We recently moved into a new office building, and I was put in charge of coordinating a lot of the new office logistics. One of the things I needed to do was to come up with new names for our different conference rooms.
Rather than give a boring, generic name (like the Aspen Room), I decided to turn it into an exciting fundraiser. I said that for every $10 people donated to the Make-a-Wish Foundation, individuals would get a raffle ticket. The winner of the raffle would have the honor of the biggest conference room named after them. (For example, if somebody named James Bond won the raffle, we would name it the Bond Conference Room).
This ended up being a huge success, and our office raised over $7,000 for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Lots of people were excited about the raffle.
The winner of the raffle was a woman who is not native to the US. Unfortunately, her last name looks and sounds exactly like an obscene English word that is used to describe a sexual act. (Not going to share the name here for obvious reasons, but I can assure you that almost everybody would do a double-take if they saw the name posted in big letters on a door).
I took her aside and explained to her that we can't name the conference room after her last name, especially since we often have conservative elderly clients who may be scandalized by the conference room name.
She immediately became upset and claimed that I was being racist and a bigot, and that I wasn't accepting of her ethnicity. I offered to name the conference room after her first name (a very common American name), but that just made her even more mad because she thinks I only care about her name sounding American.
She's gotten several people in her office on her side, and they are all calling me a racist and giving me dirty looks. I'm overhearing rumblings about starting a safe space in the office to discuss racial prejudices. Needless to say, this is starting to get ugly really quickly. I told my boss (who works in a different location) about this situation, and he just told me to deal with it and stop bothering him.
How can I defuse this situation without seeming insensitive or intolerant? What am I doing wrong?