Valerie Lee and a co-worker were backstage at Orlando's Electric Daisy Carnival last weekend taking a much-needed breather when a man abruptly walked in and demanded to know whether they'd voted for Hillary Clinton. Lee, the U.S. digital editor for Mixmag, nodded and turned back to her conversation, but the man wouldn't relent.
Soon, Lee says, he began harassing them with loud, vulgar comments about Clinton and her supporters. Eventually, one of the man's friends had to shove him out the door.
Lee only learned later who that man was: Damian Pinto, a South Florida-based dance music entrepreneur and head of WorldVision Entertainment. Pinto also describes himself as the "official host of Ultra Music Festival" on his Facebook page and has appeared onstage at the festival.
Lee took to her Facebook page last night to speak up about the incident in a post that's since spread across social media feeds of dance music insiders.
"Hey Damian Pinto, remember when you came bumbling into our green room this weekend, acted like a rude sexist pig and thought you'd get away with it?" her post begins. "You blocking me on twitter and PR teams calling me won't make this go away. In fact, it makes me want to make sure this story goes out even wider and farther so the world can't ignore scumbag behavior like this anymore."
Reached by New Times, Pinto confirmed the confrontation happened but said Lee was simply offended by his politics.
"In life, (in America anyway) people have the right to exercise their freedom of speech," Pinto said in a Facebook message. "I did nothing but voice my opinion about a presidential candidate who has lied under oath to the FBI and repeatedly throughout her campaign to the American people. This young lady, who has since decided to attack me with her friends online, didn't like my views. I tried to apologize for the truth upsetting her and left the area to not further escalate the situation."
Ultra, meanwhile, says that the views of Pinto, who is an independent contractor, don't represent those of the EDM festival.
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The altercation began last weekend in a Mixmag
"He went on to make snide remarks," Lee says. Pinto turned to his friends and began speaking loudly about Lee and her co-worker.
Then Lee turned toward him. "You know, politics probably isn't the best thing to talk about here," she remembers saying. Pinto ignored her request. "He said something along the lines of 'That's Clinton talk. That's all Clinton talk.'"
Lee says Pinto never offered her an apology online or in person, and his decision to leave the room wasn't his own.
Lee's co-worker eventually stepped in, this time firmly asking Pinto to leave. After an unproductive back-and-forth, one of Pinto's friends shoved him out of the room. "I know it may not seem like him shouting Clinton at me and my co-worker seems that terrible, but in that instance, you have to imagine that we're two — we're not large people — we're smaller, young women. We're standing in a room — he stands up, he moves into our space, kind of trying to make himself a bigger person over us."
That was the last Lee saw of Pinto that night, but she later heard from a colleague who was outside the room that, as Pinto was escorted out, he allegedly loudly called Lee and her friend "two Hillary-loving lesbians."
She laughs at the intended insult, "which is actually not a terrible thing at all, but
Since she's gone live with her story, Lee says she has received an outpouring of support.
"But honestly," she says, "This isn't the worst thing that could have happened. It is awful, and it's almost, in a way, a blessing that this guy has some sort of title so that people are actually paying attention to it."
But Lee says this is no isolated incident, rather just a tiny example of a culture in dance music that allows men in power a much longer leash than anyone else. And it's that, more than any political issue, that bothered Lee about her altercation with Pinto. Rarely, Lee says, does she get respect until someone learns her position. "I'm close with many other women in this industry that have much, much worse stories to tell," she says.
It's not the first time we've seen a woman in dance music speak up about mistreatment at the hands of powerful men lately. Just last month, singer Maty Noyes took to Instagram in a lengthy post calling out Kygo's manager for allegedly stripping her from a concert lineup after she missed a performance. "I'm sick of dealing with these sexist pigs in the industry," Noyes wrote. "I'm standing up for myself." Kesha, another female artist who has engaged in a very public battle against a very powerful man, quickly voiced support for Noyes.
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A few of Lee's own friends had warned her to reconsider going public with her story. The dance music world can be a small place, and grudges can linger for years. But spite was never Lee's intention.
"Of course I have no intent of making an enemy of Ultra. And I actually very much support their events, and I'm close to the people who do PR for them and understand that their intent is very different from this individual's," she says.
There have been those who have accused Lee of hyperbole too. She has trouble wrapping her head around that accusation.
"There's no reason why I would be waving my femininity around for attention," she says. "Most days, I don't feel like my gender affects what I do. I'm not just coming out of nowhere trying to attack this guy or ruin his career. What it comes down to is this guy has made my female co-worker and I feel very, very upset and unsafe in our own space — and I'm sure that we're not the first, and we probably won't be the last. This behavior isn't acceptable anymore, and I'm glad people are beginning to understand it."