Anime Matsuri Organizer Accused of Sexual Harassment
Photo provided by R and used uncredited with photographer's permission
Multiple women have come forward online over the past month to accuse John Leigh, the event manager of the Anime Matsuri convention, of sexual harassment and inappropriate sexual conduct.
Anime Matsuri, one of the ten largest anime conventions in America, is an annual celebration of Japanese pop culture, fashion and art. People travel from all over the world to attend since it began in 2007, but its image has recently been darkened by a string of blogs and online posts from women who claim Leigh’s behavior toward them is overtly sexual and unwanted, particularly from a married man and a father.
The most prominent voice to speak out thus far is Nina Reijnders. Under the name Chokelate she runs Lockshop, a German wig shop popular with the Japanese Lolita fashion style. The Lolita sub-culture became popular in Japan and then worldwide in the 1990s, focusing on elaborate Victorian-esque garments that highlight modesty and cuteness. It has little to nothing to do with Vladimir Nabokov’s novel of the same name or the implied sexualization of young girls.
Earlier this month Reijnders posted on her blog about her experiences with Leigh. In it she says…
Our first meeting in person was to shoot promo pictures for AM15 [Anime Matsuri 2015], he visited Europe and invited me to travel with him and his family to London and have a trip to Disneyland Paris (all expenses paid). I declined the Disneyland trip (even though I would love to go there again, word [sic] was more important) and paid for my own trip and stay to London. The first evening I had dinner together with John and his friend, there the sexual jokes and comments started to increase. Here he also talked a lot about someone from [company and name removed] sucking his dick for favors and to get models in the AM show to wear their wigs and disgusting stories like that. But when we had a day together with his wife and kids, he suddenly kept quiet. On this trip the idea of hosting an event in Germany was started.
A couple months later he invited me on a trip to Japan, of course, also all expenses paid.
I didn't go with him, and he continued to use that against me for the next months to try and make me feel bad.
Reijnders also posted screencaps from Facebook conversations with Leigh that included requests for her to send him nude pictures of herself, and telling her he thought about her during a trip to Victoria Secret, and “not in a very good way.” Reijnders declined to comment further on the matter when we contacted her.
That Leigh considers his behavior jocular is a recurring theme in his defense of his actions. On a password protected blog entry he said…
As a disclaimer I would like to point out that I joke a lot with my friends or people I consider close. If you are offended by sexual innuendos, dirty talks or comments about boobs and orgasms, you should not be my friend. Online or offline. This means no disrespect and I would suggest not engaging in conversation with me. I act this way with my friends regardless of gender, and as my friend, you should make it perfectly clear that you are uncomfortable with my conversation. I would respect you enough to stop joking.
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This was primarily in response to accusation from Stephany Thai, a former moderator for the Houston Lolita Community Facebook group. She had a falling out with Leigh over the promotion of Anime Matsuri within the group, which she felt he was spamming. A flame war broke out and Thai left the group. Later, she too posted online about her interactions with Leigh. Though the majority of her account deals primarily with what she feels are problems in the way the convention is run and Leigh’s attitude within the Lolita community, she also speaks briefly about inappropriate touching and attention from him.
“Once, he tried to lift up my jabot (an ornamental fabric that goes over the chest) to see what was underneath,” she says. “I often wear a jabot over a tank top since it gets really hot in Houston. Not dealing with someone trying to peek at my chest, I immediately slapped his hand away.”
Like Reijnders, Thai also posted screen caps of Facebook conversations. When Thai offered to volunteer for an event Leigh responded that it might be too exciting for her, and pressured her to tell him when she last had an orgasm.
Another presumed joke that made a female associate of Leigh’s deeply uncomfortable was that of a local cosplay model who posted about her experiences on the LACE – Lolita’s Against Cyberbullying and Exploitation — Facebook page under the name “N”. According to N she was asked by Leigh to come perform for a photoshoot, but given virtually no details on the nature of what she would be doing. Upon arriving she was informed it was actually a video shoot and Leigh requested that she simulate oral sex on a male subject for it, which N refused.
