Submit Your Panel Proposals for #FtBCon by July 22!

FtBCon 3 is fast approaching: August 22-24, 2014. As always, we’re going to have a full weekend of panels, talks, and Cards Against Humanity. This time, we’re going to be more organized about how we plan the sessions, so we’re giving you until July 22 to submit a proposal for a panel or talk.

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To submit your proposal, just email ftbconscience[at]gmail.com with a title and description of your panel or talk, potential participants, and any relevant speaking or writing experience you have.

Some anticipated questions:

What sorts of topics do FtBCon sessions cover?

We’re going to have some blog posts up in the next few weeks with suggestions, but basically, anything you see on FtB itself is good material for the conference: atheism, science, philosophy, politics, social justice. If you haven’t seen any previous FtBCon panels, you can see last summer’s here and last winter’s here.

What do I need in order to organize a panel?

You and the other participants need a Google+ account, an internet connection that can handle a Google+ hangout, a webcam, a microphone (usually included with the webcam!), and headphones or earbuds. You don’t have to worry about setting up the hangout yourself or streaming it via YouTube; an FtB host will do that for you. We’ll be testing the Google+ hangouts with all of the participants a week or two before the conference.

Do I have to know exactly what I’ll call the panel or who the participants will be?

No, but you should have some ideas. The more fleshed-out the proposal will be, the more likely we are to accept it. (The past two cons, we had a lot of really vague proposals that we put on the schedule and never really got a good description for, so it was hard to promote them or anticipate what topics would be covered.) You might want to email some potential participants before sending in the proposal.

Do I have to have speaking/writing experience?

Nope! We’re looking for people who can organize an interesting and meaningful discussion or talk. Having speaking or writing experience is a plus, though.

How much time do I have for the panel?

Most FtBCon sessions are 50 minutes each, including Q&A time if you want it. We’ll also have some 80-minute sessions like we did last time.

Can I participate if I need to remain anonymous?

Yes! Make sure that your Google+ account doesn’t use your real name. Google Hangouts include a tool that hides your face with an image of your choice (I like using the troll memes, personally). You can also just turn off the video part of the hangout and do it audio-only. If voice recognition is a concern, you can download software that will distort it.

[Update] Can I do a solo talk, or does it have to be a panel?

We sorta prefer panels for several reasons: they tend to be more interesting and engaging than solo talks in the Google+ format, they allow more people’s voices to be included in the conference, and they’re less likely to have to be canceled at the last minute because one person gets sick or busy or their internet fails. If you really want to do a solo talk, you should have previous speaking experience, and you should have a reason why you’d like to do the talk by yourself.

If you have any other questions, leave them in the comments rather than emailing them (if possible) so that others who may have the same question can see.

I hope to see lots of you in the chatroom and on the panels in August! For updates, please follow our Facebook, Twitter, and blog.

#FtBCon Review and More Secular Things

We survived FtBCon2! There were tech disasters and no-show panelists and not enough food or sleep, but it was, like last time, a really fun weekend during which I learned a lot (and hope you did too). If you saw our final session, you know that we’re already thinking about the next con, so stay tuned for announcements about that within the next few weeks.

There were a few moments for me this weekend that were especially rewarding: our two-hour-long panel on polyamory on Friday night, hearing all the criticisms of the mainstream atheist movement (in panels like this one with young women of color, and this one with atheists who deal with chronic illness or disability), getting to play Cards Against Humanity online with people, and helping amplify the voices of people who otherwise might not reach an audience. Some other panels/talks I particularly enjoyed were godless parenting, sexual harassment law, Jewish atheism (that was one of mine!), and the secular support movement.

I’m also just really impressed, as usual, by the amount and quality of the work that was put into this. Stephanie, Jason, and Brianne worked their asses off, and all the non-FtB friends we had organizing panels, such as Courtney Caldwell, Benny, and all the folks from Secular Woman, put an incredible amount of work into this so much. Thank you to all of them, to everyone who helped out in the chatroom, to everyone who spread the word, and to everyone who watched.

Here, for your edification, is a playlist of ALL THE TALKS:

Last year, FtBCon helped spur the creation of the Secular Asian Community on Facebook. This time, it prompted a friend of mine to create a Facebook group called Secular Exchange NYC. It’s for New York-area atheists/agnostics/nontheists to exchange job postings, apartment listings, goods, services, and other needs, in recognition of the fact that as atheists, we don’t have ready-made communities like churches and synagogues that can provide us with these things.

