[FOSDEM] FOSDEM Code of Conduct

Koert koert at dumsoft.be
Fri Oct 30 16:56:21 CET 2015

What follows is my opinion, not the opinion of FOSDEM. I write this as a person, not as a FOSDEM staff member. To be honest, after having read what I've read the last couple of days, I don't know if I want to remain a staff member.

We do have a code of conduct at FOSDEM. We've had this code of conduct for years and we've made it public the last two or three years. It's the short paragraph somewhere near the end of the booklet.
I personnaly have always been a strong supporter of that code and the way it was worded. It was short and (I thought) clear.
This code was not something hastily thrown together because we don't really care. It was discussed and thought about. Here's why I thought it was a good one...

We are suprpised to hear harrasment is a common problem at...
I honestly am surprised. Belgium is a country with pretty strong laws against it. Sure, you have idiots everywhere, so you will have harrasment everywhere. I just didn't think it was a common. Among the FOSDEM staff there are women, gay people and people with a darker complexion. Myself being gay, I've never been harrassed about it at FOSDEM, I've heard no complaints from other staff members being harrassed. Now obviously, that could be because we are staff members and some visitors treat us differently because of that fact. But we've also gotton very few complaints, in the time that I was a staff member, from people that got harrassed (I'll come back to this later).

For me this is a very strong message. For me it means that it is obvious that harrassment of any kind is considered so unacceptable, it's surprising. Partly because Belgium has laws against it. Partly because, even without laws, it should just be clear to everyone that harrasment of any kind is simply not acceptable. I feel very strongly about this and assumed most of our visitors would do too. Unfortunately it seems that part of our public seems to be interpreting this in exactly the opposite way. They seem to think that we don't care or won't believe them. I don't know which of the two possibilities I find worse. Sadly, it seems that exatly the people who should feel (and not only feel, but actually be) supported by this, are interpreting it that way. So that needs rewording.

It was so short and vague. I thought that to be one of its strong points, for two reasons:
It avoids ridiculous discussions about what is and isn't allowed. If we state it's not allowed to grab a womans butt, we will have at some point have someone tell us "yes, but it didn't say squeezing her breasts wasn't allowed, so I thought that was fine". While most people will find it pretty obvious that the one implies the other, "most people" however, will not be the ones doing the harrassing. It's the other ones that we need to worry about.

It also doesn't state who shouldn't be harrassed. Because no one should be. Now if I stated woman, gay people and red-heads shouldn't be harrassed, for one that leaves out people with freckles (putting us back at the point mentioned above). Further more, and more importantly. FOSDEM is a conference for developpers. Not for women, not for gay people, not for black people, not for... A conference for developpers. While it could happen that a particular developper is a woman, or a gay man, or a midget or whatever is completely irrelevant in the context of FOSDEM. It should have no impact on their experience of the event (except in the case of women, who for ones have the shorter lines at the toilets).

Now if I mention women as a separate group, in doing so, I actually make them a separate group. Now this in my opinion, is a dangerous thing to do. If I make them a separate group, moreover a group that needs defending. Now for some poeple (not most people, but as I said earlier "most people" are not the ones causing issues) this has some implications. A group that needs defending must be weak. A group that is weak is "worth less" or maybe even "worthless". Worthless people deserve being harrassed, chased away. So in stead of having helped you, I will have significantly weakened your position. Which is something I do not wish to do. Gender, skin colour, hair colour, sexual preference, accent, income,... Everything that has no direct impact to your ability as a developper has nothing to do with your presence at FOSDEM.

If someone calls me a faggot? Is that offensive? Well, it depends. There's nothing wrong with the word. It's just a word. It's what that word conveys that may or may not be offensive. Some of my friends routinely call me (or refer to me as) faggot. I'm not offended by it, in fact, in a way I like it. Because when the call me faggot in a crowded place, they're not disrespecting me. They're sending out a strong and clear message to me and everyone around us: yes we know he's gay and we just don't care. People talking in hushed tones about "people with a different sexual preference" on the other hand might get 10 points for politically correct choice of words but they are the ones disrespecting me.

So that's why I thought that what we had was good. It has been pointed out to us by some people that especially that first part gets interpreted in a different way that we intended by a larger group than we suspected. So we are currently working on rewriting it. You see, we do care and we do listen. We do try to do what's best. What we haven't done is blindly jump on the political correctness train, just for the sake of political correctness. We aren't blind to problems that exist. But thinking that simply having a code of conduct is going to solve them is quite frankly stupid. Every country that has laws, also has courts. Why? Because just having laws does nothing to prevent people from breaking them.

