Balticon Chair Apologizes After Author Stephanie Burke Removed From Panels

Author Stephanie Burke has protested Balticon 56’s handling of an alleged incident which the host organization, the Baltimore Science Fiction Society, is investigating under their rules governing violations of the code of conduct.

Balticon 56 Chair Yakira Heistand has apologized for how Burke was treated, but said the complaints are still being investigated:

I am utterly heartbroken at how events have played out at Balticon this year with our panelist, Stephanie Burke. Ms. Burke has been a long-time panelist and we have invited her back year after year because of her engaging commentary and insightful additions to our programming.

An incident was reported to us regarding Ms. Burke. The plan was to quietly ask her to step down from her panels for the weekend while we had a chance to investigate. However, an overzealous volunteer decided to remove her from an ongoing panel in a way that caused her embarrassment. This is inexcusable and we deeply apologize.

Multiple investigations are ongoing, and, per our bylaws, BSFS cannot comment on an active investigation. If, after investigation, we find any of the complaints were valid, we will take appropriate action per our Code of Conduct. However, please be assured that, in addition to interviewing independent panelists and audience members and trying to build a more complete picture of the inciting incident, we are also putting together better methods on how to handle complaints during a convention.

I offer Ms. Burke my deepest apologies for her embarrassment and the way the complaint was handled.

Stephanie Burke has posted a complete statement on Facebook, pointing to it with this tweet:

[May 29]

Home from Balticon and I will never return. I was accused of some nasty things, treated like a criminal, judged without proof save for hearsay, and stripped of my remaining panels. My only recourse is to make a complaint. My reputation which took close to 20 years to build is now destroyed. I am devastated. This is my complaint. I am angry and I am hurt and I am at a loss because all of the networking I have done here is dead. The publishers I wanted to talk to probably are hearing the lies

Stephanie Burke

May 29, 2022

Hello,

My name is Stephanie Burke and I have been coming and presenting, participating in, and moderating panels for Balticon since it was in The Omni Hotel in Baltimore City. Since then I have done my best to uplift the reputation of this convention and the people who come and participate as well as those who organize this event. I have brought in dealers, publishing house owners, and many authors in addition to budding costumers and have tried to make everyone who attends feel comfortable no matter what.

I have held people who cried, managed to deescalate confrontations between hostile people before damage could be done. I have assisted this ordination to the best of my ability for years and now I am devastated,.

I have been accused of saying some hurtful insensitive transphobic, racist, damaging things and there is no recourse for me to fight this. Why? Because the panel where I was accused of saying these things during Friday’s Balticon Panel Diversity readers and Why You Need Them. I learned of this today after being confronted by a very cold and angry person who demanded to know if I received an email and that I was needed in con ops. I had no idea what he was speaking of because I have received no such emails and was unaware what was going on.

I was escorted out of that room like I was a dangerous and disgusting criminal before the panelist who had arrived to see the next panel discussion. After being spoken to with much disrespect, I was escorted to con pps where I was informed that I was going to be pulled from my panels for the rest of the con. When I asked why I was told that I had complaints lodged against me about the mentioned panel on Friday. Then Lisa Adler-Goldman [sic] proceeded to yell at me, stating that I not only said transphobic things, that I advocated for stopping people with a belt, for people to not take their meds, and that some Balticon years past I had said something about the Romany people being gypsies and that they were liars, dirty, and thieves, all allegations that I denied. I was called a liar to my face and laughed at when I defended myself and demanded proof.

I, of course, demanded proof and Lisa stormed off and I could hear her spreading these lies to the people who were outside of the con ops room door. I was then approached by the director and told that I would be stripped of my remaining panels because of the complaints. I asked to hear the recordings and wanted proof to defend myself against hearsay. The program director explained that she would have to listen to the recorded panel and explained that sometimes people took statements out of context and that she would check. She went to another room to listen to the recording because she needed a device bigger than a cell phone and later came back to tell me that the panel she listened to was wonderful but the panel on Friday was not recorded. The decision to strip me of the remains panels and book reading was to stand and that I was being convicted on hearsay alone.

This is where I get more angry than devastated. I was pulled from a room like a criminal for something I did not do. There was no proof and no way to get proof outside of speaking to people who were in the panel, among them my boss, several acquaintances, and my niece. Still and yet after years of proof that I have never said anything like the accusations being made against me, I was not to be allowed on Balticon panels. There would be an investigation and my only recourse was to write a complaint here.

