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SALT LAKE CITY — In the wake of controversy and public outcry about the pop culture convention's handling of sexual harassment complaints, Salt Lake FanX co-founder Bryan Brandenburg confirmed Thursday he is taking a leave of absence.
Brandenburg, one of the two founders of the Utah pop culture convention, said the "indefinite leave of absence" has already begun and is meant to help the event and its fans move forward following a bitter social media dispute about handling of a sexual harassment complaint.
"I thought it was so important once I realized all my missteps and mistakes and how it had hurt people and made them angry, I needed to send a big, huge message that it wasn't enough that I said sorry, it wasn't enough that we updated our policy, it wasn't enough that we made sure the person they were complaining about would not be at our event," Brandenburg said.
"What I needed to send them was, 'I messed up, I take full responsibility, I'm turning over the reins to other people.'"
Brandenburg came under fire earlier this week when it was revealed he had suggested author Shannon Hale "sit this one out" after she contacted the organization to say she was concerned about its response to a sexual harassment complaint made against fellow author Richard Paul Evans.
The disagreement became public when Hale posted part of Brandenburg's response on Twitter, not revealing who sent it or what organization was involved. Responses came from the primary Salt Lake FanX Twitter account revealing the full exchange, along with Hale's name and private email address, then Brandenburg claimed in a published apology to Hale that he hadn't noticed them when he shared the screenshot.
The exchange that followed drew criticism and led to cancellations by other guests and authors scheduled to appear at FanX, scheduled for Sept. 6-8.
Brandenburg said his actions surrounding the concerns only served to "dig the hole deeper," until he ultimately realized his own insensitivity issues. "I finally said that 'I don't know what I don't know about this.'"
Now, Brandenburg said he is prepared to leave his responsibilities in the hands of the talented FanX team members he has been working with for several years.
"I think this is an opportunity to really let these people shine," Brandenburg said. Most of them are women, and very sensitive to the issues that brought all this to a head. I think the best thing I can do right now is empower them to change our policies and change our communications and change the way we do things in a way that is for the greater good."
Brandenburg said Thursday he likely will not be involved in FanX operations leading up to the event in September, but will attend "as a fan" with his wife and newborn son. He will evaluate his role in the organization afterward.
In a statement released Thursday, Salt Lake FanX founder Dan Farr added his apology "for any instances in which a participant has felt unsafe. We do not condone these behaviors, from anyone."
Farr explained that in October FanX addressed a complaint from an author who had appeared at the convention and said she had been hugged, touched on her arm and kissed on her cheek without permission. After responding to the woman's concern, Farr said the organization learned other authors had had similar experiences at the event and felt uncomfortable, but hadn't reported what happened.
In light of the sexual harassment concerns, Farr said FanX began in February working on its new Universal Harassment Policy addressing "the behaviors that we will and will not tolerate within the walls of our event and to the extent possible within our expanded social media community."
"With that said, we took the important step of meeting with Richard Paul Evans and re-established in the discussion that hugging or touching without express permission does not support our commitment to safety and comfort of our participants," Farr said, adding that they reached "a mutual agreement that he will not be participating in our future events."