Too Little Too Late, Podcast Movement

Podcast Movement prides itself on being “the world’s largest community of podcasters.” Their About page declares that since their inception in 2014, they have become “the ultimate annual destination for diverse speakers.” Finally feeling a bit more comfortable attending events since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was excited to attend this year’s conference in Dallas from August 23-26. I looked forward to the programming, and I looked forward to reconnecting with my beloved community after years of isolation.

2022 has been an extremely difficult year for trans people and people with uteruses—two demographics I fall into. As someone who cares deeply about the safety and well-being of my trans friends, siblings, and community, I have been distraught to see the lengths people will go to in attempts to make our lives harder, and for many of us, impossible. 2022 has been a landmark year in anti-trans legislation, explained in depth by Emily St. James of Vox in her essay, “The Time to Panic About Anti-Trans Legislation Is Now.”

Something else notable about this essay is its URL, which ends in the names of two states: Texas and Idaho. As a born and raised Arizonian, I know that red states are often only red due to gerrymandering and voter oppression with a keen eye focused on nonwhite constituents. I am, therefore, extremely hesitant to judge such a massive and diverse state as Texas—but I would be lying if I said attending an event in Dallas this year didn’t give me some preliminary worries. I do feel that same hesitation in my own home state as well, after all.

In this sum-up of my experiences at Podcast Movement 2022, I will be focusing on how I was impacted as a trans person, and as someone with a uterus—especially a uterus that will kill any fetus and myself were I to get pregnant—but it should be noted that I’m very easily cis-passing. I’m also white. Transphobia impacts me in ways that do not put me in immediate physical danger, like it does many other trans people, especially trans women. And, of course, I am not harmed by white supremacy. Like all other white people, I benefit from white supremacy, whether or not I want to.

If I have to explain how transphobia and white supremacy are tied to Ben Shapiro and The Daily Wire, this essay is frankly not for you.

But to properly sum up my experience at Podcast Movement 2022, I have to explain where this story began for me. Let me take you back to Podcast Movement 2019.

Awareness and Accessibility at Podcast Movement

In 2018, I was approached directly by Podcast Movement to spearhead their inaugural audio fiction track. My colleague, collaborator, and close friend Elena Fernández Collins (Ely, for short, who has worked with me on this section of this piece) was contacting Podcast Movement to discuss the same concept, as well as DEI and accessibility training. I was overjoyed and told Podcast Movement I’d love to work alongside Ely.

Ely and I work together often, and we’re across the board very similar people. One distinct difference between myself and Ely, though: Ely is Latinx. I am white.

We worked side by side curating the fiction track, which was complex and rigorous work. We had rubrics to keep our track in line with our ethics: we refused panels without at least 50% people of color, worked to include as many of our trans peers as possible, and constructed panels from the ground up to make sure we were elevating voices we knew deserved a larger platform and were systemically kept out of those opportunities.

And Ely did additional work on top of what we did together. Ely created and implemented a training for Awareness and Accessibility. The training included education on pronouns, and emphasized the importance of pronoun pins.

We were consistently affirmed in these parameters and philosophies by Podcast Movement. We were guaranteed that Podcast Movement cared deeply about being a more inclusive and welcoming space.

It wasn’t until after the event that I learned that while I was paid $6000 for my work, Ely was paid substantially less. Again, I have to emphasize: Ely and I broke our collaborative work up as equally as we could. And then Ely did even more work. Ely was paid less.

After the event, we were asked by Podcast Movement to debrief and share our perspectives. We advocated for key changes that would better help the event’s diversity, inclusion, and accessibility. 

  • We asked for speakers to be paid, or to have more than just their badges comped. Expecting diversity for an expensive event without considering the substantial costs of travel, lodging, and food is unrealistic. We were told this was a request they would not fulfill. They gave reasons—I am sure they will give them again—but those reasons do not change how unrealistic this expectation is.
  • We asked for the volunteers to be vetted better. Regardless of Ely’s training, many of their documented procedures did not come through with the actual volunteers working the event. We were told this was a request they would not fulfill. They gave reasons—I am sure they will give them again—but those reasons do not change how the actions of volunteers harmed attendees.
  • We asked for non-gendered bathrooms and a quiet room for decompression, inspired by the presence of both at PodCon 1 in 2017 and 2 in 2019, as well as PodX in 2019. We were told this would be considered and researched.

