DanteCon: Embracing Diversity and Community
What is DanteCon?
DanteCon is not your typical convention. It is a celebration of diversity, creativity, and community, inspired by the charismatic host, Dante Plush. As both a Blerd (Black nerd) and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Dante Plush has created an inclusive space where individuals can come together to connect, have fun, and support worthy causes.
The origins of DanteCon trace back to Dante Plush’s playful response to years of teasing from friends and family who called him “dramatic.” He decided to turn the tables and host an extravagant gathering, challenging them with the words, “Oh yeah? I’ll show you how to be theatrical!” Surprisingly, the idea gained unexpected popularity, prompting Dante to transform it into something more meaningful.
DanteCon goes beyond being just a fan convention dedicated to Dante Plush. It is a place where attendees can celebrate the influences that have shaped him over the past three decades. By embracing his dual identity as a Blerd and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Dante Plush has created a platform that amplifies diverse voices and experiences.
Guiding the vibrant energy of DanteCon, Dante Plush serves as a welcoming and magnetic host. His infectious enthusiasm ensures that every attendee feels valued and included. As a symbol of empowerment for underrepresented individuals, Dante Plush bridges the gap between fandom and inclusivity, creating an environment where everyone can freely express themselves and find a sense of belonging.
DanteCon offers a unique opportunity for fans to come together and connect on a deeper level. It is a celebration of shared interests, where attendees can forge new friendships and support meaningful causes. The convention provides a platform for artists, cosplayers, and enthusiasts to showcase their talents, fostering a sense of creativity and inspiration.
Through DanteCon, Dante Plush and his team are dedicated to making a positive impact. The convention supports various charitable initiatives, collaborating with nonprofit organizations to raise awareness and funds for causes close to their hearts. By blending fandom with philanthropy, DanteCon exemplifies the power of community coming together for a greater good.
In the spirit of inclusivity and community, DanteCon encourages attendees to embrace diversity and celebrate their unique identities. It is a space where acceptance, respect, and understanding thrive, fostering an environment that inspires personal growth and connection.
DanteCon is not just another convention. It is a testament to the power of self-expression, the importance of representation, and the transformative nature of community support. Whether you are a die-hard fan of Dante Plush or simply curious about exploring new horizons, DanteCon promises an experience where diversity, creativity, and community take center stage. Come join the celebration and be a part of something truly special.
Q&A With the “Founder”
1. As an active member of the LGBTQ+ community, how does your personal identity and experiences influence your approach to organizing an anime/comic convention with a birthday theme?
Well, I mean, I live in NYC so for the foreseeable future, I’ll be safe, but right now, people are getting bold and essentially using their snot nosed children as an excuse to try to push LGBTQ+ people back in the closet. That’s especially the case with trans people in certain states. They said it was about “protecting the children” but now you’re seeing some states like Missouri suddenly trying to prevent gender affirming care for people of all ages and not just kids, by making them adhere to a bunch of restrictions and rules like not being allowed to undergo gender treatment until “any and all mental health issues are resolved.” Depression is a mental health issue which can be caused by not being in the body you feel like you should be in…so how are you supposed to get rid of that if you cannot get inside a body you feel you belong in…until you get rid of that depression? And you also see a bunch of people calling gays “groomers” and “pedophiles” and forcing the idea that all drag is inherently sexual. Anyways, my point is that I’m the type of person that sees that my community is under severe attack and I feel the need to do something about it. So the con in a sense is my way of doing something about it, but in a more strategic way. So for example, at one of the events in the con, we’re teaming up with an organization called the Love Wins Food Pantry to give out fresh produce and food to the people of Queens. There’s nothing inherently LGBTQ+ about giving away food to the hungry, but also, many of the recipients of this food also happen to be queer people who are struggling financially and queer homeless people. And alot of people who are hearing about this event within the con are excited because they want to give back but never really know how to during their daily, busy lives, and this event provides them an opportunity to do so. And I know that I’m essentially recruiting people to help feed hungry queer individuals among others. Another example is that a majority of the con events themselves are being held in queer owned businesses. So anyone who attends will be putting