Portland tech community faces painful reckoning over sex assault allegations – OregonLive.com
Portland’s tech community, largely silent in public for months over sex assault allegations against a pair of its most prominent members, suddenly erupted Wednesday.
The flashpoint was the inclusion of Scott Kveton, former chief executive of Portland mobile software startup Urban Airship, as a speaker at a Thursday night tech event.
Another speaker dropped out in protest Wednesday morning, prompting Kveton himself to withdraw shortly afterward. Organizers then cancelled the event altogether.
A former girlfriend accused Kveton of sexual assault last year. His attorneys vigorously contested the allegations and a Multnomah County grand jury voted not to indict him. The woman is now pursuing a civil case against him. (The Oregonian is not naming her because she claims to be the victim of sexual assault.)
Kveton quit Urban Airship in July in the wake of the accusations and kept a low public profile for months. In January, though, he wrote a blog post indicating he is pursuing business opportunities created by Oregon’s legalization of marijuana.
That prompted another invited speaker, Crystal Beasley, to withdraw. Beasley, chief executive of specialty jeans maker QCut, explained her thinking on her own website in a post titled “I Stand Against Kveton.” She wrote that she hadn’t realized Kveton would be on the lineup.
“It took me only a matter of minutes to decide to withdraw as a speaker in protest unless he was removed.”
Kveton remained on the agenda, and Beasley dropped out.
“The decision the event organizers are making is not whether he’s guilty, but rather whether his presence as a speaker is good for the event and the community,” Beasley wrote.
That triggered a wrenching discussion on Twitter, the preferred forum for Portland technologists, focused on how to deal with accusations that haven’t been proved in court.
And it prompted a blog post by Kveton himself, his first public comments on the accusations since he left Urban Airship last summer.
“As my public filing in the civil case makes clear, I absolutely deny the accusations against me, and I expect to be fully and completely vindicated when the case runs its course. I’m looking forward to when I can tell my story,” Kveton wrote, noting that prosecutors in Multnomah and Washington counties did not prosecute him.
Kveton wrote felt he could not address the accusations before the legal issues were resolved. And he wrote that he is sorry for the effect the accusations have had on Portland’s tech community.
“I want to apologize to the employees and families of Urban Airship, to the companies I have mentored and my friends and colleagues in the industry that put so much trust and faith in me,” Kveton wrote. “One person’s personal relationship should not be able to create so much grief and uncertainty for so many others.”
So Kveton wrote that he’s dropping out of the Ignite forum “out of respect for this community.”
Shortly after Kveton’s post went live, Ignite organizers cancelled the event altogether. They wrote to attendees that the accusations against Kveton have damaged Portland’s “collaborative and collegial” startup community.
“We, as members of this community have struggled to move forward, but have still not found the appropriate time or venue to begin the much needed healing process. It has been difficult for each and every one of us. And it continues to be,” they wrote.
“We had hoped, incredibly naively as it were,” that inviting Kveton might start to repair that damage. “Unfortunately, that decision has only caused further aggravation for our community. What should have been an event to share our thoughts and stories has instead become a source of hurt and anxiety.”
So they called off Thursday’s event, writing they hope Wednesday’s eruption may yet “serve as a starting point for a discussion about safety and inclusiveness that we, as a community, still clearly need to have.”
The controversy comes as Oregon’s tech economy is enjoying its best run since the dot-com era, fueled by a handful of Portland startups — including Urban Airship — and by an influx of out-of-town employers establishing outposts in the city. By some measures, tech employment and startup investment are at their highest points since the dot-com era.
Oregon’s tech community has been wrestling with sexual assault allegations for more than a year, ever since prominent investor Nitin Khanna was accused of raping a woman the morning of his wedding in 2012. Prosecutors did not charge Khanna, a close friend of Kveton’s, who reached a civil settlement with the woman.
At the time, Portland’s startup scene was conspicuously quiet about those accusations. Likewise, there was initially a “Deafening silence” about the accusations against Kveton, in the words of Andy Baio, one of the best-known members of the city’s tech community.
After Beasley’s post Wednesday, though, the online discussion was robust. Here’s a sampling.
— Mike Rogoway