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GeekGirlCon first started in Seattle in 2011. (GeekWire File Photo)

Five volunteer organizers of the inclusivity-focused GeekGirlCon convention publicly resigned on Sunday, making a series of claims against the Seattle-based non-profit’s board and executive director, including allegations of discriminatory practices and questionable use of charitable funds.

GeekGirlCon responded with a statement saying that the concerns had already been addressed by the board after they were raised without any supporting documentation or corroboration. The group said in a statement that it has taken steps to improve communication, transparency and financial oversight since the concerns were raised.

The group vowed that this year’s convention will go on as planned from Sept. 30 to Oct. 1 in Seattle, less than two months from now. GeekGirlCon started in Seattle in 2011, inspired by a panel the previous year at San Diego Comic-Con.

The resignations shed light on a behind-the-scenes dispute at an organization known for bringing together the community in an accepting environment. The volunteers announced their resignations on the GeekGirlCon website, with a letter summarizing their allegations. The letter, which was also emailed to the GeekGirlCon mailing list from an official address, was removed from the site later in the day.

“This action is not a step taken lightly,” the letter stated. “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.”

The resigning volunteers made up the bulk of GeekGirlCon’s operations staff, meaning they were responsible for planning and executing the annual convention that draws upwards of 11,000 attendees. The convention describes itself as “a celebration of the female geek,” and as an inclusive space for minorities in science, technology and geek culture.

The resigning volunteers include: Director of Convention Operations Seven DeBord, Exhibitor Services Manager Amy Gembala, Registration & Admissions Manager Rose Minier and Reaction Team Manager Josh Michaels. The identity of the fifth member hasn’t been made public.

In their letter, they alleged that the organization’s executive director, Michele Carrico Domingo, discriminated against a convention operations staff member, and separately that she circulated documents with “details of private, sexual encounters, unrelated to GeekGirlCon, in an effort to discriminate against and kink-shame a volunteer.”

Without providing details, they also alleged “questionable use of charitable funds by the Executive Director” and “deprioritization of financial oversight by the Board of Directors.” GeekWire has asked the resigning volunteers for more details on the allegations and will update this piece when we hear back.

Carrico Domingo joined the organization as its Executive Director in February. She is the organization’s first full-time, paid executive director. All other members of the organization’s leadership are volunteers.

At a fundraising event in Bellevue, Wash., on Sunday, about 45 people gathered to play games and raise money for GeekGirlCon at a silent auction and raffle to raise funds.

“We have an organization of over 50 volunteers and [these allegations] were made by a small number of individuals,” Carrico Domingo told GeekWire at the event. “The majority of organization volunteers do not feel that way.”

She added, “we’re definitely still doing the con, and we’re going to create space for women and allies to support women and girls.”

Her response was echoed by Katrina Lehto, VP of GeekGirlCon’s board, who said that the group’s leadership will work to overcome any remaining concerns about the leadership’s decision making.

“While yes, of course it’s a concern — it would be ridiculous to say it’s not a concern — I don’t think it’s something that insurmountable. It’s not something that’s going to sink the ship,” Lehto said. “That said, we have a lot of work in front of us. I’m not going to deny it.”

GeekGirlCon has been hosting its annual convention in Seattle since 2011 and is a registered nonprofit. It brought in $112,849 in revenue in 2015, with net income of $12,803, according to tax documents. The organization’s board minutes from March 23, 2017, reference an IRS response by the group, a stay “on the collection notice” and a request “to forgive penalties for not filing in 2014.”

Here is the full letter sent and posted by the resigning operations team members.

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:

  1. Voting on matters before seeing the evidence collected and knowing it has been collected.
  2. 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.

The letter concluded by offering contact information for anyone who was “an Attendee, Exhibitor, or Sponsor for GeekGirlCon 2017 and are concerned about the status of your payment, recent drop in expected attendence, or sponsorship of this year’s convention,” in addition to contact information for Carrico Domingo, and I-Wei Feng, Acting President of the Board of Directors.

Here is the extended statement from GeekGirlCon, as published on its website.

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.

GeekWire’s Alan Boyle contributed to this report.

Editor’s Note: The description of the portion of the operations staff that resigned has been clarified since the original post. Although the letter from the resigning volunteers said the entire convention operations team had resigned, some people involved in operations do remain, according to GeekGirlCon representatives.

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