money into the pockets of queer individuals. As well, the con is being sponsored by quite a few queer owned businesses, so most prizes that people will walk away from the con with will have been provided by the LGBTQ+ community. This also is just an extra detail, but one of the con events is a meet-up prior to Queens Pride so that we can all headover and experience the parade and events together. From what I’m hearing, quite a few people who are registering for that particular event have never been to Pride Parades or events before and have always wanted to go but have never had people to go with and have never been comfortable enough to go alone. So this event is providing them a group of people to get to know and navigate the parade and events with. This is big to me because it’s helping queer individuals experience their first pride events where they may really come out of their shell, learn how to be proud of their sexualities or gender identities, and also maybe meet some people who may become supportive friends that may help them come to terms with being queer. So yeah, I’m not sure if I answered your question fully but that’s how my being gay has influenced the planning of the con. Otherwise, I’m getting quite a few black cosplayers, makeup artists, and other types of creatives i’ve met from blerd circles coming as special guests to some of the con events to mingle with con attendees and talk about their work as creatives and whatnot. I think it’s going to be successful because it gives a nerdy, unique, and creative edge to the con for the attendees, but also gives free promotion to the blerd creatives, so it’s a win win in my eyes.
2. What inspired you to transform your birthday celebration into an anime/comic convention? Can you share any personal anecdotes or experiences that influenced this decision?
I’m not gonna hold you: my birthday has been a big joke every year. All of my friends and fraternity brothers love to call me dramatic, so one day I said “I’ll show you dramatic” and started making my birthdays into big spectacles. So like one year my birthday was a comedy roast of me. One year, it was a day-long “Project X” type party. The following year, it was a wedding themed party and my birthday cake was a three tiered wedding cake. The year after that, the theme was spa day…you get where I’m going with this. So this year, since I would’ve needed to get a permit from the city to hold my own birthday parade in Manhattan, I instead opted to create a convention about myself. I thought it was so absurd and egotistical that people would find it funny, but instead people have been finding it to be fascinating and really cool which has inspired me to take the con as far as I can, and has allowed me to put my true self into it. So now you’re seeing cosplayers being invited as special guests to events. My logo may remind you of a certain pop culture figure too. There’s cadences throughout the entire con that will reference my overall Blerdy nature.
3. As a member of the Blerd community, how important is it for you to create a space within your convention that celebrates and highlights Black nerd culture? How do you plan to ensure meaningful representation for Blerd attendees?
Okay, this may not be what readers want to hear, but I’m just gonna say it anyways. I am black nerd culture. I wear my nerdiness on my sleeve. I make sure everyone knows that I was on the chess team in high school and that my favorite game of all time is Dragon Quest 8. I think just loudly and proudly being myself and wearing my nerdiness on my sleeve without fear of it meaning “i’m not black enough” is showing black nerd culture. And then going on to create a convention about myself is obviously going to include those Blerdy influences since I’m already not afraid to display them on a regular basis. Now in terms of the con, there’s an event called the “Bad Bitch Ball” which will literally be a space where Blerds and others can come dressed in cosplay (sexy cosplay is encouraged and celebrated) or in other types of aesthetics that you don’t see celebrated as much in your traditional blerd spaces but Blerds have been going out and putting their own creative, Blerdy spins on. Some of these aesthetics are afrofuturism, rave, alternative/emo, goth, vintage, fae, cottagecore, vogue/ballroom, etc., or just as a sexy bad bitch. And when attendees RSVP, there’s policies in place about being non-judgemental and also about seeking consent and just altogether not being creeps that they must agree to, that way everyone feels safe expressing themselves. As for ensuring meaningful representation, as I mentioned before, I’ve been directly asking Blerd creatives and cosplayers that I’ve met through Blerd circles to attend events as con “special guests” in their creative looks, and to be prepared to talk to attendees about their work or their art. These special guests are meant to help feel attendees feel more comfortable with expressing themselves, but they’re also simultaneously exposing all con attendees to Blerd culture and expression and the nuances between nerds and Blerds. There will also be literal representation of these special guests on the site to allow attendees and people on the fence about attending to check out their work and maybe follow their creative journeys.
