tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (not offended)
“I cannot hide my anger to spare you guilt, nor hurt feelings, nor answering anger; for to do so insults and trivializes all our efforts. Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action.” -- Audre Lorde

Do you only dislike bigotry when it comes from people you dislike? (hat-tip to [twitter.com profile] Rohboto)

In private email, I was asked what I thought about Brendan's blog post "Inclusiveness at Mozilla". Some people have been calling this an "apology", perhaps because of this sentence: 'I can only ask for your support to have the time to “show, not tell”; and in the meantime express my sorrow at having caused pain.' This means nothing to me without an understanding of why he caused pain and a commitment not to do it again, both of which are absent.

Some people have defended Brendan by saying he only made one donation to an anti-queer cause, six years ago. Actually, in addition to that well-known donation, he has also donated 22 times between 2003 and 2010 to Tea Party congressperson Thomas McClintock, who represents California's 4th Congressional district (in Eastern California, far from the Bay Area). The last donation to McClintock was three and a half years ago. You can confirm this for yourself using California's election contribution database and the federal disclosure database. (Thanks to [twitter.com profile] techgirlwonder for pointing this out.) McClintock wrote this on his own web site about Proposition 8:
Marriage is a unique institution in which a man and a woman summon a child into the world – creating a unique tapestry of responsibilities. Our marriage laws are designed to support those responsibilities and are simply inapplicable to any other kind of relationship. Lincoln asked, “If you call a tail a leg, how many legs has a dog? The answer is four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one.” And calling a homosexual partnership a marriage doesn’t make it one.
In any case, Brendan didn't directly address these 22 contributions to McClintock or his 2008 contribution to the pro-Prop.8 campaign on his blog, much less indicate that he no longer agrees with these positions or is doing anything to remedy the harm he did. (Hint: an equivalent donation to an organization that fights suicide among queer kids, or promotes anti-bullying campaigns in schools, would be a good start.)

An apology contains at least three things: an acknowledgment that you did something wrong, an explanation of why it was wrong so that others can see you understand why your actions were wrong, and an explanation of what you are doing to remedy the wrong that you did. Despite writing a few rather lengthy blog posts, Brendan has offered none of these, and thus has not apologized.

Why does it matter? Can't we just leave the past behind? [twitter.com profile] hypatiadotca posted a quotation that I like:
"Forgiveness is a link between the past and the future, it's not the restoration of the past prior to the injury." --Louise Arbour

Apologizing for past wrongs doesn't undo the past, but it does help rebuild trust and provide assurance that further abuse (or at least not the same kind!) won't occur in the future. We've seen none of that -- only tone policing and attempts at creating diversions. The message I take away from reading Brendan's blog posts is "I'lll still try to destroy your family, but I won't be rude to you to your face. Keep writing code for me!"

When someone attacks your family and wants forgiveness, you can't just hug it out. It is the responsibility of people who have abused their power to rectify the harm they've done and show that they've learned. It's not our responsibility as oppressed people to understand their motivations (beyond what we already have to do to survive in the world they run!) or to have a nice talk with them where we politely ask for the dignity they've stolen from us. Sometimes people change and stop doing hurtful things, but when they do not, it's because they stand to benefit from hurting people (or at least think they stand to benefit) -- not because we as oppressed people have failed to provide a clear enough explanation of our pain.

Honestly, I'm pretty tired of explaining this stuff and I would rather be writing some code. I have the nagging feeling that I've given the bigots far more time and attention than they're worth, but the issue is less any individual bigot than the way that organizations structurally tend to support and defend bigotry -- even to the point of calling bigots "allies" -- when there is no effort made to counter this tendency. I'm also only human and am disappointed in seeing people who I know are capable of doing better go beyond the minimum necessary for job-preservation to defend their company at the expense of our community.

I wish that I could avoid dealing with sexism, transphobia, and homophobia by logging out of Twitter or not reading blogs, but for me, it's not that easy. I can't earn my livelihood without interacting with people who, at any given moment, may remind me that I'm less of a person and make me pay for it if I object.

