Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Indiana's Anti-Gay Bill Could Ruin the Pokemon National Championships

It's almost April already, and for a lot of Pokemon fans that really means one thing: the Pokemon National Championships is coming up fast. This year the US Championships is going to be held in Indianapolis for the sixth time in a row, on July 3rd-5th. The last time the US National Championships was held in another city was in 2009 in St. Louis, Missouri.

Pokemon 2014 US National Championships (pokemon.com)
"What?" You might be saying to yourself, "Does anyone even still play the Pokemon Trading Card Game?" The 2014 US National Championships actually boasted the highest attendance ever at 2,166. And the Worlds Tournament boasted an even higher attendance rate of 3,000 (though only 155 attendees were actual players, it is difficult to qualify to compete at the Worlds Tournament. The tournament still draws huge fan numbers much like a sporting event). Pokemon remains a hugely popular franchise with it's Trading Card Game, as well as the Video Games, Television Show, and Movies.

Pokemon 2014 US National Championships (pokemon.com)
As a gigantic Pokemon fan as well as a competitive TCG player, I have spent months perfecting my decks. This year I can't make it to Nationals, as the cost has grown more substantial every year to make it to the massive tournament that qualifies players for the World Tournament (which is being held in Boston this year on August 21st-23rd).

There is a new reason, however, that is going to prevent many Pokemon players from attending the US Nationals tournament this year, or at the very least is going to complicate their travel plans substantially. This is Senate Bill 101. By now it's hard to have not heard of the controversial "Religious Freedom bill" that was just signed into law by right-wing Indiana Governor Mike Pence. The law allows businesses in the state of Indiana to refuse service to same-sex couples on religious grounds. Aside from the obvious discrimination in the most common description of the law, the ability to discriminate can spread much further than only to same sex couples. The actual wording of the law allows any business to discriminate against anyone for any reason whether it be perceived or actual due to "sincerely held religious beliefs." The law takes effect on July 1st, 2015; just in time for the Pokemon Nationals Tournament. Coupled with the fact that Indiana does not have any non-discrimination laws on the books, this makes for a dangerous combination.
The Intolerable Douchebag in Question (washingtontimes.com)
From NPR "During debate on the legislation, state Rep. Bruce Borders cited the example of an anesthesiologist who objected to putting under a woman who was preparing to undergo an abortion." There are dangerous potential repercussions to this law. A similar law passed through the State Senate in Arizona last year but was vetoed at the last moment by then-Governor Jan Brewer. Beyond the aforementioned incident this bill could allow businesses to discriminate based on race, gender, sexual preferences, and gender identities.

To quote a brilliant forum post by Makiri on Nugget Bridge "The Pokemon community is a diverse and inclusive one." There are very few examples of discrimination at Pokemon tournaments, and while it is not directly written into the rules, according to the Pokemon Professor (the Pokemon Professor program trains judges and tournament leaders, and creates a group of elite knowledgeable Pokemon TCG players and fans) FAQ, "Players, parents, spectators, and venue staff should be addressed courteously, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or physical or mental capacity." And in fact in the Penalty Guidlines under Unsporting Conduct, use of slurs or insults is a severe infraction with the starting recommended penalty of disqualification.

"Players, parents, spectators, and venue staff should be addressed courteously, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or physical or mental capacity."

Despite the Pokemon Company International's stance on discrimination, state law in Indiana could pose serious problems for attendees of the tournament. From simple issues such as being refused hotel accommodations after reservations were made months in advance, being refused food at restaurants, or being refused transportation by taxi drivers, attendees could face much more serious problems, such as being refused medical attention or aide in life-threatening situations. It's time to write to Nintendo and the Pokemon Company International and urge them to reconsider holding the National tournament in Indiana in the coming years. This can be done through the support modules of tPCI and Nintendo or through their twitter pages. As Makiri points out in their thoughtful blog post, it's too late for this year's tournament, too much time and resources have already been poured into making it happen, but in future years it's incredibly important for the Pokemon Company International to take a stance that shows that they will not accept discrimination against Pokemon TCG and Video Game players for any reason, be it for their race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disabilities, or any other reason perceived or otherwise. It is time for tPCI to stand up for their disenfranchised fans and players.

Tim Cook phrases the situation perfectly in his remarkable Op-Ed for the Washington Post, "This isn't a political issue. It isn't a religious issue. This is about how we treat each other as human beings. Opposing discrimination takes courage. With the lives and dignity of so many people at stake, it's time for all of us to be courageous."

If you are heading to Indianapolis this year for the US Pokemon National Championships, there is a list of businesses that have joined Open For Service, a campaign to celebrate businesses that oppose discrimination of any type. According to their website, Open For Service is a "non-partisan, nonjudgmental group looking to provide a grassroots network for people to support businesses that open their doors for everyone-Black, White, Gay, Straight, Christian, Atheist, Disabled . . . well, you get our drift." Whether you are queer or an ally, or simply a person who takes a stand against discrimination of any kind, it's important to show businesses that if they discriminate, they will lose their business. Reference the list of businesses on Open For Service and try to only bring your business to them during your stay in Indianapolis. A business that discriminates against anyone for any reason is a business that does not deserve your money.
In the long run, the idea of the Pokemon National Championships may seem like a silly thing to be worried about to non-Pokemon fans. However it is just one of many events held in Indiana that will be affected by Senate Bill 101. Even people that do not live in Indiana will be affected by the law whenever they travel to or through Indiana for events, conventions, tournaments, and vacations. The Pokemon franchise is one facet of the gem that makes up nerd and geek culture, and our history is a tumultuous one full of people who are disenfranchised and discriminated against at every turn. It is because of this that we must always take a stand against discrimination, and we must always show our stance strongly in the face of adversity.

Horatio is a dorky Pokemon and Star Wars fan residing in San Francisco. In addition to their toy reviews, they run a Stargate SG-1 Tumblr and are an avid participator in NaNoWriMo.

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