4. Can you share some insights into how you have actively engaged with the Blerd community and LGBTQ+ community during the planning process? Have you collaborated with Blerd artists, creators, LGBTQ+ artists, or organizations to bring unique programming or exhibits to the convention?
So for example, at one of the events in the con, we’re teaming up with an organization called the Love Wins Food Pantry to give out fresh produce and food to the people of Queens. There’s nothing inherently LGBTQ+ about giving away food to the hungry, but also, many of the recipients of this food also happen to be queer people who are struggling financially and queer homeless people. The organization itself however is Queer led. Another example is that a majority of the con events themselves are being held in queer owned businesses. So anyone who attends will be putting money into the pockets of queer individuals. As well, the con is being sponsored by quite a few queer owned businesses, so most prizes that people will walk away from the con with will have been provided by the LGBTQ+ community. And queer people have actively had a hand in advising me on the events in the con events and some of the decisions regarding con themes. As for Blerds, aside from me having my Blred special guests to help expose attendees to Blerd culture and talent, I also have some Blerds working behind the scenes on the con. For example, I have a Blerd who has a passion for cryptocurrencies, working on getting commemorative DanteCon NFT’s made for attendees of different events. We thought that would be way cooler and more modern than a DanteCon t-shirt.
5. In what ways will your convention address the intersectionality of being both a Blerd and a member of the LGBTQ+ community? Are there any specific panels or discussions that will explore this theme?
Because the con is about me, I think just giving people an opportunity to learn about my life and history will easily expose that intersectionality, and in a way that will probably be engaging to most, since most attendees will know me in some way, shape or form. I mean, there will be a portion of an event where I will talk about how my mom wanted me to play football in high school instead of joining the chess team, and I instead did the polar opposite and came out of the closest as being gay. I also have a blerdy flair for social good so that will be evident at different events in the con. For example, my brand of blerdy social good helps everyone but prioritizes traditionally underserved BIPOC people and my passion for social good will manifest in the con as both the voltunteering to feed the hungry lgbtq+ people among others in Queens and the virtual thank you plenary, where I will be sure to talk about how my sexuality guides the social good work that I’ve been doing lately. There won’t as much be panels at the con as there will be organic conversation between guests and also with myself because I think that’s far more engaging for the con attendees than some of the panels that I’ve been to in other cons. But in place of that, there’s opportunities on the website to read about my story, including a super in depth interview from Canvas Rebel where this intersection is referenced again. I think even down to the con’s logo, that blerd/LGBTQ+ intersection is referenced. I mean if you look closely at it, the mask there may remind you of a certain slasher film pop culture icon and the shadow of the letting in “DanteCon” is actually rainbow
6. How do you plan to create a safe and welcoming space for attendees from diverse backgrounds, including members of the LGBTQ+ and Blerd communities, during your anime/comic convention? What measures will you put in place to ensure inclusivity and respect?