Ely and I continued to work with Podcast Movement, hoping our requests, trainings, and work had made an impact—and, frankly, hoping to continue to survive on what Podcast Movement would pay us. We curated some of Podcast Movement’s digital conference in 2020, and we sometimes wrote for PodMov Daily, the conference’s newsletter.

For Podcast Movement 2020, I ensured Ely was paid as much, if not more, than I was by continually telling Podcast Movement I would not work with them otherwise. In Ely’s words, we had to attach them to me “like a barnacle” to make sure they were being compensated fairly. I was happy to do this, obviously—but I absolutely should not have had to.

Now, let’s fast-forward to Podcast Movement in 2021. In 2021, a colleague’s panel was selected for the conference, but my colleague relented their spot on the panel to align with the Equality in Audio pact, which many of us have signed. If you have not signed, please take this moment to do so for yourself and your organization(s). Here is the text and screenshots from that conversation, redacted for the protection of everyone on the panel in question:

“Hi Jared [Easley],

In the interest of diversity and keeping with the Equity in Audio Pact, I’ve decided to give my place on this panel to [REDACTED]. I’ve already spoken with [them] and [they’ll] be able to attend in my place, and the other panelists are happy to have [them].

Let me know what information you’ll need from [REDACTED] in order to get [them] into the system and set up for attending this panel.

Thanks,

[REDACTED]”

“Hi [REDACTED], Dan here.

I REALLY appreciate you recognizing this. This is the first year that we’ve officially been following the pact, and putting it in front of submitters before submitting their proposals through. I also appreciate you finding an awesome person in [REDACTED] to step in.

It looks like [REDACTED] is set in the system, so I can work with [them] from here to get the profile completed.

Thank you again, and I look forward to having you back in the future.

Dan

Dan Franks

President

Podcast Movement

(he/him/his)”

Could this be the start of a redemption arc for Podcast Movement? Frankly, it felt unlikely, especially since Podcast Movement is not on the list of signers, and neither is Dan Franks personally. Through all of this, my trust of Podcast Movement as an organization faded. I had seen their tendency to make statements of vested interest in diversity and inclusion, only to falter over and over again in execution.

But I still wasn’t prepared for what would greet me at Podcast Movement 2022 (PM22 from here on out, for short).

Greetings from The Daily Wire

When you entered the convention floor at PM22, one of the first things you saw was the booth for The Daily Wire. You were greeted with the faces of Matt Walsh, Jordan Peterson, and, of course, the twerp himself: Ben Shapiro.

The night before, I had gotten my badge and lanyard from early check-in to the conference, and picked up my Ely-endorsed pronoun pin. I felt comfortable and at ease. It was nice to know I was in a space where I could easily, comfortably, and very clearly identify my pronouns so I wouldn’t be consistently misgendered. Did it still happen? Yeah, absolutely. Did it happen less than my day-to-day outings in Phoenix where I don’t wear a giant pin that says “THEY/THEM” on it? Of course.

It was a nice reminder that generally speaking, podcasters tend to be fairly kind, inclusive people. It’s one of the reasons I care so deeply about this medium.

But seeing the booth for The Daily Wire dashed that confidence immediately. It set me on edge. It kept the slew of anti-trans legislation of late fresh and constant in my mind. It sent a clear message: this conference cared much more about the money than it did the inclusion of a diverse pool of podcasting professionals.

Because it isn’t just that I saw some pictures of the mean bad men. It’s that they were seen as valuable to the space while calling for actions that get trans people killed and continue the efforts of white supremacy. It’s that I knew my trans friends and colleagues wouldn’t feel safe or comfortable or welcomed, either.

And it’s that having a booth made it immediately clear to me what would happen. We would talk about how angry we were about the booth, because we care about speaking on these destructive, regressive, hateful politics. Podcast Movement would then react in some way to buy back some good will from the attendees it had excluded the moment it accepted the payment for the booth. Then, the reactionaries would come for those of us who spoke up. If the booth was to be removed, it would be depicted as cancel culture. We would be painted as fragile libs crying over nothing.

