fans found this inappropriate as part of Worldcon’s official opening event, if not offensive and a violation of Discon’s “established policies concerning inclusivity and creating a welcoming environment for our members.” No one connected to the convention ever made any official acknowledgment of the complaints.
See 2023 Site Selection, which was also fraught.
Discon III accepted sponsorship funds from Raytheon Intelligence and Space, a high tech, aerospace and weapons manufacturer, which some fans and pros found upsetting. After this was publicized, Chair Mary Kowal apologized post-con, saying the sponsorship did not meet Discon’s Code of Conduct and “aims to build an inclusive community for all fans.” (Online here.)
The apology offended another group of fans, many of whom work for in the aerospace and military/industrial complex. Not to mention the people who were already unhappy about other issues for which there was no apology.
Kowal further said Discon would “make an anonymous contribution to an organization dedicated to peace, equal to the amount we received from Raytheon.” However, this would appear to violate the WSFS Constitution, which requires that Worldcons “dispose of surplus funds remaining after accounts are settled for its convention for the benefit of WSFS as a whole” and “file annual financial reports regarding the disbursement of that surplus.”
As the Omni Shoreham opened in 1930, the site had accessibility issues. There were steps between different parts of the lobby and to the main restaurant. The accessibility of parts of the hotel, coupled with the slow and small elevators, caused problems for some fans. Some programming was not accessible. There were some special elevators for people who needed them that were not marked until a day after the convention started. Due to staffing issues at the Omni Shoreham, there was no room service.
Recordings of programming were made available online only for three weeks in January 2022 and accessible only to Discon III members.
Discon III Itself
Despite the many issues around Discon III, many members had an enjoyable conference, especially the opportunity to see friends in person after 21 months of Concellation. The weather was mostly warm and dry. Most of the party suites were large and the parties were well-attended.
The Exhibit Hall and Dealers Room were in a portion of the garage, which led to parking issues throughout the convention.
At-con Registration had long lines, with up to 2-hour long waits on Wednesday.
The Program was mostly held in person, with some virtual items held during the course of the convention.
2,359 attending members plus 952 virtual with 8,721 total members (including some 3,000 supporting memberships from China). These membership figures are from The Long List; however, Locus reported 2,359 attendees + 1,197 virtual, totaling 9,293.
Besides the activity detailed under 2023 Site Selection, the notable actions of the WSFS Business Meeting were to ratify the Lodestar Award and the Best Series Hugo, passed on from 2020, and in new business, a change in memberships, which clarifies that one is paying for membership in WSFS and making that nontransferable. The motion passed and went to Chicon 8 for ratification.
- For other especially-troubled Worldcons, see NyCon (1939), NorWesCon (1950), Iguanacon (1978), ConStellation (1983) and Nolacon 2 (1988). The Sad and Rabid Puppies caused controversies for the 2014–16 cons, and ConJose 2 (2018) was afflicted by legal matters.
- Discon III Website.
- Discon III publications and photos on fanac.org.
- Business Meeting Agenda.
- Business Meeting videos.
- Discon III Code of Conduct.
- Hugo In Memoriam Scroll 2021.
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