Attention conservation and troubling content notice: this may take you more than a half hour to read and process if you read the background material I link to, which I will strongly urge you to do if you intend to engage with me about this. Additionally, some of the content I link to and discuss involves threats of assault and other troubling material.
The short version
This blog post is intended as an introduction to a large and complex topic, so I hope you’ll bear with me. Having said that, what I’m proposing can be fit into an email footer:
TriLUG is dedicated to a harassment-free experience for everyone. Our anti-harassment policy can be found at: http://trilug.org/anti-harassment.
That’s it. I’m proposing we adopt the policy and any additional internal documentation and procedures necessary to successfully apply it. Keep reading if you’re curious or not fully on board. Skip to the Summary if you think this is a good idea.
I’d like to say that I’m on the leading edge of things. I think many of us in tech like to think we’re part of the vanguard. On this particular topic I’m a bit late, but better late than never. I’m going to point to those that have come before and ask you to read what they’ve written before you continue. Please start with this blog post here by Jesse Noller about the Code of Conduct adopted by the Python Software Foundation (PSF). Put aside what you think you know about the PyCon Code of Conduct if you haven’t read that blog post. Go read it. Continuing with PyCon, please read this timeline of events at and after PyCon this year (warning: troubling textual content). Having read both of the preceding, please now read this blog post by Sarah Milstein that provides one of the most thorough wrap-ups I have read about this collection of incidents. Believe me: I’ve done a lot of reading about this. I’d like to think that I’m enough of an adult for the gender of authors not to matter, but I’ll confess a big part of what resonated was the male perspective in one more blog post: Matt LeMay’s tumblr post here.
As a man who is at least in part concerned with how to engage other men on this, I’d like to address other men as a group for a moment, especially men who think this is not necessary. We’re going to jump industries briefly to give you a background blog post from the land of video games, which is a land where some people are rather unfairly having less fun, as this blog post makes clear (mildly NSFW cartoon image).
Why do I want an Anti-Harassment Policy for TriLUG?
Here’s where I get to be a nag and ask if you really read the background I gave above. If not, don’t bother reading this. Chances are very good we’ve come to this time right now (my writing this, your reading) from very different roads, and those roads likely don’t come close to an intellectual crossing if you haven’t read the background.
I used to work at Caktus, and I left on good terms. I like the people there. I want an Anti-Harassment Policy for TriLUG because I’d like to ask them for sponsorship, and as you already know, they won’t sponsor events that don’t have and enforce a zero-tolerance policy on harassment. Apparently neither will O’Reilly. I’m sure other potential sponsors will be following suit.
The more, the merrier
I honestly think TriLUG will be more fun and a better organization (for everyone, including me) when it better reflects the diverse talent we have here in the Triangle. If we need more than Linux and Open Source Software to unite us (eg. our maleness or our whiteness), then that means Linux and Open Source aren’t very compelling, and that would make me a sad panda. I think Linux is compelling, and I think we can grow and thrive by actively working to include more people from different backgrounds.
Doing what’s right
I want us to be on the right side of history. When I think about what a better world looks like, I think about a world where people of good will have easy, explicit access to what’s in bounds and out, and what’s in bounds and out matches with what’s good and inclusive. There will always be a few bad actors, and they will break norms in ways that harm people whether we have explicit guidelines or not, but the funny thing is that they (in the case of this link rapists) depend on ambiguity and a culture that excuses their bad actions in order to keep being bad.
Furthermore, having an anti-harassment policy doesn’t mean we can’t joke or have fun. It’s not our role to try to avoid anything and everything that might be found insulting. Rather, it is our role to be sensitive to past problematic behavior and framings so that we can be more inclusive in the future. It is our role to be understanding and kind when people come to us with a problem. Being sensitive and inclusive does not have to be a crippling burden. It may be more work at first, but I think the rewards are worth that work.
