FanX co-founders Bryan Brandenberg and Dan Farr are stepping back from public view regarding the convention they created, with Bryan Brandenberg taking what’s being described as an “executive leave of absence” from the convention’s board of directors. The action is in reaction to public outcry over Brandenberg’s response to author Shannon Hale, who was questioning FanX’s handling of a sexual harassment accusation against Utah author Richard Paul Evans.

Dan Farr and Bryan Brandenberg, co-founders of FanX.

Best-selling author Shannon Hale and other writers, troubled by how FanX organizers have reacted to allegations that a recurring guest repeatedly touched a female author without her consent, have been considering whether to appear at the convention in September. Hale wrote to co-founder Bryan Brandenburg about her continuing doubts.

His response was to write back to Hale and tell her, in part: “Maybe it is best that you sit this one out and then wait to hear how it went. I don’t think there is anything we can say to convince you to come and quite frankly I’m not willing to try. I know in my heart that we take this seriously and I don’t think you get it. I have four daughters and I’ve been sensitive to these issues for decades, long before it became trendy with #metoo.”

Hale took a screenshot of the reply and posted it to Twitter, including Hale’s email address, and that lit off dozens of furious responses — further fueling debate over the convention’s attempts to develop and promote a new anti-harassment policy while defending what Brandenburg describes as “a fun environment of touch”. The tweet was later deleted, but by that time the spirited conversation was already well under way.

Brandenberg took to Facebook last week to explain how the new anti-harassment policy will work, but undermined the statement with statements like “John Barrowman will gladly hold your buttocks in your Photo Op … Stephen Amell will hug you tight at his signing booth.”

Hale commented that by changing the subject to touch explicitly requested by fans, Hale said, FanX organizers are blurring the conversation about consent and minimizing women’s experiences of harassment. FanX should work on building a culture that gives guests confidence that harassment is not tolerated — but it’s doing the opposite, she said.

Though Brandenberg is taking what’s being described as an executive leave of absence, FanX has so far not explained exactly what that means, nor how long Brandenberg will be away or whether or not he will simply return after this controversy blows over. Convention creator Dan Farr, in the meantime, has issued carefully written public statements which accept responsibility for improving the situation — including the creation of an anti-harassment policy for their FanX events. FanX does not currently have such a policy, despite holding conventions that attract hundreds of thousands of attendees each year.

Without contacting Hale, FanX social media manager Manda Bull posted Tuesday that the convention was inviting her to join a new committee to improve its recently revised anti-harassment policy. The author said Wednesday she’s not interested.

Convention organizers say they will donate an unspecified amount to the Time’s Up campaign and reduce the public role of co-founders Bryan Brandenburg and Dan Farr.

FanX had made headlines last year when they went toe to toe with San Diego Comic-Con over the use of the word “Comic Con” in their event’s name (and lost).

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