If you’re a nontheist who lives in or spends a lot of time in the NYC area, you’re welcome to join the group. It’s still new and really small, but the bigger it gets, the more benefit there will be from it.

In other secular news, SkepTech is just two months away and they’re raising money! SkepTech is a technology-/skepticism-themed student conference. I went to the first one last year and had an amazing time. They had “safe zones” where people could get some quiet time and unwind, their speakers were diverse and awesome, Zach Weinersmith drew me a picture, and hijinks ensued. The IndieGoGo page also boasts that last year’s conference features “1,000,000,000+ salacious postures,” so you should go and see them for yourself. If you can, please help out their fundraising campaign and/or attend. Registration is already open (and free!), and the speaker lineup will be released later this week. From what I know of it already, it’s going to be really, really good.

Finally, here’s a cool documentary called Hug An Atheist that’s raising money to go to festivals. The documentary is important because it exposes people to the views and lives of actual atheists and does a lot to dispel the stigma that lots of people still feel towards atheists and atheism in general.

That’s it for now. I hope to write some more soon. I’m going to a polyamory conference in Philadelphia this weekend, so maybe that’ll provide some inspiration.

Don’t forget to join Secular Exchange NYC if it applies to you!

#FtBCon Preview!

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As previously mentioned, our second FtBCon is this weekend. You can find the full schedule on the Lanyrd page. Here’s a roundup of the stuff I’m doing, and a few more panels and talks you shouldn’t miss.

(All times are in Central)

Friday night at 9 PM, I’m leading a panel on polyamory with a bunch of great people: Heina Dadabhoy, Ania Bula, Alexander Gonzalez, Jesse Menard, Benny, and Sasha Pixlee. We’ll talk about what polyamory actually means and how we do it, and also touch on issues like the intersections between polyamory and our other identities.

Saturday at 6 PM, Chana Messinger and I are going to have a long-overdue conversation about Jewish atheism. We hope to correct misconceptions that many non-Jewish atheists have (for instance, yes, you can be both Jewish and an atheist) and discuss the place Jewish ritual and community has in our lives.

Saturday night at 11 PM, I’ll be leading a G+ Hangout-based game of Cards Against Humanity. Each game is limited to ten people total (although more can watch and chat with us via the chatbox), so hopefully I can wrangle some other FtBers in leading their own sessions. (Since this won’t be saved to YouTube, streaming will work a little differently for this. Look out for a link at the start time.)

Sunday at 11 AM, I’ll be talking about mental illness and society with Stephanie and Kate. Specifically, we’ll focus on the DSM, the manual used to diagnose mental illness, and the idea of defining what it means to be able to “function” in society.

Sunday at 5 PM, Ginny, Benny, and I will be talking about skepticism and sex education, sharing our experiences as sex educators, and pointing out the problems with how we approach sex ed in the United States.

Finally, here are some sessions from others that you should make sure to catch:

Saturday at 10 AM, a panel of secular leaders discusses secular support groups and networks. If you care about providing affirmative, evidence-based services to atheists struggling to cope with difficulties in their lives, you’ll want to see this.

Saturday at 11 AM, Russell Glasser, Jen Peeples, Elyse Anders, and Dale McGowan talk about raising atheist kids. I’ll be taking notes for…hopefully the very distant future.

Saturday at 2 PM, Ken White, attorney and blogger at Popehat, discusses sexual harassment law.

Saturday at 3 PM, Ania Bula leads a panel on chronic pain, disability, and the atheist movement. It was planned as a follow-up to last year’s fantastic panel on chronic pain, and I expect this one will be just as informative, if not even more so.

Saturday at 9 PM, Greta Christina will stream her Godless Perverts Story Hour live from San Francisco. Do not miss it.

Sunday at 9 AM, Ania Bula, Heina Dadabhoy, Vyckie Garrison, and Jamila Bey will discuss spiritual abuse. This important topic deserves more recognition than it gets, so make sure to wake up early for this one.

Finally, Sunday at 3 PM, Courtney Caldwell will lead a panel on the intersections between veganism and humanism. I’m really excited to hear what they have to say.