My major issue was with the person who so disrespectfully came to take me to con ops. I never received an email about a panel on Friday. I was walked out of that room like I was trash and the way I was spoken to made me feel the lowest I have ever felt in a so-called safe space.

The lack of checks and balances on your staff decisions is the second reason I am furious. In fact, today was the first time I ever heard of any complaints lodged against me, and the fact that there was no follow-up on the issue angers me more. I saw and had several conversations with people in con ops since Friday and no one person mentioned a complaint or an email. It took close to two (2) days for someone to get in contact with me and that is very unprofessional. Then to get even angrier with me because they felt I was ignoring an email or trying to flaunt their rules and carry on with panels I have been removed from when I didn’t have a clue to what was going on is hateful and hurtful.

Third, Lisa Adler-Goldman [sic], should not be in a position to communicate with people. From the moment I walked into con ops, she was aggressive, dismissive, nasty and outright lied to my face. She referred to some incident with Balticon 45 or 46, she didn’t have the correct Balticon, where I supposedly said nasty and disturbing and downright racist remakes about the Romany People. In her own words, she stated that I called them dirty, nasty thieves. I have never nor will I ever spew such racist hatred from my lips. I told her that she was lying outright. She claimed to be on a panel when I said these things but could not tell me the panel or produce any proof. She screamed and laughed in my face when I complained and demanded the proof. They then walked out and left me standing there. I have never before felt such derision and mockery and I am truly offended that she told other people these lies.

My reputation as a fair person and someone who respects others in marginalized and as someone who constantly uplift is now in tatters. The word-of-mouth lies are going to have an effect on the publishers I intended to deal with, on the networking that I have done, and on the friends and new acquaintances I have made because it is my word against Lisa’s. Because Lisa is a part of Balticon staff, her world will be taken over mine and the lies she spewed forth will forever be attached to my name. Even when the investigation proves that I am innocent, I have already been tired and judged as a racist, an ablest, and a transphobic individual who despite having a transgendered daughter, would say untrue and evil things. I couldn’t even get someone to inform me of exactly what I was supposed to have said that offended so many people.

So I am issuing this complaint about the above reasons and when this issue is resolved, no matter what, I am done at Balticon. I can never return. I no longer feel safe and with someone who has as many neural-divergent issues, it is devastating to lose a place that felt like my home, with the knowledge that I would be treated as a liar, a hypocrite, or even worse if I return. With those rumors hanging over my head, how can I ever hope to sit on another panel and actually help impart information, share opinions, and offer a different point of view and perspective when everyone will view my words as tainted and me a monster.

I have been attending Balticon for close to 20 years and in all of that time, I never had one complaint lodged against me or was treated like a criminal by staff. During that time, I spread the word about what amazing and inclusive non-judging, and fair the staff and committee were. I avoided con politics and did my best to help improve the lives of people I met as well as made some wonderful connections and developed friendships. Because of this fiasco, all of that has been stripped away.

For all the above reasons, I am making this complaint. The program director informed me that this was handled wrong and that they would try to put protocols in place to prevent this from happening again, but it is too late for me. My reputation at this convention is destroyed and I will never return here as a panelist, a con-goer, or promote Balticon and the Baltimore Science Fiction Society ever again. I can’t honestly recommend this convention again as safe when this was done to me and I feel brutalized and abused.

Stephanie Burke

[[Note: The Balticon 56 committee list shows the programming coordinator’s name is Lisa Adler-Golden. However, Burke above mentions the program director in a way that suggests that was a different person.]]

Here is the listing for the panel at issue:

Diversity Readers and Why You Need Them

[6] Gibson, 11:30am – 12:30pm

tag: In HotelWatch OnlineWriting
Types: Panel

Sarah Avery (moderator)Shahid MahmudCraig Laurance GidneyBrandon KetchumChristine SandquistStephanie “Flash” Burke

No matter one’s background or life experiences, everyone has blind spots. Diversity readers help highlight what an author may be missing. We’ll discuss different kinds of diversity readers and how you find them, etiquette regarding compensation, how to think about incorporating feedback, and more.

121 thoughts on “Balticon Chair Apologizes After Author Stephanie Burke Removed From Panels

  1. There’s recent history of Balticon having code of conduct problems among its leadership. Seventeen months ago an attorney hired by the Balticon organizer released the findings of an investigation into harassment complaints against the chair of the next convention.