The wonderful thing about a policy like this is that we don’t have to beat people over the head with what they can’t do. It’s like the paint on a roadway. Here, go read this and then see if you don’t think bike lanes and anti-harassment policies have something in common. Let me tell you: bike lanes don’t get rid of terrible @#$%*!^s, but those simple stripes sure do make me feel a lot more comfortable riding on the road.
And lastly this isn’t a break with the past; it’s a reflection of our values. Sexism isn’t classy, and we’re working to stay classy.
I’ve been on the Steering Committee for a decent while, and it’s been good fun and hard work making sure we have talks people get something out of and pizza people enjoy. Before I move on, though, I want to make sure that I did more than just keep us afloat. I think an Anti-Harassment Policy the membership is proud of will help us grow, and it’s something I want to be able to point to after I’ve moved on.
We, TriLUG, have a gender problem. Women don’t come to our meetings in numbers. Our meeting statistics don’t get more fine-grained than headcount, but for most meetings my observation has been that we have between 3 and 5 women, and meetings are almost always upwards of 50 people. There are some semi-regular mailing list contributors who don’t have an obvious gender, but precious few who are overtly female. These things are a sign of a problem, and an Anti-Harassment Policy is one easy thing we can do that’s part of a solution.
Please go read the Full Anti-Harassment Policy. If you think it should be changed in any way, I’m open to suggestions.
At the May meeting we’ll have a vote. You (TriLUG members) will get to vote for both a new Steering Committee and on an amendment to the bylaws: the Anti-Harassment Policy. I’ll see you in May.
Some Personal Background
I was born in here in the US of A to a dad from down South and a mom from way down South (South America). I speak Spanish fairly fluently and sometimes identify as Latino but usually pass as White, and most Latinos who don’t know me read me as “Gringo” (White, American). I’ve spent most of my life and all of my adult life with permanent residences in states that seceded from the Union. I am a cisgender, heterosexual male. I am below average in height. I usually wear glasses. I’m a sysadmin for a living. Put another way: I’ve had the interesting luck of being otherized in enough different contexts that I’m no longer blind to privileges in others. I’m in a position of power in a variety of contexts, and it behooves me to use it for good.
Last year I decided that I was going to use my position of power on the Steering Committee of TriLUG to do some good. I decided that if I got elected again, I’d get childcare squared away for meetings. I picked childcare in particular because we had a panel meeting on Women in Tech that included an audience question asking what we (TriLUG) could do about the gender imbalance. One of the specific, concrete answers that several panel members agreed would be helpful was childcare.
I’ve failed. I thought I was close, but I’ve failed.
I’m not saying it can’t be done. Maybe y’all need to fire me and bring in a Steering Committee that can get childcare to happen. I’m happy to talk about what I’ve tried that hasn’t worked and what things I think might work, but for this year (2013) I’m giving up. That doesn’t mean I’m giving up on the wider issue of the gender imbalance at our meetings, however. Far from it. Instead I’ve decided to ask myself what else we can do that will make a difference. I don’t have all the answers, but I do have an answer: an Anti-Harassment Policy.
Jesse Noller wants you to give him all the blame in the PSF context. I’m Jesse in the TriLUG context. Don’t blame the other guys on Steering if you don’t like this. I’m the one who started this and has been pushing for it. I’m the one who went and met with staff at the Orange County Rape Crisis Center about what a good anti-harassment policy would look like. I’m the one who drafted the policy for both BarCampRDU and TriLUG based on the template by the Ada Initiative. If other Steering members want to stick their necks out in support of this, that’s fine, but send the hate mail my way first.
I expect the vast majority of you who are reading this actually think this is a good idea, and rather than hate mail I’ll just get a few carefully-worded comments or mailing list posts from those who imagine that there is a large audience that will disagree, and that we need to be careful not to upset them. If you’re one such person worrying about the doubters, I’d encourage you to stop worrying and instead speak up with your support and why you think this matters. Be vocal to help show that we’re in agreement. Also, patches welcome. ☃
UPDATE: An earlier version of this post used “cisgendered” while “cisgender” is the preferred term. Thank you to a reader who brought this to my attention.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this post used ableist language in discussing the value of bike lanes.