But even knowing that, I couldn’t not say something. I didn’t @ mention PM in my frustrated tweets. I kept names out of my tweets other than alt-text hoping I might be able to avoid some of the blowback I knew I’d wind up getting anyway. But silence is one of the many ways they kill us, and I can’t just sit back and let it happen quietly, at the very least.

I have to admit, though, I didn’t see it coming when a friend told me Ben Shapiro was there on site. I really should have, but I still had optimism about the event. Goofy in retrospect, really.

Hello from Ben Shapiro

I was alerted to Ben Shapiro’s actual real-life presence at Podcast Movement by a colleague who was also attending. I would link their tweets here, or mention them by name, but, well . . . I’ll discuss this more in the next section of this piece.

As many have discussed, Shapiro’s presence at Podcast Movement was not the core issue. It was the final straw that broke the camel’s back. However, I do want to take time to address why Shapiro’s physical presence mattered, what it made it that final straw. While creator Mac Rogers was not present at Podcast Movement, his thread responding to the event’s fallout summarizes why we cared so much about Shapiro’s physical presence:

This tweet is part of a longer thread with additional context and commentary, so please click through for the full discussion.

It was a clear sign that the safety we had expected from the world’s largest podcast conference was nonexistent. Shapiro has built his career not just on his podcast, but also on “debating” (demoralizing, dehumanizing, demeaning) his opponents in person. He knows that anywhere he goes, people will be filming. He knows that his critics do not have the media training he does, that they do not practice retorts in the mirror like a Sim as I’m sure he does. His critics come to him with earnestness; he retorts in the detached, practiced way that plays well in recordings. He ensures a lose/lose scenario for his opponents everywhere he goes.

And, notably, Shapiro entered this event with no badge. He was allowed in by members in the event staff. No security stopped him. He was just allowed in. At least some of the event staff very directly were not concerned for the attendees who need the support of event staff the most.

This was when I decided I wasn’t playing nice anymore. I knew Podcast Movement knew my name. I knew they knew my relative sway in the industry, especially among the growing number of fiction podcasters hoping to attend their future events.

I quote-retweeted my colleague who made Shapiro’s presence known, and I @ mentioned Podcast Movement directly on August 24th at 3:34PM CT. At 3:52 PM, I received a DM from the official Podcast Movement account. For the sake of accessibility, here is the full text of the conversation, followed by the screenshots.

PM: Hey Wil it’s Dan [Franks]. We did not know he was attending. There is was no badge registered for him or any talen associated with him, and we did not put any of their people on any sessions. Him showing up was the first we knew about it. I know that does not make it right, but I was caught off guard completely by this.

Wed 3:52 PM

Wil: Oh my god, THANK YOU. I’ll delete that last tweet. Are you alright with me sharing this with some other trans podcasters who currently feel unsafe? Will not post on Twitter. But I have to say, I’m EXTREMELY disappointed to see the booth. I expect much better from this event.

Wed 3:55 PM

PM: We are on the same page, I very much agree,

And yes I am, thank you.

Wed 3:56 PM

Wil: Thank you. This means a lot.

Wed 3:56 PM

PM: I shared with Ely that we’ve turned him down to speak 5 years in a row, and that we turned down other people from the network to speak this year.

But I agree if they didn’t have a booth then this would not have just happened.

Wed 3:57 PM

Before I go further, a few clarifications:

  1. Podcast Movement as an organization has a small team, but the two members who most actively represent the brand are Dan Franks, President, and Jared Easley, Head of Community and Content. I have worked much more closely with Franks than Easley; however, I have worked with both to some degree, and both know who I am. They know my name—and they know my pronouns as well.
  2. The tweet I deleted was an @ mention of a podcaster with a very large platform who had previously called for Podcast Movement to ban another right-wing figure from attending, especially since he was more or less threatening to confront left-leaning attendees at the conference—including myself, named by him directly. (For the record: in what would be a common trend this week, he did see me at the event, realized who I was, and then very quickly looked away in a little panic. Precious!)
  3. I am deeply embarrassed by the quickness with which I showed Podcast Movement relief and trust in these DMs. I am often too trusting and too forgiving a person, which I’ll discuss later as well. If you’re frustrated by how easily I let them off the hook, know that I am, too. I hope this piece will make up for that as much as it can.

