The day after Starling delivered their talk, a transphobic comment hit the email inboxes of 1,901 members of the group, including Starling, who is trans.
In the message, an attendee by the name of Scott O’Connor railed against organizers for promoting “satanic values” by allowing Starling — referred to by O’Connor in the note to as an “abomination of God” — to give a presentation. O’Connor, a self-described Phoenixville resident who signed up for the event to “meet other JAVA SCRIPT (sic) programmers in the region,” went on to call organizers a disgrace to society, and ended the hate speech rant by complaining about the non-gendered bathrooms at Guru.
Reached after the incident, Starling agreed there was a need to shine a light on incidents like these, which should have no place in the tech ecosystem.
“Generally when I speak in Philly I normally have people coming up to me to mansplain or sell me on religion,” Starling told Technical.ly via Slack. “It has never been this bad. This type of behavior [kinda] scares [me] away from speaking in Philly. In fact, this is my first time speaking in Philly since 2015.”
In response to the message, co-organizer Beth Dickerson sent a lengthy note to Meetup members titled “What We’re Really About,” where she offered apologies for O’Connor’s message, and in no uncertain terms said it was a violation of the group’s code of conduct.
In an email to Technical.ly, a Meetup spokesperson confirmed that O’Connor’s Meetup account was deleted by the company due to the user’s comments.
“Hate speech, supremacy, and behavior that incites hate or violence is strictly prohibited, and this individual’s account and comment were quickly blocked from our platform,” the spokesperson said.
On Twitter, Starling thanked allies who spoke up after the comment was sent.
“I don’t really know what else to say, but this type of transphobia and harassment has no place in society and I’m glad that people are taking action to prevent this from happening again,” they tweeted.
According to Amber Hikes, the executive director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs for the City of Philadelphia, the hateful comment is a reminder that while laws offer protection from discrimination in areas like employment, housing and public accommodation, they cannot prevent ill will and hate from reaching members of the LGBTQ community.
“Melody was asked to be part of that meetup because they are qualified to speak about the topic at hand, and that’s all that should matter,” Hikes said in an email to Technical.ly. “Verbal attacks against members of the LGBTQ community — and trans people of color in particular — are not only disheartening, they are dangerous. These types of incidents are what motivates our office to continue combatting hate and providing support for the LGBTQ community.”
Guru CEO and cofounder Rick Nucci said the message — which mentions his company’s non-gendered restrooms — was “really disappointing to see.”
“At Guru we welcome and value everyone, no matter their backgrounds, orientations, or otherwise, both in who we hire as well as who attends our events,” said Nucci. “Hateful and discriminatory comments are not tolerated here.”
After the harrowing experience, we asked Starling what they wanted the Philly tech community to know:
“Transphobia, sexism, and targeted harassment has no place in the tech industry,” they said.
The City of Philadelphia’s Commission on Human Relations is tasked with reviewing and investigating complaints of discrimination. The commission can be reached by calling (215) 686-4670, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or through their anonymous tip hotline: (215) 686-2856. PCHR also assists in resolving community tension after hate crimes or bias incidents. GLAAD also offers a list of tips for effective trans allyship.-30-
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