Edited to add:[twitter.com profile] PretendMD points out opensecrets.org, which lists several more donations Brendan made, including $1000 to Pat Buchanan in 1991 and 1992 and and $2500 to Ron Paul in 1996 and 1998. We're talking about a total of roughly $10,000 of donations over a period of 19 years, between 1991 and 2010. The man isn't being vilified over one donation.
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
Tolerance: the ability to accept, experience, or survive something harmful or unpleasant -- Merriam-Webster English Dictionary

Today, Mozilla announced the promotion of Brendan Eich to the position of CEO. In the first half of 2012 (during my first months as a full-time engineer at Mozilla), Brendan was publicly criticized for having donated a large amount of money to support the anti-universal-marriage Proposition 8 referendum. My friend and former colleague Christie Koehler summarizes that in her blog post from today.

If I might summarize something that Christie and a few other queer Mozillans said about this, they trust Brendan as a leader because he doesn't insert his views on their relationships into professional situations. And in my experience, this is true: he hasn't made any comments in the workplace that I was present for, or aware of, about other people's sexuality.

But we know that Brendan has already inserted his views on our relationships where those views don't belong: into the workings of the government, by means of making a political donation. If I can't trust him not to spend money on making sure that I wouldn't be able to visit my dying partner in the hospital, why would I trust him not to insert his views on the genuineness of my relationships into the workings of the company?

I can't read minds. But I do have a hard time understanding how somebody could sincerely believe that queer people in relationships love each other -- that their love is just as real and valuable as the love that heterosexual people in relationships have for each other -- and yet, financially support legislation that subjugates the first group in order to elevate the second. If someone doesn't believe that I am capable of being in a loving relationship, how can that person and I have a working relationship based in mutual respect?

How much technical work do you have to contribute to earn the right to have your bigotry overlooked? Everyone, of course, has the right to be a bigot. But everyone else also has the right to hold bigots accountable. Political opinions are absolutely a valid criterion for whether or not to promote someone to a position of greater power -- when those political opinions involve whether or not a certain group of people gets to be considered human.

False Dismissal

You might say: "Isn't that exaggerating, Tim, to say that Brendan doesn't consider you to be a human being? He just opposes your relationships being accorded the same legal status as his own."

But if marriage isn't a big deal, why the hell does the right wing fight so hard -- and spend so much of their hard-earned money -- to keep it a privilege available only to heterosexuals? Their behavior shows that it is a very big deal. The freedom to marry is part of what it means to be an adult in Western culture. In general, infringement on the freedom to be with the partner of one's choice is not well-tolerated, so long as everyone involved is considered legally able to consent. The one exception is when the relationship isn't between a cis man and a cis woman. For those people who would only consider entering into a committed relationship with someone of the same gender, that policy sends a message that their relationships are not as valuable -- are not something that the state wishes to encourage. And so, in a way, those people are prevented from being considered full adults. A slightly different message gets sent to those of us whose relationships aren't constrained by gender: the government tells me that some partners I might choose are acceptable and worthy of encouragement (women), and others aren't. Actually, in my case, there's a third message: it's unclear to me whether I'd be allowed to legally marry at all if I tried, because not all of my government documents reflect the same sex marker, and I have every reason to believe that the rules would be applied in such a way as to cause maximal harm to me.

If you care about human rights, you ought to find this state of affairs to be an insult to the sanctity of human intimacy. It is a very big deal.

Privacy

Mozilla is a company that claims privacy as one of its core values. Someone who advocated for universal Internet filtering of obscene content, for example, would probably not be able to ascend to the position of CEO of Mozilla. That is because most Mozillans probably wouldn't trust such a person to carry out Mozilla's mission, which involves defending a certain set of ethical principles and not just maximizing profit.

Does everybody deserve privacy, or just heterosexual people? Contributing money to ensure that, if I had a male partner who was severely hurt in a car accident and on the brink of death, I wouldn't be able to see my partner before he died -- well, I'd say that's a pretty serious violation of my privacy, since the restriction is contingent on my partner being male. So long as that person consents to enter into a relationship with me, I ought to be able to have a relationship with someone of any gender -- the details ought to be private to me, and not something that the state can incentivize.

Compartmentalization

"Why don't you let Brendan keep his personal life separate from his professional life, Tim?" Well, I'll be happy to do that when he stops interfering in my personal life. Shouldn't he be able to give money to whom he chooses? Isn't it prying into his personal life to hold him accountable for those choices? Well, it sure must be hard to have people snooping into your personal life, where they don't belong. I wonder what that's like? When people like Brendan abuse their power to try to enact policies that limit my freedom, that may be an abstract moral game for them, but it actually affects me and people like me. I can't possibly separate Brendan's views from my personal life -- by making the political contribution that he did, he took that choice away from me -- so (if I was still a Mozilla employee) I'm not sure why I would be expected to afford him the privilege of separating his views from his professional life.

