ClexaCon, a new convention celebrating LGBTQ women in entertainment, generated such interest among both fans and actors that “Grey’s Anatomy” star Sara Ramirez turned up in Las Vegas to attend the event, which was held over the weekend.
“Got 4 hours of sleep 2 b at last day of ClexaCon & so worth it! Loving it,” Ramirez tweeted Sunday. The actress, who played Dr. Callie Torres on “Grey’s Anatomy” and is, like the character, bisexual, stayed all day Sunday and sat in the audience for a series of lively panels, including conversations about the representation of queer women of color in the media and why authentic representation for LGBTQ women matters. The panel about depictions of queer women of color in the media spontaneously re-convened as the convention drew to a close, and Ramirez participated in that conversation, staying on as long as she could to talk with panelists and take photos with attendees.
Ramirez was one of 2,200 attendees at ClexaCon, which took place March 3-5 at the Bally’s Hotel and Casino.
“In the beginning, the expectation was that this would be a fan meet-up of a couple of hundred people,” according to Nicole Hand, one of the co-founders of ClexaCon. “The support and the interest from creators, actors, and the fan community has just been unbelievable. And the turnout was much higher than we expected.”
The main draw at ClexaCon was a series of panels featuring actors who’ve played lesbian and bisexual women on TV or in films, as well as performers and creators who are themselves LGBTQ. A multitude of smaller but well-attended panels — on comic books, on “Steven Universe,” on the representation of LGBTQ women throughout TV history, and the like — filled out the three-day ClexaCon schedule, which also included a charity fundraiser on Saturday night.
“I’ve had some of the best conversations of my life today,” Dominique Provost-Chalkley said on Saturday after the ClexaCon charity party, where she and “Wynonna Earp” co-star Katherine Barrell stayed late to chat with fans. Barrell and Provost-Chalkley play a couple on “Wynonna Earp,” a cult supernatural drama on Syfy.
Among the other actors appearing at the convention were Amy Acker of “Person of Interest” and Marvel’s upcoming super-powered Fox drama, Sarah Shahi (“Person of Interest,” “The L Word”), Jasika Nicole (“Underground,” “Fringe”), Ali Liebert (“Legends of Tomorrow,” “Bomb Girls”), Zoie Palmer (“Dark Matter,” “Lost Girl”), Rachel Skarsten (“Reign”), and Aasha Davis (“Pariah,” “South of Nowhere”). Emily Andras, executive producer of “Lost Girl” and “Wynonna Earp,” participated in two panels devoted to those shows and also led a writing seminar. Elizabeth Hendrickson and Eden Riegel participated in an “All My Children” reunion. Writer-director Alice Wu (“Saving Face”) and writer/creators Hanan Kattan and Shamim Sarif (“I Can’t Think Straight”) also appeared on panels and met with fans, who came from as far as Australia, the United Kingdom, the Philippines, France, and the Netherlands.
When she heard it was a convention celebrating queer women, that was all it took for Jasika Nicole to get on board. “I said, ‘I’m in!’” Nicole said in an interview with Variety. “It’s been such a warm and welcoming environment.”
When Acker and Shahi were told that ClexaCon focused on queer women on TV, “we were both surprised that it didn’t already exist,” Acker told Variety.
Ramirez said she heard about the conference on social media, and her presence caused a stir — although it was a subdued stir, given how polite and respectful the attendees were.
“I think [Ramirez’s presence] is amazing,” said attendee Lisa Franklin, who lives in New York. “You hear about actors being out and you think, ‘This is something we have in common,’ but to see her show up and just want to observe things — it’s like, ‘Oh, we have so much in common.”
“Her job made such a difference in my personal life,” added Franklin, who said she watched “Grey’s Anatomy” with her mom. “I wasn’t out when we started watching it together,” but as she and her mother experienced the development of the relationship between Torres and Dr. Arizona Robbins (Jessica Capshaw), Franklin saw that her mom accepted it, and it made the post-coming out conversations easier.
“It’s the only time we’ve ever had conversations about queer characters on television that we were both invested in,” Franklin said.
“Just the fact that she came here just to be here, just to hang out and enjoy the fun, is really cool,” Sofia Rojas, a fan and YouTube video maker. “At home, I have a community of gay friends, but they don’t get how much television actually impacts people — they don’t get that concept. When I come here, it’s so easily to talk about freely.”
“Creating safe spaces for honest, inclusive and sometimes difficult conversations about representation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer+ women in the media, by LGBTQ+ women and allies, empowers us to own and control our complex intersectional narratives in the content we create, participate in, and choose to consume,” Ramirez told Variety.
“I’m sad I wasn’t here before today,” Elizabeth Keener (“Please Give,” “The L Word”) said Sunday at a panel devoted to a conversation among out gay and bisexual actresses that also included Nicole, Liebert and Rachel Paulson. “This thing is [expletive] awesome.”
At a Friday panel devoted to her Syfy show, Andras gave fans the credit for “Wynonna Earp’s” second season renewal, and rewarded them with the news that the first season would arrive on Netflix in May.
“To see this response — I’ve never seen anything like this,” Andras told the 700 “Wynonna Earp” fans packed into the convention’s main ballroom.
She urged fans to start writing scripts and creating more content featuring gay and bisexual women. “This room is proof that there’s an audience for your stories,” Andras said. “Don’t let anyone tell you that there isn’t. So we’re all going to go out there and tell our stories and that’s how we’ll win.”
Hand said that as actors, panelists and other guests left the convention, many said not only “goodbye” but “see you next year.”
“That’s the plan,” Hand said. “The hope is to return next year, bigger and better.”