[This is an unusual post, in that I really wondered whether I should put it on Notorious at all in the first place. But a number of people have asked (one might even say demanded) that it be written here, because I am blessed enough to have this be one of the places where the real estate industry goes for news, commentary, and discussion. Well, this is my personal blog, and much of what follows is personal, so I guess that makes a lot of sense. I’ll address that more below.]
This is likely to get long, everybody. And it will have little immediate impact on your business, on Association strategy, on MLS privatization… on nothing “useful” in that sense. So feel free to move on. Also, some of the language is gonna be… ah… salty.
It will, however, address an issue that has become a flashpoint of frustration and anger, and a hot topic within the industry in the last few days. I have had a hand in that (some might say too much of one) and the last couple of days has been interesting, to say the least.
As a friend of mine put it in a direct message to me, “This is the biggest pile of shit you’ve ever stepped in.” Well, that’s not entirely true, since this isn’t the biggest pile by a long shot, and I jumped in, rather than stepping in.
Now, almost 48 hours later, many things are becoming clearer, but at the same time, quite a few people have asked (some might say demanded) answers from me on a variety of topics. So I feel like I owe them some answers.
I am referring, of course, to my post on Medium.com called Before We Hang ‘Em High, Can We Convict First? In case you missed it over the weekend, and you want to know what the hubbub is about, go ahead and read it.
I wrote about the explosive revelation by Stacie Staub that she and two other women had a terrible experience at a major real estate industry conference because three men who were “industry rockstars, leaders, company owners and speakers from the event” were talking about women in violent, sexist and profane language. Again, if you haven’t read it yet, please go read the full thing. And then read the accounts of Valerie Garcia and Nikki Beauchamp, who were the friends mentioned in Stacie’s story.
Since I published that post on Medium, as of this writing, it’s been viewed 3,200 times and read 1,600 times. Which is more than any post I’ve ever put on Notorious, like… ever. Obviously, the post touched a nerve, in both positive and negative ways.
Interestingly, since I published it, most people have been supportive… while some have been… well, not so much. I’ve had questions and criticism that range from the rational and justified to the outright unhinged, which makes me worry for the enraged person’s psychological health. Decaf is highly recommended.
So this is an unusual post. I hope to achieve two things with it.
First, I would like to answer those questions and criticisms leveled against me for my post. A good number are my friends, who are genuinely wondering why I wrote what I did in the way I did. The haters gonna hate, and I don’t much pay attention to them, but real questions from friends and colleagues… well, I think I owe them that.
Second, I would like to address the substance of the issue: gender relations within the real estate industry, particularly at industry events like Inman Connect. Now that more facts have come to the surface, and more stories have been told, and more information is available, I can draw some conclusions today that I could not on Friday.
So here we go, once more into the breach.
The Backdrop: Before Writing
I saw Stacie’s post on Friday, while on a flight from Sacramento to Houston (miracle of sky-fi!), because a few of my FB friends had shared it, lauding her for her courage in speaking out. As I read it, I was instantly outraged as I think any decent human being would be, and dismayed that such a thing could happen at a professional industry event.
Now, Stacie didn’t mention any details, such as names or places. Perhaps her intent was to comment on our overall society in light of the Trump revelations. Perhaps it was just to get it off her chest, since the experience was traumatic for her and the other women involved. I don’t know.
But because I knew of her, and because I knew the friends who had shared her post, this incident could only have happened at a real estate conference, and the “speakers at the event” could mean any one of the number of guys I knew personally. Hell, “industry rock star, company owner, and speaker” could describe me (well, maybe not rock star… more of a rapper…). I do speak at a lot of events, after all. Obviously, I knew it wasn’t me — but could she be talking about some of my friends? None of the men I know on the speaking circuit would talk and behave like that, would they?
As I kept reading Stacie’s account, I went from outrage, muttering “Oh, you dumbasses…,” to cold fury that had me sitting up in my cramped airline chair to reread what I had just read. The passage that broke the dam was this one:
A couple of my friends looked back, either trying to convey to the group that the conversation was offensive and inappropriate, or maybe trying to figure out who was speaking. And that was when a cold chill of fear passed over me — one that I haven’t felt in years.
“Are you ladies learning something up there?!”
“Don’t ever cheat on your man or he has every right to fuck you up.”
Are you fucking kidding me? This isn’t just stupidity or run-of-the-mill douchebaggery. What came before was bad enough, but this was threatening, displaying a cavalier lack of sense and concern that goes way beyond boasting about sexual conquest.