I've read it numerous times, sometimes veiled, sometimes flat out, that I simply don't care. If you say staff doesn't care... I am staff, so you're saying I don't care. Not a single one of those people accusing me of not caring has contacted me and asked me if I cared. Which is strange, because it's really easy to contact me. No one has asked me why I was ok with the code of conduct as it was. No, what you did is notice it wasn't what you want and simply concluded that everyone that has a different opinion than you doesn't care. Which makes sense. You are perfect and if you reach a conclusion and form an opinion, this is the only valid opinion that can be formed by anyone who cares.

All those people claiming we don't listen... At what point exactly did we forcefully try to close down this discussion? Could someone forward me the mail that said "kindly shut the fuck up"? I can point you to a blog post stating we're evil (written by someone who wasn't even there ffs, based on tweets; we all know what an efficient medium twitter is for conveying nuanced ideas). There was one comment that didn't agree with her to which she reacted rather aggressively. When I wanted to respond, I noticed she had closed the blog for comments. Perhaps not directly because of the one disagreeing comments, but who's the one not listening here?

All those people claiming that I don't care and can't understand because I'm part of the majority... I'm not. I'm gay. I'm part of a minority that needs to keep track of which countries it is safe to travel to. Not because someone might call me names or, heaven forbid, squeeze my but, but because people will kill me. Sometimes in not so nice ways. There are countries are where it is socially acceptable to kill me, but countries where the law allows people to kill me. And in some extreme cases the law says I should be killed. In my own country I'm not allowed even to give blood at blood drives. So don't tell me I couldn't possibly understand about discrimination and harrassment. I understand them fulll well. I live them.
What gives you the right to go tell everyone and their sister that I don't know and don't care? One might consider that to be harrassment.

If something has happened that was so serious that the person involved was forbidden to talk about it... Only a judge can forbid you to talk about an event. If a judge was involved, this was a problem way beyond what any code of conduct could ever hope to prevent.

Yes, stuff happens, even bad stuff. Sometimes situations are dealt with in a way that's not perfect. Guess what: I'm not perfect. Neither are you. But we do care and we do listen.
No one sets out to organise a "bad" event. For the moment though, I don't know if I want to organise one at all.

That's it. Sorry for rambling, but somewhere along the line, I started taking this personal.

To all those trying to be open and reasonable about this, trying to be constructive and helpfull, and some even trying to defend us... from the bottom of my heart: thank you. Especially Pieter and Emanuil. Thank you.


Op 30 oktober 2015 16:19:43 +01:00, schreef :

> Thank you Johan,
> It is great to know the position of the organising team, and put a
> contentious topic to bed once and for all.
> I'm looking forward to another great conference this year!
> Thanks,
> Dave.
> On 10/30/2015 10:01 AM, Johan van Selst wrote:
> > Just a short note to let the community know that the FOSDEM staff has
> > not been ignoring the discussion about appropriate conduct,
> > inclusiveness and harassment at conferences. We do take these issues
> > seriously. The organisation wishes to provide a safe and welcoming
> > environment for all participants and does not condone offensive
> > behaviour. This is already established policy.
> > 
> > There will be a FOSDEM Code of Conduct that clarifies the position of
> > the organisation in this regard. We plan to publish this text soon.
> > For several years already, FOSDEM has had a coordinator for concerns
> > regarding social conduct at the conference (name and mobile telephone
> > number have been published on the first page of the visitor booklet).
> > For the next event, we plan to have a small coordination team, with
> > simple and clear contact information.
> > 
> > Regarding accessibility, we are aware that the conference location is
> > not ideal for everybody. We try to be as accommodating as possible to
> > attendees with accessibility needs. For several years, we have also had
> > a coordinator who can be approached with any questions regarding this
> > (again, name and telephone number are in the booklet).
> > 
> > 
> > Best regards,
> > 
> > Johan van Selst
> > on behalf of the FOSDEM team
> > 
> > 
> > 
> > _______________________________________________
> > FOSDEM mailing list
> > FOSDEM at lists.fosdem.org
> > <https://lists.fosdem.org/listinfo/fosdem>
> > 
> -- 
> Dave Neary - NFV/SDN Community Strategy
> Open Source and Standards, Red Hat - <http://community.redhat.com>
> Ph: +1-978-399-2182 / Cell: +1-978-799-3338
> _______________________________________________
> FOSDEM mailing list
> FOSDEM at lists.fosdem.org
> <https://lists.fosdem.org/listinfo/fosdem>

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