The impacted stay impacted

I’ve always felt a kinship with the figure of Greek mythology, Cassandra: an oracle whose curse was that she would always be right, but never be listened to until it was too late.

My predictions were right, of course. Those of us who called attention to Shapiro’s presence and to The Daily Wire‘s booth were immediately, viciously attacked by their supporters. These attacks were not criticisms of our frustrations. These were, of course, attacks on ourselves as people. Trans people were misgendered and dehumanized. Many of us were called antisemitic—including several Jewish attendees.

And yet, even more frustrating, were the responses to my frustration I got in DMs from colleagues I respected and trusted. One such DM read:

“Podcast Movement aims to: ‘Ensure an accessible, inclusive, and welcoming space.’ The stuff going around about Ben being there right now, is clearly not welcoming or being inclusive towards him. I hate that guy, and would prefer he not attend either. But I’m tolerant of letting anyone who wants to attend, attend. So I don’t understand why there are these inclusive spaces, that aren’t actually inclusive. Do you think the inclusivity statement should be amended? Or am I misunderstanding what it means?”

I’m not identifying who this colleague was. If you are reading: I believe you are better than this. I believe you can understand why representing both sides of a “debate” that argues against the humanity and right to live is harmful. 

Receiving this DM was heartbreaking. I should not have to explain why I feel unsafe with the people promoting beliefs that take away my rights, deny my pursuit of happiness, and advocate for people like me being put into “isolation camps.” Not to anyone, but certainly not to someone I have come to like and respect.

I put my Twitter on private (which I am reversing to ensure this piece can be posted and shared, and yes, I am anticipating a new wave of harassment). Or, more correctly: after the final panel that day, I went up to my hotel room in a daze. I handed my phone to my roommate, the incredible Anne Baird, and asked them to do it for me. I was so dissociated, so beyond out of emotional and mental energy, that I could not remember how, even though I’ve had to before and it’s not, like, hard. I sent out one final tweet, took a shower, and sobbed.

I would love to say that I brushed this all off, and that it didn’t get to me. I’d love to say they didn’t win. But they did. They treat these harassment campaigns like a job. This is why we cannot allow them into our spaces in the first place.

And now, I return to my colleague who initially alerted us to Shapiro’s presence. I am not going to name them here, because everything I received, they received tenfold. They received it—and, I believe, are still receiving it—on their personal account, on their podcasts’ accounts, and on their supporters’ accounts.

Friend, if you are reading, and I know you are, I want to remind you again how proud I am of you. Your resilience, which you should not have to have, is so impressive. Your dedication to always standing up for those in need is inspirational. I love you. I am here for you, always. You are the best of us. You always have been, and this week was emblematic of how fundamental this is to your character. I love you.

The apology

On August 25th, Podcast Movement posted their apology thread. There is one deleted tweet in this thread that I do have screenshots of, but I am not including here, because I believe it was deleted for good reason: it @ mentioned the same podcaster as the one I had @ mentioned in my deleted tweet, which resulted in their accounts and team being harassed.

Podcast Movement received a massive amount of backlash from far-right accounts, of course. But there are miles and miles of difference between Podcast Movement, a large organization, receiving harassment, and individuals with very small relative followings receiving harassment. I don’t have an organization name to hide behind. I don’t have a team of people unaffected by transphobic hate speech and receiving a company salary to monitor my Twitter account. I had my roommate blocking accounts for me by taking my phone. I am lucky that Anne is both a trusted, beloved friend and someone who is not easily affected by hate speech.

I want to be extremely clear: I do not accept this apology. This was not an isolated infraction against the humanity of marginalized people by Podcast Movement. This was not an inevitable mistake, not a small mistake, not a mistake made out of ignorance. It is 2022. Anti-trans legislation is in the news constantly. To be ignorant is not an accident; it is a choice.

I have also received a response to this situation and the apology from Elena Fernández Collins (Ely), given it is their work that was so flagrantly disrespected:

“This apology isn’t for me, in the end—I wasn’t at the convention, I was just sitting afar in my home, terrified for my friends and in a state of confusion at the incongruence of having the Daily Wire and the pronoun pins I worked so hard to make sure they were as accessible as possible so near to each other. What had I missed? What had I not seen because of my own privilege? Had I continued to forgive things that I had no business forgiving? I have my own work ahead of me.