I really hope to see lots of you online this weekend! Don’t forget to follow our Twitter and Facebook for updates, including conference panels as they go live. The Pharyngula chatroom will be available for your questions and discussions.

Happy FtBCon!

#FtBCon Wrap-up and Thank Yous

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Hopefully you caught at least part of our first-ever FtBCon this weekend; if not, here’s a convenient playlist of all of the things. I had a blast with it despite being chained to my computer for two and a half days; I met a bunch of people, learned a lot, and got to talk about some important stuff. Not that different from a meatspace conference, actually!

The best part were all the comments I saw from people who said that they never have the option to go to meatspace cons. Many said this was their first atheist/skeptical conference. Many said that physical/mental disabilities, money, work, children, and so on kept them from traveling to cons.

Of course, FtBCon isn’t anywhere near a perfect simulation of a meatspace conference. It can’t be. Nothing can replace that feeling of walking into a huge room full of likeminded people milling about, vendors selling books and jewelry and clothing, friends you rarely get to see in person. Nothing beats taking photos with your heroes and having people recognize you from the Internet. We have to keep doing our best to make conferences accessible in every possible way.

But FtBCon came damn close. The chat room was always full of great conversation, just like the hotel lobby after the day’s talks have wrapped up. Many of the panels would keep going after they went off air, with the panelists telling each other everything they didn’t get to say during the panel and then dissolving into conversation about family or books or life. People found new bloggers and speakers to follow, people made friends, people made plans for the future.

For instance, the folks from the amazing chronic pain panel mentioned wanting to create some sort of group for skeptics with chronic pain, and my mental illness panelists and I want to do a series of private and public hangouts about mental health from a skeptical perspective. And throughout the conference, many of us were already busy thinking up ideas for the next one (in fact, there’s a lively conversation going on in the FtB backchannel about that already).

Some of the highlights for me, aside from my own panels, were listening to Shelley Segal perform a beautiful song called “My Morality,” listening to Kate (check out her brand-new FtB blog!) give a great solo talk about the DSM, giving the folks from the Pathfinders Project the chance to promote their amazing work, hearing Ashley and Kelley talk about representation in some of my favorite YA novels, and, of course, drinking with everyone at the end and dissolving into laughter every 10 seconds.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve only been a part of this community for about a year. I never could’ve guessed, a year ago, that this summer I’d be helping organize such an awesome event–and one with so much potential to be even better next time.

Here are the panels I organized, by the way. On Friday night we did Sex & Skepticism, which I’ve been hearing is many attendees’ favorite panel:

The last panel of the night was Supporting Freethinkers with Mental Illness:

And on Sunday afternoon, we did another one on mental illness: “What’s the Harm? Religion, Pseudoscience, and Mental Health”:

In conclusion, I had a fucking fantastic time. I want to thank the rest of the organizers–Jason, Ian, Stephanie, Brianne, Russell, Ed, and especially PZ, who basically put this whole thing together before we got off our asses to help. (We promise to do better next time, PZ.) I also want to thank everyone who submitted proposals for panels, including the ones we weren’t able to accommodate (sorry about that! There were only a few of us and very many of you). And I especially want to thank my panel participants–Kate, Brendan, Drama, Olivia, Ed, Greta, Benny, Sophie, Franklin, Ginny, Nicole, Courtney, Ania, Niki, and Allegra. It’s gotta take guts to go on streaming video in front of hundreds of people to talk about sex and mental illness, but you all did it and it was great.

And, of course, thanks to everyone who was so excited–everyone who shared the event on Facebook, everyone who kept the chatroom hopping with discussions, everyone who tweeted, everyone who told us that this is important and necessary.

If you attended, please fill out this survey to tell us how we did. The next FtBCon will be much better, and it may be sooner than you think…

What I’m Doing This Weekend! #ftbcon

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FtBCon is almost upon us! Here’s a handy guide to everything I’m doing this weekend, aside from ALL OF THE SOCIAL MEDIA. All times are CDT (UTC – 5). The rest of the schedule, with links to where all the sessions will be, can be found here.

I’m hosting three panels for others (not speaking, just setting up and relaying audience questions):

Promoting Social Justice in Small Atheist Groups: Friday 10pm to 10:50pm with Paul Wright, Daniel Midgley, Madge Carew-Hopkins (they’re all from Australia!)

