March 9, 2017 at 10:19 am EST | by Mariah Cooper
Queer pop culture fans find solidarity, passion at ClexaCon
ClexaCon Vegas, gay news, Washington Blade

‘Person of Interest’ stars Sarah Shahi and Amy Acker at ClexaCon. (Photo courtesy ClexaCon)

LAS VEGAS — In-depth fan discussions about pop culture often happen online but last weekend in Las Vegas, the discussions were held face to face.

ClexaCon, modeled after Comic Con, Dragon Con, etc., was held March 3-5 at Bally’s and was billed as the first entertainment and media convention organized for queer women by queer women. The convention’s name comes from the popular lesbian couple Clexa, comprised of Clarke and Lexa, from the CW show “The 100.” Show runners killed off Lexa, in an episode fans only refer to ominously as  “307” because it’s the exact episode number when Lexa’s death occurs, that initiated a movement from enraged fans.

More than 2,000 attendees came for the weekend including “Grey’s Anatomy” star Sara Ramirez who made a low-key appearance and quietly sat in on panels.

On day one of the convention, the line wrapped around the hallway with people itching to get inside to kickstart their weekend of panels, workshops and a film festival screening lesbian-centric films.

“Lexa’s Legacy,” one of the first panels of the weekend, filled up quickly. Lexa was just one of the more recent casualties of the “Bury Your Gays” trope, the entertainment industry’s pattern of killing off gay characters in TV and film. While her story is a common one for gay characters, the panel’s popularity proved her death affected many.

Another panel, Transgender Representation in the Media, included three panelists, all transgender women. The panelists discussed how “Transparent” both failed the transgender community and, in their opinion, got it right, too. Later, they discussed their desire for stories about transgender individuals that weren’t just about their trans identities but explored them joining a basketball team or wanting to start a family.

These conversations are likely rare outside a transgender forum online.

Jamie Broadnax, founder and managing editor of blackgirlsnerds.com, says she applauds ClexaCon for its diversity.

But that doesn’t mean ClexaCon isn’t problematic.

“This con is called ClexaCon and focuses on the death of a white, queer character,” Broadnax told the Washington Blade. “Meanwhile Poussey from ‘Orange is the New Black’ was the queer death of a black character that didn’t get as much of a response. So there still needs to be that intersectionality within marginalized communities.”

Broadnax says she and the Black Geeks, a community for African Americans to discuss nerdy pop culture, are planning their own fan convention for women, people of color and the LGBT community. The convention will take place in Baltimore April 26-29, 2018.

ClexaCon did make an effort to be inclusive of diverse voices by including a panel called Queer Women of Color: Media Representation, which had a packed audience. The panel went past its allotted 50 minutes.

The most popular events at ClexaCon were the reunion of popular onscreen lesbian couples from various shows. D.C. native Gabrielle Christian and Mandy Musgrave, known for playing Spencer and Ashley on the teen drama “South of Nowhere,” appeared together to chat about their time on the show. Known by fans as “Spashley,” the young lesbian couple made a huge impact in the lives of many queer women viewers.

Many fans took the mic to tell Christian and Musgrave how the show was the first time they saw themselves represented on screen. They also shared how the show helped them come to terms with their own sexual orientation.

Christian and Musgrave also appeared on the lesbian web series “Girltrash!” and its prequel film “Girltrash: All Night Long.” Musgrave told the crowd that while playing queer roles had caused her to sometimes be typecast as bisexual, it had given her the best fanbase of lesbian supporters.

Other reunions included “WayHaught” from “Wynonna Earp,” “Shoot” from “Person of Interest,” “BAM” from “All My Children” and “Hollstein” from “Carmilla.”

The lines for the reunion panels were long and excited cheers could be heard exploding from the rooms during each one.

The convention wouldn’t have been a true fan gathering without cos-play (i.e. dressing up). A competition was held to showcase the best cos-players at the end of day two. The top three included Holtz from “Ghostbusters” and a couple dressed as Clexa.

However, the first place winner went to a little girl dressed as Lexa. Affectionally called “Little Lexa” throughout the convention, the crowd screamed and cheered uplifting the youngest attendee.

A recurring theme was that change is needed regarding lesbian representation in the media. Attorney Mindy Gulati hosted her panel “How Implicit Bias Affects the LGBTG community in the Media,” and spotlighted one of the major issues with queer representation.

“Whether for good, bad or reasons we don’t understand, people do have a lot of unconscious biases toward the gay community,” Gulati says. “Even those who work in film and TV and feel like they’re a step ahead of people and progressive, a lot of the time they don’t understand how deep-seated these biases can be.”

One way to eliminate these biases is to have queer women creating their own content. Several speakers encouraged, and often pleaded, for attendees to get creative and tell their own stories.

During a panel celebrating LGBT actresses in film and television, which included Sarah Paulson’s younger sister Rachel Paulson, actress Jasika Nicole (“Fringe”) discussed her new dark comedy film “Suicide Kale.”

Nicole explained how she and her queer friends simply decided to get together and make a movie one day. Panel moderator Dana Piccoli knowingly eyed the audience and said the people in attendance should get together to make their own film that could possibly premiere at ClexaCon next year.

The urge to be creative and tell stories that represent marginalized groups was rampant. Actress and producer Elizabeth Keener (“The L Word,” “Skirtchasers”) spoke with the Washington Blade and said she was blown away to see women getting together to learn and grow.

“Women have a yearning first to learn from other women, but also to find a place where they can have the freedom to talk about sexual orientation or even make things or create things that have to do with that but don’t even put that in the forefront. It just is,” Keener says.

She hopes ClexaCon could one day be on the same playing field as Comic Con and happen more than once a year in different cities.

As ClexaCon wound down, exclamations of, “I’m so glad I came” and “Why haven’t I been to things like this more often?” could be heard in the hall.

Lexa’s death may have been hurtful for many, but the character’s untimely “bury-your-gays” end lit a spark in queer fans.

ClexaCon, gay news, Washington Blade

From left are Jasika Nicole, Ali Liebert, Elizabeth Kenner and Rachel Paulson at a ClexaCon panel called LGBTQ Actresses in Film and Television. (Washington Blade photo by Mariah Cooper)

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