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:
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
May 29, 2022
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.
[[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
 Gibson, 11:30am – 12:30pm
tag: In Hotel, Watch Online, Writing
Sarah Avery (moderator), Shahid Mahmud, Craig Laurance Gidney, Brandon Ketchum, Christine Sandquist, Stephanie “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.