Two attendees of last years GeekGirlCon.
Two attendees of last year's GeekGirlCon. Joshua Weiner

Five volunteers from the operations team of the Seattle non-profit GeekGirlCon publicly resigned yesterday with an incendiary letter posted without permission on the GeekGirlCon website (and later removed) and emailed widely from the convention's official account.

Clare McGrane at GeekWire reported that the letter accused the organization's recently appointed Executive Director Michele Carrico Domingo and board of "bullying, gender discrimination, racism, misuse of charitable funds, and many instances of unethical behavior."

The official response from GeekGirlCon pointed out that the former volunteers' grievances had been previously brought before the board without "supporting documentation nor corroboration." (The resignation letter, the full text of which is below, doesn't include any evidence either.)

The response also emphasized that this year's GeekGirl Con, scheduled for September 30-October 1 at the Washington Convention Center, would go on as planned.

Though the initial social media response was predictably appalled, it didn't take for people following the story as it happened to smell a rat—not only because GeekGirlCon's mission statement is explicitly about inclusiveness, but because the language of the resignation letter was both so brazen and so vague. They soon found the rat.

Some assiduous reporting by the Portland cartoonist Audrey Redpath (via a long, tireless Twitter thread) and followed up/compiled by Rich Johnston of the blog Bleeding Cool—revealed that the allegations leveled by the resigning employees referred to alleged racial discrimination against white employees, and alleged gender discrimination against men.

Redpath pointed out that the letter disingenuously uses the language of grievances from traditionally marginalized people—the kind that is guaranteed to make the internet take not only notice but sides—the better to frame GeekGirlCon as hypocritical for promoting itself as an inclusive, progressive organization. In case anyone was still wondering: This tactic 1) violates people who actually suffer under those offenses, 2) contributes to the ongoing campaign to trivialize the offenses themselves, and 3) automatically nullifies whatever legitimacy your original, actual grievance might have had.

Cartoonist Audrey Redpath confronting one of the authors of the resignation letter.
Cartoonist Audrey Redpath confronting one of the authors of the resignation letter.

Elapsed time from original email to present: about 24 hours.

Here is the original resignation letter (via GeekWire)

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.

GeekGirlCon's response:

August 6, 2017

Dear GeekGirlCon community,

You may have received a message today from GeekGirlCon regarding the resignation of some members of the Convention Operations team.

We apologize for any confusion and hurt this has caused. As a community, we are hurt as well. These messages do not reflect the organization’s position and were distributed on behalf of GeekGirlCon without our approval or notice. To clarify, GeekGirlCon ‘17 will take place on September 30 and October 1. The convention will go on as planned.

It is important to note that the Convention Operations team represents just a fraction of the many passionate staff members working to ensure a wonderful and inclusive con. 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.

We would like to reaffirm the guiding values and beliefs that unite us and act as a manifesto for our organization:

We are Geeks.

We savor the scientific, the logical, and the precise. We revel in the unknown, the fantastic, and the unimaginable. We exist in the-between, where ingenuity stretches possibility and transformation is born. We code, concoct, create and cosplay.

The imagination is our only limit and ours is limitless.

We are Girls.

And we are women, and femmes, and non-binary/gender non-conforming individuals, and we are allies. Our personalities are as diverse as our backgrounds and bodies. We are many voices and countless tales.

We are diversity and we defy expectations.

We are a community.

We break barriers and democratize opportunity. We provide safe spaces to do what we love: learn, connect, invent and challenge.

We are here to fearlessly and fiercely celebrate one another.

Welcome to GeekGirlCon 2017. Celebration of the Female Geek.

Again, we apologize for the confusion this has caused. We want to assure you all that we are committed to ensuring that this year’s Con will be as exciting, inclusive, and geeky as ever!