I had to know who these guys were.
I shared Stacie’s post, and asked her to name names. I felt we all needed to know. Then something interesting happened. I began getting messages from a lot of people giving me information. I also stopped by my friend Kendyl Young’s thread, where she had posted Stacie’s article, and asked if she knew who the other two women on the bus where. And she tagged Valerie and Nikki. That’s how I knew who they were.
As yet, I just wanted to know who they were. I had no real plans to do anything other than that.
Then, I got the videos. Two of the three men involved had posted video… explanations? rebuttals? on the Lab Coat Agents Facebook Group — a group with over 40,000 members, which was the foundation of their business. A woman had downloaded them and sent them to me. I embedded them in my Medium post, but for the sake of convenience, here they are again:
These got me from just wanting to know who the men were, to wanting to do something. Because I can’t do anything about Trump, except not vote for him, but I felt I can do something about this situation.
Before I did anything, though, I asked my friends on FB whether I should do it at all:
Since I’m in the fortunate position in the industry of being able to say what’s on my mind, and to make public what we’re all whispering in hallways, with the encouragement I got there, I thought I’m better able to take the risk of naming names and shining a light on this situation.
So I wrote my post.
Why Did You Write It?
Curiously, I’ve had my motives questioned and disparaged. I must admit that caught me off-guard. One idiot accused me of writing it as clickbait. Well, that was one reason I posted it on Medium, instead of here, so as to avoid exactly that kind of bullshit “criticism”. Oh no! I’ve lost 3,200 clicks on a blog with no advertising on it! The horror!
I wrote it because I didn’t think anyone else would. As I’ve come to learn, the names had been out there for months, in secret (although more-or-less-public, since the groups were large) Facebook Groups, private messages, and other channels. People have been whispering about this incident for months. And as Toni Parker wrote above, people were afraid of retribution. I’m not. So I named them: Ronnie George, Nick Baldwin, and Tristan Ahumada of Lab Coat Agents.
I also wrote it because I’m a male speaker in the real estate industry. Stacie’s article, as brave as it was, did seem to me to be painting men in the real estate conference/speaking circuit with a broad brush, because she didn’t name names. (I’ve learned something about that since posting — more on that below). To me, it felt like when consumers say “Real estate agents are just moneygrubbing lazy fools after the commission check,” thereby denigrating the great (admittedly few) REALTORS who really live up to the ideals. [More on this below….]
Why Did You Name the Women?
This is the most frequent criticism, whether done rationally, or in unhinged fashion. Here, I’ll have to do a mea culpa: I made a mistake in how I went about it.
As I said, I learned about Valerie and Nikki from Kendyl tagging them. It turns out, among certain circles, it was common knowledge that they were the other two women on the bus. Neither Valerie nor Nikki were exactly hiding themselves, or refusing to talk about what happened. They’ve been active behind the veil, and quite a few people knew who they were. So I didn’t think it was a big deal.
Well, I have contacted Valerie and Nikki and explained myself to them. We’ve discussed it, and basically, they weren’t angry that I named them — they just wished that I had given them a heads-up. Being named in my post caught them off-guard; they weren’t ready for it. That was my mistake; I should have let them know that I’m publishing and naming them as the other two on the bus. I’ve apologized to them in private already, and do so again here. Because when I screw up, I own it.
I should have given you guys a heads-up; for failing to do that, I sincerely apologize.
Since they’re cool with it now, I guess I don’t much care what anybody else thinks about that.
Why Didn’t You Talk to Stacie/Valerie/Nikki Before Writing?
This is another fair question. The reason is that my business, and my blog, and my personality all fit together to preserve confidences extremely well. People feel free to tell me things because they know that I would keep things off the record when requested. I don’t talk about my consulting clients, because it’s nobody else’s business but theirs.
I didn’t contact them because I wanted to write about this and name names. Frankly, people have asked me to do just that, to shine some light onto an important issue. But if any of the three had asked me not to, I would have respected that and kept quiet.
So, the solution was not to talk to them at all before writing it. I also felt I didn’t need to talk to them because of the way I had planned to write the post.
A couple of folks are taking a rather high-and-mighty tone about this: “You needed to do more research before publishing” and so on. Thing is, I had all of the facts I needed from Stacie’s story and the two videos that were posted. Why the need for “research” then? No one demanding research has claimed or alleged that I got any facts wrong — what I got wrong, I immediately corrected in the post (e.g., it was Realtor.com, not NAR, that canceled business arrangements with the men involved).
