June 15, 2017 at 3:49 pm EDT | by Keith Loria
Pride Alley premieres at 2017 Awesome Con
Awesome Con, gay news, Washington Blade

Last year’s Awesome Con drew enthusiasts of many realms of pop culture and sci-fi. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Awesome Con
June 16-18
Washington Convention Center
801 Mt. Vernon Pl., N.W.

This weekend, Awesome Con returns to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, promising plenty of fun, excitement and costumes worthy of Fantasy Fest.

At its heart, Awesome Con embraces all aspects of geekdom and pop culture, offering a wide assortment of comic books, collectibles, toys, games, original art, cosplay and more. Special events include discussion panels, costume contests, trivia contests, gaming tournaments, and tons of activities for kids.

A new feature this year is Pride Alley, which involves a dedicated programming track celebrating LGBT comic creators and a special area of its Artist Alley. It will also offer three days of panels and special events.

“Awesome Con is proud of all of our fans, guests, exhibitors and artists and as we started to build this year’s event, we wanted to do more and create a bigger platform to better celebrate and educate D.C.’s LGBTQ community,” says Ben Penrod, founder of Awesome Con. “This is important to us and who we want to be.”

Joey Stern, president and co-founder of Geeks OUT, a non-profit community organization that has been obsessed with making queer geek safe spaces since 2010, was a big part in bringing Pride Alley to life. Stern was the mastermind behind Flame Con, a two-day comic, art, and entertainment expo showcasing creators and celebrities from all corners of LGBT fandom.

“This is a joint venture between Awesome Con and Geeks OUT,” Stern says. “We have been going to Awesome Con now for three years and it’s one of the most accepting and open creative conventions we attend. We developed a relationship with the organizers and through that, we discussed ways to better integrate the LGBTQ presence already there to make it more visible.”

Those who have been to Awesome Con before understand that there’s a lot going on and it’s wall-to-wall people, booths and events, so it’s easy for things to be lost in the crowd.

“If you’re serving a niche market, like primarily making queer art, you want to make sure that people who don’t know about you can find you,” Stern says. “The same thing goes for panels and discussions. You might need to seek it out and people may miss out on events they want to see.”

Pride Alley was created as a way to better get LGBT artists and creators in front of their fan base as well as open up a chance to be discovered by more people.

“We wanted to put ourselves on the floor in a way that was clear and noticeable and gives it its own breathing space, while also being integrated with the convention itself,” Stern says. “It’s part of the show, it’s part of the experience, yet it’s called out special.”

Numerous interesting and thought-provoking panels are part of Pride Alley, there’s a special T-shirt designed for the occasion and some of the best LGBT artists working today.

“This is unique integration that I hope other conventions will think about,” Stern says. “You as a queer person who is attending can find it, can see what you’re looking for, but at the same time are not shifted away from the rest of the convention.”

LGBT HQ will be among those exhibiting (booth 1434) featuring its infamous LGBT Passport with interactive programming, Kid Riot comics courtesy of the Demon Hotel, cosplayer/actress/advocate Jay Justice, Mr. Green Lantern 2017 Danny Lantern, and the cosplay and advocate staff of LGBT HQ.

“This is our second year exhibiting and our booth is primarily a hub for whatever interactive LGBT programing happens at the convention at any given time,” says Matthew Levine, LGBT HQ’s director. “We provide a safe space for everybody who is there.”

The booth has a superhero background, offering fun photo opportunities, and will play host to the panel, Cosplay Rule 63, dissecting the difficult navigating of gender-bent and cross-play cosplay with speakers Jay Justice, Danny Lantern, Les Levi, Jazmine Cosplays and Mischief Matthew.

“In addition, we do a LGBT passport program, which acts as a scavenger hunt and brochure all in one,” Levine says. “It lists all the active LGBT cosplayers, vendors and supporters at the Con, and people go around getting their signatures for a chance to win great prizes.”

LGBT HQ will also sponsor its third annual unofficial cosplay contest at Green Lantern Bar (1335 Green Court, N.W.), starting at 10 p.m. on Saturday, June 17. Guest judges include Aaron Paul and Mr. Green Lantern 2017 Danny Lantern.

“You can’t ask for a better name for an after party of a comic con than a bar named Green Lantern,” Levine says. “There are no presumptions. The event is just so much fun and very tongue-and-cheek. It provides the campy atmosphere that people want when they put on costumes and go to Awesome Con.”

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