On this past Sunday, Aug 6, the entire GeekGirlCon email list received a scathing message from 5 members of the convention operations team who announced their immediate resignation from the posts as convention staff. The staffers claimed, among other things, to have “witnessed bullying, gender discrimination, racism, misuse of charitable funds, and many instances of unethical behavior,” referring to “to “acts of “discrimination carried out by the Executive Director,” “opportunistic and underhanded voting tactics by the Board of Directors,” and even the “bullying of staff members.”
The message went on to urge those who are “concerned about the status of [their] payment, recent drop in expected attendence [sic], or sponsorship of this year’s convention” to contact the convention, it’s Executive Director, or the Board of Directors.
And yet, even once the dust had settled from this alleged rebuke of convention leadership, the justification for these actions, their mass resignations and brief hijacking of the GeekGirlCon website and email list, became even less and less clear.
An official response from the organization later in the day apologized for the confusion, assuring readers that the earlier message did “not reflect the organization’s position and were distributed on behalf of GeekGirlCon without [their] approval or notice,” adding that “the convention will go on as planned.”
According to GeekWire, the resignees responsible for the original email included Seven DeBord, Director of Convention Operations, Amy Gembala, Exhibitor Services Manager, Rose Minier, Registration & Admissions Manager, and Josh Michaels, Reaction Team Manager.
“Yes, I’ve left #GeekGirlCon,” said DeBord. “After 5 months of battling unethical and immoral decisions by the Administration, I can no longer support them.”
When pressed for specifics, though, DeBord stated that “it’s far too complicated to do via Twitter. I have 9 pages of documents just around the issue of a staffer being fired/demoted for gender,” and that people should “ask the Board for the 9 page doc they all have, because we discussed it and they held a meeting about it.”
But the real story going on in the Twitterverse was GeekGirlCon supporters lining to offer what seemed to be the real reason for what appeared to be an act of deliberate sabotage on the part of those who had resigned.
“This was an abuse of tools and our contact information with the intention of damaging a women focused [women of color]-run company and its team,” said HiveWorks Comics Content Director Audrey Redpath. “Regardless of any good work these 5 volunteers have done in the past, they let their bitterness and ignorance get the better of them. It worked. It did. Save for a few, this got so many of you. Especially straight white women in the community. You got got. Think on that.”
“Beyond the initial claim of immorality and racism/sexism,” Redpath explained, “the email provided a bulleted list explaining their resignation. 3 [bullet points] refer to a single incident described as discriminatory, reviewed and internally resolved. 3 more refer to one financial clerical mistake. Which is to say that this email was drafted specifically to compound very little information/context into something that we would react to.”
One glaring omission, according to Redpath, was the fact that the unnamed claims of gender discrimination and racism on the original message referred to “[women of color] getting positions they ‘weren’t qualified for.’ Same said [with regards to] fears of white women getting jobs over the existing qualified white men. Resigning staff feel it would be for appearances.”
The fact that the organizations Executive Director Michele Domingo and Board President I-Wei Feng were both named dropped was no accident, Redpath seemed to be saying.
“Women, especially [women of color] in leadership, are held to punishingly higher standards internally & externally,” they stated. “Everything is a trespass.”
Safety Pin Box Co-Founder & Creative Director Leslie Mac also chimed in on the controversy, explaining an incident that seems to accurately reflect the situation Redpath was describing.
“Did I ever tell ya’ll about the time [Safety Pin Box] pulled out of #GeekGirlCon because their planning process is hella anti-Black,” asked Mac, “that we were told outright that our allyship workshop was ‘not in alignment with the goals of #GeekGirlCon’ before the ED stepped in? That the [white women and white men] who quit in a fit of white privilege rage today were insulted that we would suggest they needed to learn something? That #GeekGirlCon rejected an #SPBKids workshop because they thought it would offend white parents attending the con?”
According to Mac, Domingo’s apology and fight for the group’s inclusion “is one of the reasons these folks quit,” adding that “it was clear from jump that these white women at #GeekGirlCon were offended at the mere suggestion they weren’t good allies.”
Tanya DePass, Director of I Need Diverse Games, has had similar mixed experiences with the convention staff.
“I feel a way about GeekGirlCon,” said Depass. “However that first email was not legit [and was] sent [with the] intent to tank the con.”
“I think it’s bullshit that someone would try to undermine a convention aimed at women,” added DePass, “especially if it’s a majority [women of color] run event.”
How well the convention weathers this controversy remains to be seen, as will the realities of whether or not the controversy is a result of white men complaining about being replaced by white women and women of color. Still, it represents what could be an important lesson for organizations facing similar difficulties, especially organizations that have grown as quickly as GeekGirlCon.
Championing diversity, and trying to uplift the voices of marginalized and oppressed communities in a field dominated by straight, white, cisgender men, is hard. It requires strength and resilience to persevere. Also, it can’t hurt to make sure you know who’s got the keys to your email server.