My personal experience in fandom is a mixed one. I was raised in a conservative, Baptist home. When I was ten, I realized I was gay. I hated myself, and never felt like I fit in anywhere, until I attended my first convention.
My first convention
I was a geek in school, and we hadn't lived in Maryland for every long. One day, my friend Suzie invited me to go to a convention with her.
It wasn't easy. My mother wasn't keen on me going out for a day trip to a convention north of Baltimore with people she didn't know very well. I begged and pleaded, and though I don't remember them, I am sure I threw in some hissy fits and tantrums just to get the point across.
When we arrived, I felt like I entered the promised land. Thousands of people who all loved the same things I did. I didn't have to lie about anything.
For the first time, I felt like I found a place I belonged. If you have never been to a convention or participated in a fan club, they are amazing things. At a convention, you know that you are a de facto friend with most of the people there. Our mutual love for the same franchises, movies, and books ties us together in a way that is hard to explain. I have made connections with people that have lasted for years.
My convention friends were the first people to know that I was gay. I was open and honest. Something about being surrounded by so many like minded people empowered me.
I was very lucky. I never faced or felt any kind of discrimination at the conventions until many years later. When I first entered fandom, IDIC was not a slogan or piece of jewelry. It was a philosophy people took to heart.
Conventions are some of the few places that we can be ourselves... or are they?
Are all conventions safe?
It depends from convention to convention, but in general, speculative fiction fans are more open minded then the general population, except in periods of mass popularity for speculative fiction, or when a convention slips into the mainstream.
Popularity often brings more closed-minded people into fandom because they liked the special effects in movie x and have not been exposed to the ethos of open-mindedness which usually pervades fandom.
For me, conventions were a sanctuary from the homophobic world, until I started writing.