Why Did You Write It The Way You Wrote It?
Quite a few people thought I was questioning the veracity of the women involved, and that I was defending Ronnie et. al. in how I wrote the post. Neither of that is true, but it requires bit of an explanation.
As most of you know, I’m a lawyer by training. That means a couple of things in this context.
First, I’m generally inclined to want to know both sides of a story before passing judgment. And law school teaches you just how unreliable eyewitnesses actually are. In this case, that was less of a risk, since there were three women who were present together, and all three are well-known and well-respected members of the Circuit. (That’s what I call the subset of real estate people who network online, go to events, etc.) Nonetheless, there is a chance that this was a case of misunderstanding somehow, or that I’m not in possession of all of the information.
Second, I’m aware of what constitutes defamation. I have heard since publishing my post that one or more of the women have been threatened with lawsuits, but I just didn’t see any risk there. For one thing, Stacie never mentioned anyone by name, or by any identifying information other than “industry rock star, etc.” It’s hard to claim you’re being defamed if you’re not named. Plus, truth is an absolute defense.
But I wasn’t there on the bus. I wanted to address the situation, and name names, without getting sued for defamation. If I’m going to identify them, then make factual claims about them without more information, then I think that constitutes a reckless disregard for the truth… which is a problem from a legal standpoint.
The path forward then was to lay out the factual claims made by both sides, particularly taken from the two videos (especially Ronnie’s longer video), and analyze them, and invite those involved to provide more detailed answers.
Stacie’s account didn’t need much analysis; it was a straightforward story with specific words and language she remembered.
Ronnie and Nick’s videos, however, raised a lot of questions. Since I posted them in the first post, I’ll just copy and paste them here. I am not aware of any responses to these questions and demands for their version of events, to me or to anyone else.
To Ronnie and Nick (and Tristan):
Ronnie, you say you remember every word that was actually said. Obviously, the way that Stacie wrote her story, if you said those words, then you’re a bad guy and deserve everything coming your way in a shitstorm, and then some. You agree, because if someone had actually thought in those ways and said those things, you say “they should be spoken to.”
And Nick, you say you’ve devoted your life to your wife, children, and socially conscious business practices, so surely, you would remember if Ronnie or Tristan (who we haven’t heard from) said something so vile.
So… what did you guys say? If you remember every word, it shouldn’t be difficult to write a post detailing your conversation, or re-enact the scene on camera, using the words you say you actually used. Given the impact this controversy is having on your business, your reputation, and your careers, I’d imagine this is an important misunderstanding to clear up.
Because what I can’t quite figure out is how you could be so misinterpreted. I mean, we’re not talking about some kind of comprehensible, “hey, the women were several rows ahead so maybe they misheard” type of scenario here.
For example, if you had said, “Yeah, I was really crushed when I found out she cheated on me” and Stacie and her friends heard, “Yeah, I wanted to really crush her with a fountain”… OK, maybe that’s some sort of Rashomon deal, where someone misheard it.
But I don’t quite understand how you get from “Have you met anybody on Tinder?” to this:
“Now I’m back on Tinder just hitting that shit — I’m still married but fuck that cheating bitch.”
“You guys know what I mean — fuck all the bitches, amiright?”
All that from six little words? I must confess I’m having trouble with that. And not just one woman, but three? None of whom, as far as we know, have any reason to fabricate some crazy story like that about you.
Nor can I quite wrap my mind around “I mean, I know how to hit a cunt so that she can hide the bruises.” I can’t come up with an innocent phrase that could be misheard that specifically. What could you possibly have said innocently that was misheard like that?
But you remember every word that was said, so perhaps you can help me (and the rest of the industry). Tell us what you actually said to each other. [Emphasis added]
To that list, I should have added one more — the passage that got me riled up to begin with. I’ll do it now:
Finally, Ronnie and Nick, Stacie’s version of the story ends with something that is chilling. She says that you saw that you were being overheard and instead of apologizing or explaining, you said:
“Are you ladies learning something up there?!”
“Don’t ever cheat on your man or he has every right to fuck you up.”
Did you say those words? If not, what did you say that could possibly be misinterpreted as those words?
I have asked Nick privately for their version of the Conversation, since Ronnie claims that he remembers every word that was said. I have not heard from him, nor have I seen any version of the Conversation anywhere as of this writing.