This apology isn’t for me–so I can’t accept it and I can’t reject it. I can just say, they did one, it seems sincere even though it is far too late, and I’ll be watching their actions in the future. They have a lot of culture issues at Podcast Movement, because in 22 years, they haven’t really tried to craft a space that rejects fascism and all its friends (racism, sexism, etc.). Most of all, I’ll be supporting anyone impacted, and continuing to focus my attention on Black and brown creatives, on queer and trans creatives, on disabled creatives, on immigrant creatives in this space.”

This should not have happened. The money should not have been taken. The booth should not have been allowed, and it certainly should not have been unavoidable. Ben Shapiro’s presence was more or less inevitable, and regardless, it was not the core issue.

And this apology solved nothing. The booth remained—and I firmly believe that forcing The Daily Wire to take it down would have incited more violence, not quelled the existing harm. The second the money was taken, everything that played out at the event was already set in stone.

As always, it was a no-win situation from the very beginning.

I am, as I have said, too forgiving a person. I am constantly grappling with my abolition-focused ethics and politics and the way those politics often result in allowing more harm for myself—and, regrettably, sometimes others as well.

I want to accept this apology—wouldn’t it be so nice to trust Podcast Movement again, to give them another chance, to give myself a dose of hope to keep me afloat amidst such a hellish week? But I can’t. I can’t for myself, and I can’t for everyone else affected. This apology is too little too late, and I know Podcast Movement knows that, too.

Or, at least, I know Dan Franks (and assume others on the team) knows it. But let’s take a moment to discuss Head of Community and Content, Jared Easley.

“You are right.”

First, Jared Easley quote retweeted Podcast Movement’s apology thread with the text, “If you do not agree with this [apology], please let our team know so that all sides are considered.”

He then replied to several far-right critics of the apology with a simple message: “You are right.”

These tweets have been deleted, of course. But we collected screenshots of them, of course. I’ve made myself clear enough at this point, I hope? These tweets from one of the head employees of Podcast Movement speak for themself.

The next steps

So where do we go from here? And where does Podcast Movement go from here? I wish I had a clearer answer.

I want to be able to say I’ll never attend Podcast Movement again, that nothing they could do could make me return. But in a relatively small industry compared to other media, Podcast Movement’s massive numbers result in programming we are unlikely to get anywhere else. Going to Podcast Movement is one of the wisest business decisions podcasters can make, and like, I need to live. Maybe I will feel differently in the future—I hope I will. But it feels disingenuous to say anything else right now.

I had beautiful, important experiences at Podcast Movement. I do every time I attend. I saw panels that changed my perspective, opened my eyes, and gave me new tactics and strategies for my work. I met people and networked in a way that is difficult to replicate online.

I understand this makes me look bad. It makes me feel bad, too. But it is very honestly where I am right now.

Now, where should Podcast Movement go from here? As a policy and practice, I do not interfere with others’ occupations, but I will say that I would love to see Jared Easley fired and removed entirely from Podcast Movement (guess who else saw me and then looked away in a panic?). I want Podcast Movement to develop statements and policies regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion. I want them to hire full-time DEI employees who are not contractors, and who get paid adequately and fairly for their work. I want them to develop standards for whose money they take and whose they reject. I want them to donate the money received from The Daily Wire directly to the attendees who were impacted by this clusterfuck, as well as Texas organizations for oppressed populations: abortion funds, organizations dedicated to queer liberation, organizations dedicated to racial justice.

This would be a good start. But can Podcast Movement ever fully make up for what they have done this year? Can they ever regain my trust, at least?

I don’t believe so. It is too little too late. If they are not better by now, by 2022, I fear that they never will be.

2 thoughts on “Too Little Too Late, Podcast Movement

  1. I am a very experienced Black UK producer developing audiodrama that is inclusive. I was considering attending in 2023. Investing in brand building by attending. Until I am satisfactorily assured that it is a safe space, I will not attend. Nor would I, if any violent, racist, misogynist morons are appeased be that MAGA or ISIS. It’s not rocket science, they are not espousing opinion and debate, they are minimising terror. LGBTQ+, BIPOC, LATINX and women between us make up an huge %age of the field, unlike most media. Diverse voices in audio are the future, the point is not to recreate the cess pit that is television and film.

    Liked by 3 people

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