Sometime last year I agreed to speak at a conference being held in Brighton in 2020 called the Anti-Theism International Convention, after being invited by John Richards, the principal organiser. You may have seen the controversy surrounding Lance Gregorchuk, who was (is?) one of the funders of the event, taking part in a horrific interview, in which David Worley asked why the conference had invited Lawrence Krauss to speak, considering the allegations of historic sexual misconduct against him (something which I am not commenting on here).
Gregorchuk, rather than defending Krauss on the basis of the lack of any legal convictions, or the presumption of innocence, defended the actions he had been accused of, and appeared to suggest that he had himself made similar unwanted advances towards women in the past.
This troubling interview prompted John Richards to nominally ‘sack’ Gregorchuk (his phrasing), but there has been no clarification as to whether he is still funding the event or not. Most obscenely, Gregorchuk appeared to threaten an unwanted sexual advance towards David Worley, and it is unclear whether or not this was intended as a joke. Gregorchuk has not been banned from attending, despite this comment in particular constituting an unequivocal threat to break the sexual assault policy of the conference.
Naturally, this provoked some backlash, and John Richards made a number of videos and interview appearances to defend the conference and reassure its attendees. Unfortunately, these consisted in some of the most unprofessional and embarrassing PR I could possibly conceive of, including:
- Failing to understand the nature and necessity of sexual assault policies, and making light of them, in a video response to Rachel Oates
- Ending an interview with Shannon Q regarding accusations of misogyny by making an advance towards her, first asking if she ‘will be in the kitchen,’ then saying, ‘I was thinking of inviting myself to your table.’
- Displaying an infantile attitude towards talking about these issues in a train wreck of an interview yesterday with ‘Nervardia’.
- In the same interview, claiming to have no control over nominations for awards at his event, as a defence of the nomination of David Silverman for an award (who has also been accused of sexual misconduct), and claiming that he had not been aware of David Worley being nominated, despite numerous people nominating him, and an email being sent to David by John (which you can see here), in which John acknowledges his nomination, but refuses to accept it unless David has him on his podcast, in what I can only describe as an extreme act of pettiness. (This not only demonstrates that John was likely lying about having seen Worley’s nomination, but also that he was lying about having no control over the nominations.)
- Saying, again in that same interview, that I had agreed to the new date of the conference after its postponement due to COVID-19, which I have not, and will not.
This list is not exhaustive, but it was principally the interview with Nervardia that served as my final straw. I would recommend watching it in its entirety if you have any doubts or reservations about my decision to pull out of the conference.
I would like to stress that the main reason I did not pull out earlier is mainly due to concerns over people having bought tickets (which are not cheap) and transport, potentially at least in part due to the promise of my being there and delivering an address, and attempting to balance this against the concerns I had after Gregorchuk’s interview. As these concerns began to multiply, culminating in the most recent interview with Nervardia, I began to realise I cannot speak at this event. However, another reason for my silence is that I have also been privately trying to raise the above issues with other speakers before pulling out myself, so that they might make a similar decision should they wish to. Now that I am no longer committed to this periodic silence, I will be pleased to answer questions about the conference. It disappoints me that some people have mistaken this silence for complicity, which is understandable, but false.
When the conference was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, I no longer had to worry about ticket holders and their transportation bookings, providing an excellent opportunity for me to quickly announce my departure from the event before anybody books anything for the new conference date (if you already have, or cannot get a refund, please see below). I also feel I have done all I can in terms of talking to other speakers, privately searching for ways to fix the conference, and leaving possibilities for John Richards to recover its credibility, and so am ready to publicly announce my leaving the conference, as silence seems to me no longer a viable tactic for improving the situation.
My ultimate conclusion is this: I do not have confidence that a conference which cannot appropriately respond to a scandal involving concerns about sexual assault can possibly appropriately respond to an actual or attempted sexual assault. Though the chances of such a malady arising are small, I feel I must refuse to speak at a conference that cannot guarantee the safety of its attendees.
I should also be inclined to add that, even without the more serious concerns I have just raised being a part of my consideration, I frankly hold myself to a higher professional standard than that exhibited by the organisers of this conference. (For a characteristic example, take a look at the nominations for ‘atheist comedian of the year’ on the conference website.)
I do not wish for this to be in any way interpreted as a commentary on the decisions of other speakers and attendees, who may still not even be fully aware of everything I have mentioned. I would also like to stress that this is about Lance, John, and the conference, not Lawrence Krauss.
Finally, if you are reading this and had bought a ticket to hear me speak, please reach out using the contact page on my website with proof of purchase, so that I might make it up to you.