Article, photos, video and podcast by Gabriel Galindez
At New York Comic Con, a celebration of geek fandom, this past October, Booth #1575 added a swatch of colorful pride amid big-name brands like Disney’s Marvel and Warner Bros.’ DC Universe.
Adorned with a banner that showed a rainbow, the symbol of gay pride, and the iconic X-Man Storm — one of the first women of color in comics, a fierce African member of a team that is an allegory for diversity — the booth was flanked by LGBT characters from comic books, fantasy and science fiction.
T-shirts bearing slogans such as “Strong Female Character” were for sale. Convention-goers could pick up stickers with pronouns to signify a person’s preference, like the gender-neutral “they, them, ours.”
The group behind the booth was Geeks OUT, whose mission is to give the LGBT community a voice in the geek community, a place that has predominantly catered to the straight white male. Look at any comic book or video game that emphasizes scantily clad women who fail miserably at the Bechdel test – a measure of a work of fiction that assesses whether at least two women who talk to each other discuss anything other than a man.
The convergence of the superhero blockbuster movie and the growing acceptance of LGBT rights and marriage equality in the United States has created a space in pop culture ripe for a group like Geeks OUT. With popular television shows such as “Game of Thrones” and “The Walking Dead” featuring queer characters, it’s clear that the community is a part geek of culture.
Geeks OUT was conceived six years ago when its founders Josh Siegel and Joey Stern attended Comic Con in New York.
“We felt there wasn’t any queer presence there and we knew there was kind of a community waiting,” said Siegel, 40, an artist and business owner living in Astoria, Queens. “But they didn’t really seem to have a central meeting point or any kind of organization.”
At dinner later that day, the two hatched the name and the next day they purchased the web domain name. Their goal was to get a booth at New York Comic Con the next year to provide a safe space for the LGBT community.
Geeks OUT’s mission of inclusion has spread beyond the convention to monthly events that provide the queer geek community in New York a place to come together. It also has a strong feminist point of view that is geared toward empowering women in media.
Among the events Geeks OUT has held are The Walking Dead-themed bar crawl, superhero-themed self-defense classes and outings to see genre movies.
Video: Inside Geeks OUT
In November, Geeks OUT, hosted a brunch in the West Village’s infamous Boots and Saddles drag bar. The theme was “Netflix and Refill,” celebrating the release of Netflix’s Jessica Jones television series, which is based on the Marvel comic book Alias. One of the drag hosts, Lilith LeFae, cosplayed (a word born of costumer play) as the obscure character’s superhero persona, Jewel. Later, she hosted a trivia game based on the comic book.
The meshing of gay and geek culture makes the group stand out.
The group has opened a niche safe space where its geek flag can fly within New York City’s gay community.
People who attend Geeks OUT events say they create a closeness amongst gay geeks.
“They have a sense of like we’re all together in this,” said Jackson Eather, 23, a regular at Geeks OUT! events. “Growing up you get that kind of outcast sense, so when all the outcasts band together that’s really the gay family you’re kind of always looking for.”
Almost everyone who attends regularly can boast a slew of new friends. Some, like Alvaro Galvan and Mike Continues, are now domestic partners after meeting at a retreat associated with the group and hosted in part by Siegel. “None of us are really bar people so we probably wouldn’t have met anywhere else,” Alvaro said.
Podcast: Why Geeks OUT Matters
The couple are frequent contributors to some Geeks OUT creative events. Dreamweaver is an event that invites artists within the community to create pieces inspired by queer geek icons like George Takei, famous for playing Mr. Sulu on the original Star Trek series, and Sir Ian McKellan, the renowned actor who plays Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings movies and Magneto in the X-Men franchise. In 2013 the group celebrated Aliens actress Sigourney Weaver. She got wind of the event and sent a special video thanking the group and the participants.
The organization’s love of art has grown into what Siegel considers one of the group’s biggest achievements: New York’s first LGBT comic convention: Flamecon. The all-day event celebrates and showcases queer artists.
The convention held in August, like any “Artist Alley,” boasted tables displaying queer comic books, illustrators, and writers.
It also hosted panels about queer culture.
The event was followed by a special show, “Fireball,” that showcased body-positive burlesque performances.
Next year Flamecon will be two days long; it already has a line-up of queer artists from the comic book industry as well as other writers and novelists.
The scope of Geeks OUT is expanding with smaller chapters popping up in Chicago, Washington and elsewhere. It is also present at conventions around the country like GaymerX in California, PAX South in Texas, and C2E2 in Chicago.
“We’ve grown every year,” said Kevin Gilligan, 35, the group’s convention coordinator. “New York Comic Con is more and more successful for us in terms of the people that we reach, the response that we get.”
After New York Comic Con this year, the group hosted its fourth annual, SNIKT (a reference to the comic book character Wolverine) after-party. The event had a male host dressed in a pink Power Ranger outfit, a drag performer dressed like a Dalek from the British TV show Doctor WHO, and a cosplay contest with prizes provided by local New York comic book shop, Midtown Comics.
The contest is riddled with “sexy male” versions of genre characters (the opposite of “normal” conventions where sexy female cosplay is a given), cross-play (when someone dresses up as a character in their opposite gender), and obscure references only the truly geeky would know. Mostly it was a celebration of what Geeks OUT has achieved and what the group stands for.
“As queer fans we were kind of isolated,” said Siegel. “Now we’re all out of the closet as fans, and it’s a lot more fun and so if Geeks OUT can be a presence in these cities, towns, and only too, where people can realize that not only are you not alone as a queer person you’re not alone in that fact that you’re a total dork.”