When attendees RSVP for specific DanteCon events, there’s policies in place about being non-judgemental and also about seeking consent and just altogether not being creeps that they must agree to, that way everyone feels safe expressing themselves. So in that way, I’m setting those expectation from the jump and people are agreeing to them in order to attend, and if they can’t adhere to those policies that they agreed to, there may be a certain point where they’re asked to leave the con. Blerd special guests at events will promote a welcoming environment for blerds and the fact that most of the venues that are sponsoring the con are LGBTQ+ owned venues, that hopefully should promote a welcoming environment, not just for LGBTQ+ people but for ALL because our community is used to feeling left out and treated as weird, so usually we try to go out of our way to accept most everyone else who has been seen as not normal by society for their sexuality or gender identity. I think the biggest measure to promote inclusivity however, is me. The con is about me. And I’m naturally an inclusive person. My whole life, I’ve been friends with the weirdos and I’ve gone out of my way to make outsiders and new people feel welcomed, especially when I was in college. So since this is my con, and I get to set the tone, you best believe the norm for the con will be being inclusive of all and respecting all, except in extreme cases. I personally would look dumb being respectful or inclusive at the con of someone who thinks I’m inherently evil for being gay and I’m going to burn in hell for it, or other nonsense like that. Ya’ll can do that, but that’s not me.
7. Have you encountered any challenges or obstacles in trying to create a convention that caters to the interests and needs of both the Blerd and LGBTQ+ communities? How have you addressed these challenges to create an inclusive and welcoming space?
I wouldn’t say there’s been challenges yet. I’d say the closest thing to a challenge has been that there’s been some…men…I mean I don’t think I have to specify, but they’re cisgendered and heterosexual men…who are close to me and have wanted events that weren’t held in queer spaces and didn’t have queer cadences, and just wanted a “normal” event to hang out that didn’t cost them any money to attend. And for a while, I was going out of my way to set up a board game night to satisfy this group of guys, because it would be non-queer but still reflective of my blerdy side. But then other people told me to knock it off, and that it’s my birthday, and the con is mine, and if people have a problem with it being a pretty queer con, then they can just not come. And since I’m a pretty lazy person, I listened to them and kept the con the way it is. But yeah, that’s the closest thing to a challenge that I’ve dealt with so far.
8. Have you faced any particular obstacles or setbacks during the planning stages? How did you overcome them, and what lessons have you learned from those experiences?
I think putting on a con with absolutely close to zero budget has been in itself an obstacle. There’s been guests that I’ve wanted to have at events that would’ve really been enjoyable for Blerds and LGBTQ+ attendees, but I look at it in a different way. The fact that I’m able to put on such a large scale event that’s fun for attendees while paying virtually nothing is going to be far more impressive than most guests that I’d have to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to have attend anyways. The fact that I’ve been able to negotiate partnerships and sponsorships and deals to make this happen on close to zero dollars is again in itself way more impressive than expensive special guests. I had to remember, this was all conceived as a joke initially anyways, so I’m trying my best to keep it fun, at the recommendation of my friends.
9. What kind of atmosphere and environment do you hope to create for attendees from the LGBTQ+ and Blerd communities? How important is it to you that they have an enjoyable and memorable experience?
I hope to create an atmosphere where everyone is celebrated, for being themselves, but also for their accomplishments, and everyone walks away knowing that the small decisions that we make everyday in life can change the lives of others forever. At first, this may not seem like it directly impacts blerds and LGBTQ+ people, but simple everyday decisions like actually talking to an LGBTQ+ person about their life and experiences or actively choosing to not judge or bully a blerd can have huge impacts on their lives, more so than just your average, everyday person considering how black and nerds communities have both traditionally ostracized blerds and how society as a whole has historically ostracized the LGBTQ+ and still has a long way to go to make the rest of the community feel safe, accepted, and included.
10. Looking to the future, do you have any plans to expand or evolve the convention in the coming years? Are there any specific goals or improvements you hope to achieve that are relevant to the LGBTQ+ and Blerd communities?
People keep telling me “you should do DanteCon every year!” and keep giving me ideas as to what types of events it could have future iterations. I’ve pondered that idea…I mean, that could be the norm of my 30’s. But also, I feel like that would get old pretty fast for people. “Another year, another con about Dante. We already know all we need to know about you!” Plus, how am I supposed to continue my tradition of having increasingly dramatic and over the top birthday parties if I decide to just keep making conventions? Let’s just see how his one goes and see the reception it gets from people, before I decide what I’d want to change or improve in a potential future iteration.