Keep in mind that both Ronnie and Nick have called the women liars and claimed that they fabricated the whole thing, for no reason at all. That’s a pretty serious charge in my view, and if you’re going to call someone a liar, you had better provide your version of the truth.
Having set that up, fairness demanded that I make sure I’m not missing anything about Stacie, Valerie, and Nikki. I know Nikki; have known her for years from when I lived in New Jersey and we were doing Lucky Strikes Social Media Club together. There was no reason then, and no reason now, for me to doubt her. I don’t know Stacie and Valerie that well, but based on what I knew of them, their reputation on the Circuit, I had no reason to doubt them either. At the same time, if I’m going to dissect Ronnie and Nick, I have to at least ask to make sure there’s no enmity between them or business interests.
One Thing I Wish I Knew Before Writing It
There is one thing I wish I knew before I wrote the post, however. A good friend of mine, Julia Parenteau, reached out privately and told me one thing about my post that annoyed her, and would annoy other women. Frankly, it’s one I simply didn’t know about… because I’m not a woman, and wish I did. I would have written it differently.
Basically, what she said was that my post became a #notallmen piece, and came across as defensive (because of the “broad brush” thing I mention above). And the #notallmen piece is “drastically unhelpful” because women KNOW that not all men are like that. I did not need to emphasize that point.
That’s… entirely fair, and I learned something. Yes, part of my outrage and fury stems from the fact that there are bad apples, and I feel tainted by association, but if I knew more about the #notallmen angle, I would have gone about it differently.
So first, I apologize for going down the #notallmen route, and second, thank you Julia for teaching me something I didn’t know. Real friends chastise gently, and teach us something.
On to the Substance
Now then, having offered explanations to the most asked rational questions, and having spent some 3,500 words talking about me because you all asked me about me and my writing… let me turn to the substance of what happened here. Because two days later, a few more facts have surfaced.
First, Valerie and Nikki both wrote up their accounts and published them. I linked to them above, but here they are again:
Both confirm all of the details of Stacie’s original story. In particular Valerie’s account dispels all reasonable doubt, in print:
Here is what I know for sure. I was there and the accounting of the experience was accurate. Despite many who have said otherwise, or questioned the timing, the sharing of this story was not done lightly. It was not without many weeks of conversation amongst the three women, and it was not concocted out of spite or retaliation. It was not timed to create damage or cause financial pain. We had no personal motivation to lie or embellish. And it was not the first time the story was told. [Emphasis added]
Second, since I posted, Lab Coat Agents has gone on a censorship spree. Dozens, if not hundreds, and possibly more, people have been kicked out of the Facebook Group for raising the issue. Entire threads have been deleted. One person reported that comments are being deleted as fast as they’re posted.
They have every right to do whatever they wish with their Facebook Group, but as a third party who offered them a chance to recount their version of the Conversation, this doesn’t look good for their credibility.
Third, we still have no evidence proffered by the LCA guys as to what they actually said, which would justify their calling Stacie, Valerie, and Nikki liars. Granted, it’s only been two days, but given the seriousness of the situation, one would imagine that reconstructing that Conversation, which Ronnie remembers every word of, would be on the top of their priorities list.
So, here’s the deal: at this point, it is clear that they did make those violent, sexist comments, including the “hope you’re learning something” which goes beyond just stupid douchebag talk into the realm of threats.
On to My Take
Normally, my take would be… well, sort of a who-gives-a-shit. I mean, I’m just one guy with opinions, and everyone has one. Nonetheless, I offer it because a number of you who are both my friends and my readers have specifically asked for my take. Again, take it, leave it, disagree with it, whatever you want. This is just one man’s opinion.
No one who knows me at all would mistake me for anybody’s idea of a feminist social justice warrior. In fact, I’m likely on the other side of that particular social battle. I mention that to say that there may be disagreements in some borderline gray areas, but there is absolutely none when it comes to certain bright lines that cannot, must not be crossed.
Violence against women is one of those lines. These guys crossed it. There is no scenario, no circumstance that justifies “I swear, I would have punched that bitch if I knew I could do it without fucking killing her” and “I mean, I know how to hit a cunt so that she can hide the bruises.” Just those two sentences standing alone are disgusting and vile.
