This past weekend, the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Rosemont, IL hosted Midwest FurFest 2014, a weekend-long celebration of “furry fandom, that is, art, literature, and performance based around anthropomorphic animals.” The convention is a little more than a decade old, but has grown about 1000% from its original 388 attendees to nearly 4,000 last year.
The show garnered a lot of attention this year because early Sunday morning, a chlorine gas leak was reported in the hotel and the entire building had to be evacuated. As the show had several events that ran until 1:00 and 2:00 in the morning, a number of those evacuated were in full costume. Which the media immediately siezed upon. All of the reports spiced up their spots with pictures and videos of furries hanging out in the hotel parking lot under the glare of red and blue flashing lights.
In looking through a lot of these news reports, I noticed several interesting things worth noting. No one seemed to disparage the Furfest attendees. There was a time, very much not long ago, when furries were treated as bizarre sexual deviants who should be mocked and ridiculed at the least. That stigma wasn’t present in what I found. The reports all seemed to note that Furfest was going on at the hotel, but that seemed to be presented mostly as an explanation for why so many people in the pictures had costumes on.
Reports also noted that police strongly suspect the gas leak was actually deliberate; a broken jar and what appeared to be powdered chlorine was found in the stairwell. But none of the reports tried associating the incident with Furfest or its attendees. Either by way of accusing an attendee of planting it, or as some form of harassment against the furries. Clearly, it’s too early to tell, but that that no one jumped to any conclusions here seems noteworthy.
But what’s also striking is that I could only find one report that noted that the Hyatt was also hosting the Skokie Valley Kennel Club Dog Show. I can’t seem to find recent attendance figures, but judging from some of the photos, I would guess it’s pretty comparable in size to Furfest. And yet, there was little mention of it. There were no shots of any of the dogs which were almost certainly present in the parking lot with the furries and other hotel guests. It’s possible the dog show is so localized that most attendees were able to sleep at home, but it still seems that there ought to have been an unusual number of dogs at the hotel that evening.
So why focus on one event instead of the other? I could understand if one were, say, a business convention where the attendees just wore typical business attire that wouldn’t be as eye-catching as a pack of furries. But that they chose to highlight the furries over real dogs seems a little curious. Is that just a more subtle version of treating the furries like a sideshow? The dogs would probably all be well behaved and likely just sat where their owners told them for the entire incident. Was it just that that the furries were up and moving about, providing a little more visual interest than a dog sitting obediently? Or was it slapdash journalism where the reporters happened to see the furries walking around, and asked them what was going on, but didn’t bother to follow up with the people standing with their dogs?
Like many things, it’s interesting to note that while there seem to be some improvements in acceptance, we’re still left to wonder if things are as open as we’d like them to be.