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Former GeekGirlCon Volunteers Resign Over … “Reverse Racism”?

GeekGirlCon, a Seattle-based convention devoted to honoring “the legacy of women contributing to science and technology; comics, arts, and literature; game play and game design; and beyond,” began in 2011. Six years later, it has positioned itself as a bastion of inclusion in the geek community. This weekend, five volunteer staffers resigned and sent out a mass email to say otherwise.

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As reported by Geek Wire, an email went out yesterday from five resigning, volunteer GGC staffersDir of Con Operations Seven DeBord, Exhibitor Services Mgr Amy Gembala, Registration & Admissions Mgr Rose Minier and Reaction Team Mgr Josh Michaels (the fifth staffer has not been identified)and was sent from the [email protected] address stating the following:

“It is with great regret that we wish to inform our attendees, exhibitors and sponsors of the resignation of the entire Convention Operations team, loss of key Founders and Board members. The Convention Operations team, responsible for all aspects of setup of our convention, Exhibitor management, security, and pass sales have chosen to leave GeekGirlCon as a result of the actions of the Executive Director and remaining Board members.

The following is the statement from our Convention Operations Team:

This action is not a step taken lightly. Many of you are our friends. Many of you we consider family. This team has a long history with GeekGirlCon, including some of us who were there at the start, and all have worked very hard to support its mission and values. We are disappointed and saddened that it has come to this. However, actions by the ED and by the Board have made the current environment one in which it is impossible for us to continue. Over the last five months, while we worked with the ED and the Board in good faith to resolve the differences, we witnessed bullying, gender discrimination, racism, misuse of charitable funds, and many instances of unethical behavior. We can no longer support this organization’s administration as their recent conduct shows a severe lack of integrity, morality, and respect for its hard-working staff, volunteers and attendees.

Effective immediately, we are resigning our positions and will cease association with GeekGirlCon.

Below you will find a few reasons driving our decision to resign.

1. Acts of discrimination carried out by the Executive Director in the removal and eventual reinstatement of a Con Operation staff member.

2. Opportunistic and underhanded voting tactics by the Board of Directors, including:

  • Voting on matters before seeing the evidence collected and knowing it has been collected.
  • Postponing vote on the removal of the Executive Director during its proposed session; instead the vote was called in an emergency meeting without the Board member who proposed the original motion being present.

3. Bullying of staff members and making derogatory statements to them about their mental and/or physical condition.

4. Dissemination of printed documents by the Executive Director that include details of private, sexual encounters, unrelated to GeekGirlCon, in an effort to discriminate against and kink-shame a volunteer.

5. Questionable use of charitable funds by the Executive Director.

6. Deprioritization of financial oversight by the Board of Directors.

7. Failure of the Board of Directors to provide any recourse for reporting ethical violations made by the Executive Director.”

They also included contact information for themselves, as well as for GGC’s Executive Director Michele Carrico Domingo and Board President I-Wei Feng (both of which are freely available on the GGC website) for anyone who is “an Attendee, Exhibitor, or Sponsor for GeekGirlCon 2017 and [is] concerned about the status of your payment, recent drop in expected attendance, or sponsorship of this year’s convention.”

What didn’t they include? Actual proof, or details, or anything really save vague accusations of things about which they have yet to elaborate. What’s more, they hijacked GeekGirlCon’s mailing list (before, I assume, having their permissions revoked), in order to drop this bomb of an email directly to GGC supporters … anonymously, at first.

Generally, I am all for misconduct in workplaces being called out. However, that calling-out usually comes with concrete details and facts in order to demonstrate the extent to which the problems exist. This email did not. Still, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any, right?

Of course, GeekGirlCon released a statement, which can be read in full at their website. Here’s a portion:

“Despite the resignation of 5 team members, we remain an organization of over 50 people, including many who have been with us from the inception of the organization.