“I noticed he had a nervous way of telling me,” N when told the Press. “It was odd how he was acting. He’s like, ‘I want you to act like you’re going to perform a sexual oral act on the male subject in the car. I told him I was very uncomfortable with the idea…. I kept telling him ‘No. No I don’t want to' He tried to guilt trip me into it… He’s a powerful speaker. He’s good at how to word things to manipulate or make you rethink what your statements were.”
N said that she told Leigh that she wasn’t comfortable because of the possible damage to her image. Though she was mostly a cosplay model at the time she had been instructed to show up in her normal clothes, and she felt that performing what Leigh asked as herself would be a poor representation of her and her family. Leigh continued to insist.”
“It became heated and I grew upset,” said N. “Eventually he walked away. I was on the verge of tears.”
Kevin Turner, the audio engineer who was the intended male subject in the shoot also recalled the incident when we spoke to him via phone.
“It wasn’t supposed to be anything explicit,” said Turner. “The video’s intention was definitely not that. It was supposed to be a skit. I don’t know that John had told her about it before hand. She seemed upset. I went up to her and tried to console her. I know she wasn’t happy and she was replaced.”
A former Anime Matsuri guest relations staffer also spoke to us about uncomfortable interactions with Leigh while working with him. R (she asked to not be named) says that she was unimpressed with Anime Matsuri’s technical execution when she first attended, but volunteered as a staffer at the most recent convention to see if she could be an asset in making it better. R is part of a Lolita community in the Carolinas and often helps host local events.
Photo provided by R and used uncredited with photographer's permission
R states that despite repeated efforts to connect with Leigh about her duties or even just introduce herself she couldn’t get Leigh’s attention. At least, she couldn’t get his attention wearing normal attire. On the second day as she was escorting her celebrity guest around she was also dressed in Lolita clothing.
“I cannot even describe the feeling and the look he gave me when he saw me in Lolita,” said R. “He did this full body scan of me and started buttering me up. Now he cared to know me. I made sure to stay as far away from as possible after that.”
She also describes a tea party event at the convention where she says Leigh decided to do away with the planned activity of letting each fashion designer in attendance show off a new design, and instead grabbed the microphone for 30-minute Q&A about himself while making jokes about the waist-sizes of the women in attendance. According to R, he only ceded the microphone once he realized that his jokes were falling flat on a largely silent audience.
“It’s sad that someone that has brought so many people from all over the world would destroy it by being harassing,” says R.
Leigh declined to be directly interviewed by us for this story in response to the allegations of his accusers. Instead he provided the following statement through Anime Matsuri’s Public Relations person Kelly Kimberly.
I am extremely sorry that my attempts at humor have offended some people.
When I learned of concerns of some former business associates, I was at first was surprised and disappointed that people I considered friends held these beliefs. I became defensive and did not react well. Given a couple of days to reflect, I realized that my sense of humor may not be well-received and I had to take that to heart.
I have subsequently completed an online sexual harassment course [Author's note: a two-hour online course from AJ Novick] that I believe will make me more aware and sensitive to how my actions are perceived by others and I will continue working on this. Additionally, I voluntarily submitted my resignation from the post as Kawaii Ambassador on Wednesday, June 24 after there was a call by some for me to do so.
This has been an eye-opening experience for me and my family. I feel terrible about this, and sincerely apologize to those I have offended. I hope my actions have demonstrated my sincerity in wanting to maintain my good name and that of Anime Matsuri.
Requests to speak with Leigh regarding the accusation he tried to lift up Thai's clothing clothing, or whether or not he had informed N about the nature of the video shoot before asking her to be a part of it, were denied. Several prominent figures in the anime convention circuit such as Minori have already said they are cutting ties with Anime Matsuri and referenced Leigh by name. Tales of misconduct continue to be posted on various groups and blogs, though most remain anonymous. As of publication, no lawsuits or criminal charges have been filed against Leigh.
“He has money and he has influence,” R told us. “Lolitas gravitate to this culture because it makes them feel secure. It makes it hard for them to speak out even when they feel hurt. When I told a friend of mine I had decided to speak with you she said, ‘As a fellow Lolita I support you, but as your friend be careful.'"
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