Homophobia strikes Gay Comic Book Convention
Selling tickets to a comic book convention is the last place organizers expected to encounter anti-gay hate groups and their allies. That’s exactly, though, what Bent-Con, the gay pop culture festival that celebrates LGBTQ contributions to the science fiction, fantasy, horror, comic book and gaming genres, did.
They did so in an obscure and arcane area of the internet most people aren’t familiar with: credit card payment processing gateways, lynchpins of internet transactions the world over.
“Honestly, it was something I wasn’t even expecting,” Bent-Con President Sean Holman said. “When you think about hate groups, you think of them with regards to anti-marriage efforts or against serving openly in the military. You don’t think about them in terms of internet payment systems. But there you go.”
Credit card payment gateways are the mechanism the internet uses to exchange information between websites and mobile phones and the banks. When the general public buys a pizza or orders tickets over the web, the gateway verifies all the information is correct, authorizes the transfer of funds — and takes a percentage for the effort in “fees.” These fees can add up to significant amounts of money, for both the seller and the gateway service. Getting the best deal possible is what ever seller requires.
“In setting up our ticket service, our ticketing agent signed us up with an established company that offers low rates to non-profits like us — Cornerstone Payment Systems — that’s when things got odd,” Holman said.
Typical approval time is 48 hours. Several days of no word prompted Mr. Holman to inquire about the delay, first to the ticketing agency, then to Cornerstone itself. Two weeks later, a Cornerstone representative sent a cryptic email that said, “Unfortunately because the type of business we cannot get this account approved. Sorry for the inconvenience.”
Puzzled, Mr. Holman inquired further with both Cornerstone and the ticketing agency about the rejection and the language. Apologizing, the ticketing agency indicated that Conerstone’s “underwriting criteria will be problematic” in regards to Bent-Con and quickly made arrangements with a different company, ACH Direct, to handle the processing. ACH approved Bent-Con and the website is now live and tacking ticket orders for the December 2012 event.
Mr. Holman admits to being frustrated by the delay, but once the new gateway came on-line, he was satisfied. Then he and Jody Wheeler, the vice-president of Bent-Con, did a little on-line research and were quite surprised by what they found.”Mostly, I was curious about what was ‘problematic’ about our organization. Turns out the problem wasn’t with us, but with the values of Cornerstone.”
According to their website, Cornerstone Payment Systems of Bristol, VA (www.cornerstonepaymentsystems.com) bills itself as a gateway that puts “Christ at the Cornerstone of our business…. we will not process credit card transactions for morally objectionable businesses.” They specifically reach out to churches and para church organizations, in addition to regular retail, food and related industries, in order to provide them services. It’s part of larger banking operation, Cornerstone Bancard, started by CEO and entrepreneur, Nick Logan.
One of Cornerstone’s main programs involves providing a revenue sharing service where, alongside Cornerstone, partners receive a percentage of the fee for all transactions processed and that all referred companies process. Titled the ”Processing with a Purpose” service, (www.processingwithapurpose.com), one notable partner is The American Family Association (http://www.cornerstone.cc/ afa/), which the Southern Poverty Law Center certified as a hate group last year (http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-files/groups/american-family- association).
Cornerstone also provides these services to related organizations like the Home School Legal Defense Fund, American Family Association, Teen Pact, World Magazine and Florida Family Policy Counsel. Cornerstone advertises that they’ve processed several billion dollars and worked with 30,000 ministries.
“No wonder they rejected us,” Mr. Holman said. “We’re the kind of people they hate!”
The most troubling aspect, though, is that Cornerstone, directly and through partnerships, has provided gateway services to unknowing groups who support equality and fairness in other ways. ”There are several charities — cancer prevention, poverty reduction, even Little League organizations — that use Cornerstone due to its low rates and inadvertently fund the anti-gay hate industry in the United States, ” Mr. Holman said.
“Had things broken in a slightly different way, we might have wound up providing money to what is, essentially, the ‘bag-man’ for internet funded hate groups. I wonder how many otherwise great organizations don’t realize they’re helping to fund such hate with their own internet sales, ” Mr. Holman added.
Bent-Con 2012 is happening November 30th, December 1st and 2nd in Los Angeles CA. With an estimated attendance of 3000 people, it is one of the largest conventions to promote, encourage, celebrate and appreciate LGBT and LGBT-friendly contributions to comic-book, gaming, scifi, fantasy and horror mediums from artists, writers, creators, publishers, directors, actors, and producers, that create works targeted directly to LGBT audiences or the larger realm of underground and mainstream pop-culture as a whole.