As a volunteer-powered non-profit organization putting on our seventh con, we recognize that progress and change often come with conflict and differing visions for the organization. It is inevitable to run into disagreement. Despite these growing pains, we are committed to continuing our central mission of supporting women geeks, geeks of other underrepresented backgrounds and identities, and their allies. It is also important to understand that GeekGirlCon is still a very young organization, and over the last year we have made major strides in expanding our mission. Growth is necessary, and unfortunately not everyone will be in agreement on how that growth is implemented.

The accusations brought forth by the five individuals before their resignation were addressed by our Board of Directors. After these accusations were brought to the attention of the Board, the Board took steps to interview staff members, but were not provided any supporting documentation nor corroboration for the claims. In addition, the Board and our Executive Director have implemented steps to improve communication, transparency, and financial oversight. These improvements are ongoing as we continually seek to improve how we can best serve our community.

Our organization is led by Michele Carrico Domingo, a woman of color who has made it her mission to demonstrate transparency, integrity, and inclusivity. Her background working with both non-profits and corporations has made her exceptionally qualified to lead GeekGirlCon. The entirety of the GeekGirlCon staff supports Michele, and we are honored to be led by her.”

This response makes some interesting points: yes, changes are inevitable in a big organization, and staff won’t always agree. They also point out that, much like with the email that was sent out to GGC’s list, there was no supporting documentation or corroboration provided to go along with their claims, even when the staffers went to the Board with their grievances.

However, they’re also not terribly forthcoming with details in this statement. They mention steps to improve communication and financial oversight, but don’t go into detail as to how. Still, at a GGC fundraising event that was held in Seattle last night, Carrico Domingo told Geek Wire, “We’re definitely still doing the con, and we’re going to create space for women and allies to support women and girls.”

Last night, comic writer and Content Director for Hiveworks Comics, Audrey Redpath, spoke with one of the former staffers involved and took to Twitter with her immediate findings. As you can see above, the charges of racism and discrimination (from a con run by a WoC, with a WoC as Board President) seem to boil down to … “reverse racism.” (A thing that doesn’t exist.)

Here’s some more of Redpath’s editorial:

And she ended with this:

You should definitely check out Redpath’s full editorial on Twitter, because it is hella illuminating. She will be expanding on her story later today, but the bottom line seems to be that the five former volunteer staffers knowingly and purposely didn’t mention in their email to everyone that the “discrimination” they were talking about was the perceived “racism” against white people by women of color.

These are volunteers who’ve apparently spent years working for a convention whose entire mission is about inclusion and giving a greater platform and voice to marginalized communities. But, they seemingly don’t want to give those communities too much of one, or that is also racism?

I’ve been attending GeekGirlCon since 2011, and in its six years, I’ve found that it has become an increasingly safe space for a growing variety of groups. As an attendee, and as a panelist (who also happens to be a queer, kink-friendly WoC), I’ve had nothing but pleasant experiences. Both the staff (which has continually changed) and my fellow attendees and panelists have always prioritized a safe space for all identities, body types, abilities, and interests.

Interesting, too, that they bring up “kink-shaming” in the organization, when I’ve brought a kink-friendly panel to GGC as recently as last year. And when some audience members in attendance thought that I and my fellow panelists screwed up, we addressed it in the panel, and it fostered an amazing conversation about consent and representation. GGC is a place where these kinds of conversations can happen safely, even when there are missteps.

Obviously, my anecdotal experience is not the full story. I’ve never worked on staff, though I’m friendly with several former staffers, and they have expressed the usual ups and downs in the past. However, it’s been nothing like what these five staffers are alleging. It’s interesting that these allegations are coming up now, after Carrico Domingo has taken charge of the organization in February of this year, and was hired as the first paid member of the GGC staff by an organization that for the most part saw her as fitting in with their mission.

Suddenly, there’s discrimination and fraud worth quitting over. Supposedly because unqualified WoC are ruining everything.

This story is ongoing, and we’ve reached out to several parties involved. We will update as we hear more.

(image: GeekGirlCon)

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Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.

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