    One of the attorney’s recommendations was that these steps be undertaken:

    4. Effective immediately, all volunteers are required to sign an acknowledgment that they have read the Code of Conduct and will abide by its requirements. Submissions from current volunteers are due not later than May 1, 2021. New volunteers will meet this requirement at the beginning of their service. An online form will be provided in the near future to accomplish this.

    5. The Board will develop and adopt a policy and guidance for conducting any future investigations of Code of Conduct violations.

    6. An anti-harassment training program for all BSFS and Balticon leadership and critical personnel will be implemented to minimize the potential for Code of Conduct violations at Balticon, BSFS events, or through BSFS controlled communication channels. The program will include a requirement for documenting training completion. A guidance document will be provided to volunteers in other positions. The program will be implemented before the return to in-person Balticons.

    The board agreed to do them.

    Might be time to call that attorney again.

  2. Of course, the “con-running community” exits, Elspeth. I know a fair number of people who belong to it, as I believe, do you. And, to be clear not all of them are pleased with current developments regarding the perceived need for cons to police not only the behavior of those attending but also their speech. (FYI, having been a part of it for 30 years, I can also verify that “the publishing community” exits, too.)

  3. @Mike. Ah-ha! It’s on the Balticon 56 Facebook page, I’d been following the BSFS page.

  4. Note about comments: People are welcome to use handles — many do — however, you have to register with a valid email that I can use to verify you.

    The comment that anony@anony.com wanted to leave would have been fine otherwise.

  5. I’d expect all US conventions without a centralized database shared among conventions should give the same notice then?

    You say this like you think I’d disagree.

    Look, conventions have been half-assing enforcement of codes of conduct for years. Actually having codes of conduct and enforcing them takes time, effort, and resources, and most conventions appear to have shortchanged all three of those in their efforts. There needs to be a systematized, organized method of handling these complaints, a clear process that is followed (and probably handled by non-con affiliated people), and well-defined standards for complaints, evidence, and decisions. At this point, conventions don’t appear to be doing this, and the inevitable chickens that result from those decisions are coming home to roost.

  6. @rcade Thank you for the SMOFcon plug! I’ll try to address later how specifically gratifying it is..

    I took shortcuts while writing so you’re right and you’re wrong. What I should have said that there’s no one, overarching, con-running community. When people say “the conrunning community” they’re talking about something that doesn’t exist.

    The very idea that it does is a tremendous complement. Imagine it. Thousands of people so remarkable that they can work together, the majority coming to a consensus, then implementing the decision. The mind boggles. Just going out to dinner – the more people the longer it takes to get there.

  7. In addition to mcts on the “top posts” page, let me say that a) I was at (and working) Balticon; b) am a member of BSFS; c) Stephanie is an old friend, and d) I was at one of the panels she was on Friday, which I found a good thing, as I’m getting ready for the first revisions of a novel I’m working on.

    I heard NOTHING offensive on the panel. I wish it was possible to view the panel, so I could refresh my memory, but I do know I was never offended.

  8. @ Ginger – Does my response to rcade clarify what I intended?

    As you might guess I’m counted among the people who are not pleased with current developments. What I find most appalling is because I’m online more than most: the “safe space” is rarely a safe place to disagree.

    Backtracking yes, of course a community of publishers exists. My perception comes from the fact that most of the publishers I encounter these days are small or specialty presses. On the third hand that may because I only have a little overlap with the community of publishers.

  9. Never said there was some kind of uber-group that sets the rules for each and every con. But there is a community shared by all those whose particular sub-interest in sf/f cons is organizing and running them. (Parenthetically–literally–i spell my name with a J in the middle–Ginjer.)

  10. Pingback: Pixel Scroll 6/1/22 The Ones Who Scroll Away From Pixelas | File 770

  11. Elspeth:

    “When people say “the conrunning community” they’re talking about something that doesn’t exist.”

    You are still wrong when saying that, as many people have already shown you. You repeating the incorrect statement makes no difference. And having a community in no way means having a consensus nor even making decisions. It only means a group for socializing and interactions.

  12. There is an update on the Balticon fb page that contains an apology from Lisa, in which she does admit to her bad behavior. I personally do not think it shows that she understands thoroughly how very bad her behavior reportedly was.

    It does not state if she has stepped down from Balticon or if Balticon has removed her from its operations.

    Stephanie deserved none of this.

