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I don't think we're in Kansas anymore

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I don't think we're in Kansas anymore

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Boldly going where no geek has gone before
Queer sci-fi fans are counting down the days to the first-ever Canadian installment of Gaylaxicon, an extra-vaganza of science fiction, fantasy and horror that'll touch down the weekend before Pride.

The event, presented by the local chapter of the Gaylactic Network, will take over the Primrose Hotel from Fri, Jun 16 to 18. It's the 14th such convention and is expected to attract 250 people from all across North America.

These days, sci-fi/fantasy culture is by and large queer-positive -- just think of the devoted following to Buffy The Vampire Slayer's Willow and Tara storyline -- but back when Gaylaxicon was launched 1988 many gay geeks found the scene less than welcoming.

"It started initially because although the fannish community was very open to bisexual women the [fan fic] writing was very homophobic," says Gaylaxicon 2006's publicity director Stephanie Clarkson.

Clarkson says there were lots of queer fans in the 1980s who remained closeted at conventions for fear of homophobic reactions from fellow attendees. The Gaylactic Network was formed to give queer fans a place to unabashedly indulge in being gay as well as being geeks.

"These days we don't need it so much," Clarkson admits, adding that while other sci-fi/fantasy conventions may offer a few panels on queer topics Gaylaxicon is still the gayest game going. "This is somewhere we can talk about science fiction from the queer perspective."

Toronto scored the opportunity to host Gaylaxicon 2006 by way of local Lance Sibley. In 2003, Sibley was working at the 61st edition of WorldCon, the World Science Fiction Society's annual convention (Worldcon.org), held in Toronto that year. Somehow he got saddled with the job of making a delivery of alcoholic donations to the Gaylactic Network's suite during a party.

"Canadian beer proved to be very popular," says Sibley. "I made an impression."

It was at the party that Sibley first heard about Gaylaxicon, which was at that point gearing up for its first conference after a three-year hiatus. Sibley says he remarked that the event had never taken place in Toronto to which his hosts responded, "Sounds like you're bidding!"

Over the next few months, Sibley spoke with a number of local gay and gay-friendly geeks who expressed enthusiasm about hosting Gaylaxicon. Several volunteers had previous experience running other fan conventions including Ad Astra, a literary convention that runs every spring (Ad-astra.org), and Toronto Trek (Fri, Jul 7 to 9 this year; Tcon.ca). Others were recruited by way of Queer Continuum, a local social group of gay geeks organized around an e-mail listserv, of which Sibley is a member. The Gaylactic Network's board of directors voted unanimously to accept the Toronto bid in 2004.

During the three-day convention attendees will be able to choose from a variety of one-hour panels on topics ranging from "Writing gay characters" to "Brokeback Spaceship." A lineup of honoured guests (see sidebar this page) will speak on some of these panels, while others will be discussion-based or feature hobbyists or other experts.

The dealers' room will feature a variety of vendors hawking their wares, so that fans can get their shopping fix. An art show will feature science fiction and fantasy-themed art on display; most pieces on display will up for bid in a silent auction.

On Saturday night attendees will have the chance to rub elbows with the honoured guests and socialize amongst themselves at a banquet dinner. Afterward it's Masquerade, a "fannish" fashion show in which participants show off costumes which, in most cases, are inspired by characters or outfits from favourite movies, TV shows and books. These usually range from the mundane, such as uniforms from Stargate Command, to the outlandish, such as the bizarre getups of Queen Amidala from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

In the wee hours, you can expect to find fans hosting parties in their hotel rooms. Some of these will be there to advertise upcoming conventions or newly published books; others will just be excuses to have fun.

The convention was set for the week before Pride in the hopes that attendees from out of town would make a vacation of it, hitting Gaylaxicon one weekend and Toronto Pride the next. There's even the possibility that out-of-town attendees will be marching as a contingent in the Sun, Jun 25 Pride Parade.

"We've decided to poll attending members of Gaylaxicon and see if there's an interest," says Clarkson.

Queer Continuum marched last year to promote Gaylaxicon 2006, and Clarkson says Toronto Pride recently approached the Queer Continuum about making a repeat appearance. "God knows everyone remembers the Klingons."

But unless the out-of-towners step up, she adds the Pride crowds will have to forgo their otherworldly presence; the Gaylaxicon organizers expect that between running the convention and partying they'll be exhausted by Pride.
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