In this case, as it often is, the imaginary chasm between personal conduct and professional conduct effectively shields people who abuse their power from the consequences of their actions. The fictional divide between the codes of ethics people apply in their private and public lives is, in this case, an excuse to hurt people without being held accountable for it. Brendan is the same person whether he is writing a check to an anti-marriage-equality group or giving a speech on behalf of Mozilla. His conduct in both realms reflects on his character. I don't see any evidence for the idea that each person can sustain one set of ethics for operating personally and a different one for operating in the workplace while maintaining their integrity.

The importance of trustworthy leadership

I'm borrowing the phrase "trustworthy leadership" from Matthew Garrett's "The Importance of Trustworthy Power Structures", which is essential reading.

If you are saying that you can trust somebody who spent money to ensure the continued policing of my relationships, what you're really saying is that you don't think my privacy is important. If you are saying that a person who doesn't believe that queer people are fully human can be a trustworthy leader for an organization you value, you are really saying that it's okay to dehumanize me. Especially in an organization that says it's fundamentally about preserving openness and freedom in one of humanity's most important communications media, it is simply unjustified to ignore a leader's views on whether people deserve the freedom to choose who they form relationships with.

By the way, this is not about Brendan's personal opinions or any desire on my part to change them -- I'm much more interested in structures than in individuals. Saying "I disagree with his views, but look how useful this person is" is also something that reflects on the nature of the people around him, especially those at a similar level of power in the organization. Ultimately, it's not about one person, but about an entire community that is happy to tell its queer contributors that their safety isn't as important as one person who is deemed so useful to the organization that he is exempt from upholding the ideals of fairness and equality. Did anybody who was involved in selecting him for this position think about what kind of message this would send to queer Mozilla employees, or queer Mozilla volunteers, or queer people who are thinking about joining the organization?

I respect Christie, Lukas, and other Mozilla folks who have commented with their support for Brendan. I also respect anyone who chooses to stay silent and continue their involvement with Mozilla -- earning a livelihood isn't easy for most of us, and it's an understandable choice to continue at a place that generally feels comfortable even if one can't countenance decisions made at the executive level. But I have to express my dissent nonetheless. To me, the question of whether or not I deserve to be a full citizen isn't something that we can agree to disagree on. Asking me to accept what feels like hate to me (regardless of whether the person engaging in actions that threaten my well-being feels they are being hateful) in the name of "tolerating differences" or "diversity of opinion" is an act that twists words past the point where they mean anything. Hate doesn't deserve the dignity of being welcomed as an acceptable difference of opinion. To me, denying the dignity of even a single human being is an act of violation against the humanity of every one of us.

Fifty years from now, if I'm fortunate enough to be around, I expect to be explaining to my grandchildren why heterosexual people were once afforded special privileges. I'm as certain of this as I am of anything else that I can't prove: much as nobody could be found after Watergate who voted for Richard Nixon, it won't be long until nobody will admit having voted for the acts of legislative violence against vulnerable minority groups that are today considered within the acceptable range of political variation. So why not stop hating now and avoid the rush? And why not stop enabling other people's hate, while you're at it? I say "enabling" because that is what it means to tolerate hate as a difference of opinion; there is no way to be neutral about the dehumanization of any group of human beings. Bigots who are "tolerated" feel empowered and supported in their hate; we needn't retaliate against their bigotry with violence, but neither should etiquette keep us from letting them know that their behavior is unacceptable.

The question of whether queer people should be treated as people is not a political issue, at least not in the sense that it's petty or procedural. I can agree to disagree with people who hold differing views even on some very important issues, such as gun control or traffic laws. I can't agree to disagree on the question of whether I'm a person under the law. Disagreeing with my humanity isn't like disagreeing about whether a programming language should have static typechecking. My refusal to tolerate people who want to erase my civil rights isn't some hip form of bigotry on my part. Rather, it's the only way for me to respect myself.

Postscript: Again, I don't think it's a bad thing that some Mozillans who are queer are expressing willingness to set aside the past and work with Brendan because they believe in those aspects of Mozilla's mission that can be separated from universal human rights. It would be a nice gesture on Brendan's part if he would acknowledge the sacrifice these individuals are making by donating $1000 to an organization that supports LGBTQ rights. Surely he can do that without having to agree; since he wants us not to read anything into his donation to the campaign for Proposition 8, we can certainly grant him the favor of not reading anything into his support for a pro-LGBTQ organization. It's only fair in return for the favor that queer Mozillans are doing by working with him despite their disagreement.