  13. Pingback: Balticon Publishes Program Head’s Apology to Burke | File 770

  14. I am shocked and revolted by Balticon’s actions throughout this sequence of disgusting events. Balticon needs to start with a full apology DIRECTLY to Stephanie, and not the weak CYA statement already provided. Next must come the full details of who was involved and how the sequence of events played out, in order to prevent ANYTHING like this from ever occurring again. Failure to do both of those things may well see a dramatic downturn in Balticon’s attendance, and probable disappearance in the future.

  15. This was a lynching, plain and simple. I don’t know any of these people and have never been to BaltiCon but seeing how they treat one of their own, I’m inclined very strongly not to go.

  16. I don’t think you can blame this on any “con-running” community, as SMOFCon represents only a fraction of even the U.S. conventions. It’s a case where this particular convention used poor judgment in putting a particular individual in charge of handling panel-complaint situations. It seems as though other convention volunteers made no attempt to stop or modify this person’s behavior as the situation played out.

    I have been involved in three complaint situations at Pacific NW cons in recent years—once as a panelist, once as an attendee making a complaint about another attendee’s remarks at a panel, and once as a conrunner on the security team that removed an offending attendee. In all three instances, everyone involved was taken into a quiet, non-public environment for interviews, and no voices were raised at any time. The specter of any convention representative—much less one given the authority to handle complaints—shouting a litany of charges about a panelist in a public hallway is appalling. My heart goes out to Stephanie Burke.

  17. @ Ginjer

    Except there isn’t

    a community shared by all those whose particular sub-interest in sf/f cons is organizing and running them.

    . There are just too many people for enough overlap. The people who run Balticon are an extreme example, totally insular. Most not only don’t work on other conventions, last time I thought of it they don’t go to other conventions. (Discon doesn’t count, why it doesn’t a side issue.)

    The problem, the reason for the frustration, feeling battered, even wanting to just throw in the towel is the assumption that there’s some nebulous community of people involved with or working on conventions and acting on or perpetuating that assumption. “Conrunners should do this”, “Conrunners are doing that”, Conrunners, Conrunners, Conrunners. I answered what you wrote because because you provided a very simple example: “. . . the con-running community has created a worse problem.” That made it everyone’s fault and responsibility.

    But Conrunners didn’t create a worse problem at Balticon, they had nothing to do with Balticon. This was three individuals (I think), two of them publicly named, working on an insular convention.

    HOWEVER

    There are two bright spots, two communities with diverse members. One is a Facebook group, JoFs, “Journey[men] of Fandom. The other is what rcade said about SMOFcon

    It only attracts 150-300 people but I’d definitely consider it a community. There’s overlap between these folks and the leaders of Worldcons.

    When I started attending it was mainly Worldcon folks. Gradually it expanded but Worldcons were used for examples because “it’s what we all have in common” even as that became less and less true. I know exactly where things started to turn, busy with other thing I hadn’t noticed that has progressed to an overlap.

    So, two communities, one online and one in person.

  18. In the opera “La Giaconda” an important plot point is the historical use of ‘Denunciation’ as a political reality. There was a ceramic face in a public place, with an open mouth, and anyone could write down an anonymous denunciation of anybody else and put it in that mouth, leading to very dire results. (The ceramic face is still extant.)

    One of the foundation principles of American law is that hearsay is not admissible as evidence. Those accused are confronted by their accusers in a court of law. Charges must be clear and specific. There are many famous cases where the charges were not specific nor clear, and the courts eventually overturned them, despite not being able to undo the damage done to the defendant.

    This principle is enshrined in our laws because of the power of rumor and innuendo that led to such horrors as the Inquisition.

    There was a time, not long ago, when professional writers were honored guests at science fiction conventions. The conventions were happy to have them on panels and making presentations. Mostly they had to pay their own transportation to the convention, and pay for their own room, but the public exposure was presumed to help their careers.

    Then conventions began to require the writers to pay for memberships, just like any fan. Sometimes if they fulfilled a quota of presentations there was a chance their membership fee would be refunded.

    Now it seems that attendance is not only costly, but offers a constant danger of denunciation and damage to reputation, of harm caused by rumor and innuendo.

    “What is not specifically allowed is specifically forbidden!” (Who was it who said that?)

    Under these circumstances one is left to cultivate the image of the writer who retreats to write stories that people will like to read, but who does not choose to plunge into such dangerous waters as may distract from the business at hand, which is writing stories.

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