A lot has been said about promoting social justice in large groups of atheists, like forums, blogs and conventions. It’s not always easy to keep out the trolls and harassers and to say what needs to be said, but it can be done. But what do you do in a small university atheist club, or a local skeptic meetup group? Paul Wright, Madge Carew-Hopkins and Daniel Midgley talk about atheist groups in Perth, Australia and how the arguments that rage in the wider community have parallels in local atheist groups.

Reproductive Rights: Saturday 2pm to 3pm (with Brianne Bilyeu, Greg Laden, Bree Pearsall, Fausta Luchini, Aoife O’Riordan, Robin Marty and Nicole Harris)

A panel of reproductive rights activists come together to discuss access to abortion in current events , clinic escorting and some common religious and non-religious arguments against abortion. Our panel consists of clinic escorts – including one panelist who volunteered before FACE laws went into effect (Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances), health care professionals, an author and several bloggers who write about reproductive rights. Our panelists hail from Minnesota, Kentucky, Virginia and Ireland.

Meet the Pathfinders: Sunday 11am to 12pm (with Ben Blanchard, Conor Robinson, and Wendy Webber)

Three of the volunteers of the Pathfinders Project, a yearlong international service and research trip sponsored by Foundation Beyond Belief, will be discussing the project, themselves, why they are involved, and why humanist service is so important.

I’m also moderating three more:

Sex & Skepticism: Friday 6pm to 8pm (with Greta Christina, Ginny Brown, Franklin Veaux, Benny, and Sophie Hirschfeld)

Sexuality is an area of human experience where pseudoscience and woo frequently prevail. How can skepticism and atheism enhance sex? What are the harms of allowing quackery and unexamined biases into the bedroom? Our panelists have a wide range of experiences with sexuality and skepticism, and their views on these questions will be diverse and thought-provoking.

Supporting Freethinkers with Mental Illness: Friday 11pm to 12am (with Kate Donovan, Brendan Murphy, Olivia James, and Drama)

“Have you tried yoga?” “You just need to pray harder.” “You should try this herbal supplement.” People with mental illnesses get advice like this all the time. Although it’s not particularly helpful to anyone, with skeptics and atheists it’s especially misguided. What should we say to freethinkers dealing with mental illness? How do we support them in an evidence-based way? How can we use skepticism and critical thinking to reduce the stigma of mental illness? How can we improve access to treatment that actually works?

What’s the Harm? Religion, Pseudoscience, and Mental Health: Sunday 1pm to 2pm (with Ania Bula, Nicole Harris, Niki M., Allegra Selzer, Courtney Caldwell, and Rachel Maccabee)

Religious and pseudoscientific communities often claim to promote mental health, whether through treatment or social support. Our panelists will discuss their experiences with mental illness and how religion and pseudoscience have influenced them. They will talk about the religious and pseudoscientific treatments they have gone through and how friends and family from those communities have responded to their mental illness.

And I’m speaking in this one, moderated by Crommunist:

God is Love? Relationships in a Godless World: Saturday 4pm to 6pm (with Ania Bula, James Croft, Jamila Bey, Beth Presswood, and Anti-Intellect)

Despite the popular assertion, one does not need to believe in a god to have love in their lives; however, disbelief surely shapes the kinds of loving relationships atheists can have. What effect does lack of a god belief have on things like sexual desire, shame, and the types of relationships we feel comfortable with? A panel of people with different experiences and perspectives discusses some of the issues and takes your questions!

I hope to see lots of you online this weekend! Don’t forget that you can talk to other attendees in the Pharyngula chat room.

#FtBCon Schedule Released!

Hopefully you’ve already heard all about our network’s online conference this weekend. If not, here’s the blurb:

FtBCon is a free, online conference organized by the Freethought Blogs network. It will take place on July 19-21, 2013 and will focus on social justice, technology, and the future of the freethought movement. Without travel, registration, or hotel costs, FtBCon will be accessible to freethinkers around the world. Conference sessions will be held through Google+ hangouts, and attendees will have the opportunity to interact with each other in chat rooms and to submit questions to moderators.

We’ve released our schedule for the weekend, with the caveat that there will be plenty more added to it. To stay up-to-date, track the Lanyrd page. But here’s what we have so far, to get you excited!

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