And frankly, those sentiments, those thoughts, those ideas are vile even if the language were tame. It’s NOT an improvement if they had said, “I mean, I know how to hit a girl so that she can hide the bruises.” So the “defense” that Ronnie and Nick proffer that they don’t use profanity doesn’t change a goddamn thing.
Threatening someone, even if not directly personalized, is another one of those lines. These guys crossed it. It betrays such an idiotic sense of entitlement to be caught out, then say, “Are you ladies learning something up there?!” and “Don’t ever cheat on your man or he has every right to fuck you up.”
What. The. Fuck. Guys.
That goes beyond sexism; that goes to professionalism and appropriate conduct at a business function, which is what an industry conference is. The effect of that on the women listening… well, listen to their own account of what that did to them:
In the moment, I was just relieved to get off that bus. To enter the “safety” of the party, to leave it all behind.
But I couldn’t shake that cold chill. That threat.
When we got off that bus on August 4th, I immediately told people what I had experienced. And I have been telling people the story, consistently, ever since. In the weeks since, I have spoken about it to my friends, coworkers, industry colleagues, and to my family. I have spoken about it out loud, without secrecy. Because it shook me to the core.
I will tell you this — when the response to “Are you ladies learning anything …”
(From me) : “You don’t want to know what we think “
(Said in the hopes that they would cease -not continue- their conversation )- I’m not a small woman but self preservation and protection kicks in.
….because when instead of being quiet the person invokes a sex and the city defense — that he’s seen it and women are worse.
This right after you’re caught talking about how to punch a woman so as not to leave bruises. Again, what the fuck, guys?
These things cannot be tolerated. It cannot be swept under the rug. It cannot be subject of whispers and talked about behind closed doors. Because secrecy and privacy do NOT help when what is really needed is sunlight.
I won’t tolerate sexist violence against women anymore than I would tolerate racist violence against Asians. I can’t tolerate threats that make women (and frankly, men as well) feel unsafe at a business function. There just isn’t any place for that at a Inman Connect, at a T3 Summit, at a NAR convention. And I might not be able to do much about the problem in society-at-large, but if I have any influence in this industry, I will do what I can to expose the truth.
Because I think that’s the antidote to the poison. Valerie wrote at the end of her story:
I don’t know how this will end. I haven’t a clue how to fix this bleeding hole in the industry I love so much. I know that my friend, and the third woman on that bus, deserve the utmost respect for speaking out and putting this experience out there for all to see. It happened. Now, what do we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?
One thing we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again is to call out unacceptable behavior when we see it. We shine a light on the problem, and talk about it. Yes, there’s some risk involved — risk enough that I had to think about liability for defamation — so I completely get the hesitation.
But if we take one step, then another, away from the culture of secrecy and shame and fear of reprisals that is so prevalent in our industry… eventually, the risk will decrease.
Even today, Lab Coat Agents is deleting threads and comments and kicking people out of the group, trying to silence questions and criticism. That’s not gonna work, fellas. Silencing people and praying this social media shitstorm will blow over isn’t going to help. Truth will set you free, though.
If you did it, just fess up, apologize, and own your mistake. Americans are a forgiving people, and REALTORS are the nicest, least rock-the-boat people in America. If you are contrite, the industry will forgive you. And you not only need to apologize for the appalling words and behavior on the bus, but for slandering three women as liars who make up shit “for no reason at all”.
If you didn’t do it, if you really didn’t do it, and we all have it wrong, then tell us your story. I’m not holding my breath for that one, but hey, you never know. I’ll keep an open mind that hitherto unavailable information may be out there somewhere.
Egads, this got long. But I felt I owed a lot of people some explanations, and again, with new information now available, I feel much more comfortable drawing conclusions.
I do want to end with one final personal take. I don’t regard this as a “woman’s issue” that is none of my business. Even now knowing about the #notallmen thing, I think violence against women is a “our issue” that involves me and other men, in exactly the same way that I don’t regard racial violence as a “black issue” or an “Asian issue” but an American issue.
Maybe some of you still think I shouldn’t have gotten involved. That’s fine by me; we’re all entitled to our opinions. But since I posted, RealDaily has run a story about the situation, Inman has issued a new anti-harassment policy, and thousands of people are talking about the problem. I sincerely hope that this is the start of something positive.
The real credit goes to Stacie, Valerie and Nikki for telling their story, but if I had any small role in that by making public that which was whispered for weeks and months… well, I can go to sleep tonight very peacefully.
As the title of Nikki’s article says… No more whispers…