I find it telling that several queer Mozillans have felt they needed to make a statement that they are willing to work with Brendan even though he sees their relationships as inferior to his, whereas Brendan has made no accompanying statement that he will treat queer employees equally to heterosexual employees, putting aside his views about their ability to love others. Nor has there been a statement from any other executive that they feel that Brendan will be able to treat queer colleagues as first-class citizens in the workplace even while treating them as second-class citizens when participating in the political process. A relationship where only one party is expected to compromise while the other stands its ground unconditionally is an abusive relationship.

n.b.: I'm not a Mozilla employee any longer, though I was an intern at Mozilla in 2011 and was a Research Engineer at Mozilla from January 2012-November 2013, when I resigned in order to move to a startup.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
I promised I was going to post something related every day until I reached 20 donors for the Ada Initiative for my 32nd birthday. So far: 3 down, 17 to go!
I'm going to start with Valerie Aurora's absolutely brilliant post, 'Connecting the dots: "Everyday sexism" and the École Polytechnique massacre'. Valerie Aurora is a co-founder of and executive director of the Ada Initiative.

Really, I could just link to this post, tell you emphatically to read it, and leave it at that. But there's a little more I want to add, since the topic of Aurora's post is an incident that directly affected me: not the École Polytechnique massacre, that is, but the most recent events involving the the Planet Mozilla controversy and the harassment of my colleague Christie Koehler that resulted from it.

Aurora writes:
This anniversary is important for women in technology in part because it connects obvious, overt crimes against women in technology with the ugly root system of "everyday" sexism that feeds and sustains it. Lépine left a long note explaining why he targeted women: feminists had ruined his life ("les féministes qui m'ont toujours gaché la vie"). In particular, he told people that women in technology caused him to be unable to get a job or complete a university degree in technology.


It's pretty obvious that there is a parallel -- in intention if not in effect -- between the massacre and the death threat that Christie received from a person who had an interest in what goes on in the open-source community. In my opinion, these two examples of hostility -- from men in the tech community, aimed at women in the tech community -- clearly show the source of a lot of the more everyday, more insidious hostility towards women in the software industry and especially open source. The hostility comes from men defending what they believe to be their property. Lépine believed that he was entitled to have an engineering job -- to the point where he should not have to face competition from women who were as qualified as he was, or more qualified than him. To defend his turf, he literally murdered women who were potential rivals with him for jobs. As with any hate crime, his action also served as a warning to all women who might consider studying or working in engineering: that if you encroach on a man's turf, he might defend it by killing you, and that engineering is a man's turf.

While less harsh in its consequences, a death threat from someone who believes that the open-source community should be a heterosexual men's club serves the same purpose: to terrorize, to instill fear in any women who participate or might think about participating that if they question anything about how they're being treated, someone might hurt or kill them. Hans Reiser, who was at least formerly an accepted and influential member of the open-source community, made this less hypothetical by murdering his wife, Nina Reiser. While Nina Reiser was not a programmer herself, this incident shows that committing extreme violence against women is not incompatible with being in the open-source community -- that you can't assume that just because someone is your colleague, or works on the same project, that they're not capable of hating women enough to kill one.

So far, I don't expect what's been said to be too controversial. But, as Aurora did, I also want to problematize the incident that set off the Planet Mozilla controversy and gave rise to the discussions that made at least one person (whose identity is not known at this date) feel so passionate about defending the right of some other people to use a work space to say certain things that they were willing to threaten somebody's life over it. That is: a paid Mozilla contributor made a statement on his blog, which was syndicated on Mozilla's blog aggregator, encouraging readers to sign a petition that says: "I support the legal definition of marriage which is the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman."

Now let's talk about what this means. Opponents of universal marriage might say that they don't hate or fear gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, intersex, genderqueer, transgender, or transsexual people -- just that they want to make sure that "marriage" "means what it's always meant". But clearly, this "always" statement is based on universalizing a very particular white, heterosexual, monogamous, middle- to upper-class, Protestant, Western European definition of "marriage" (and it might be something even more specific than that) in a way that denies history. So the concept of "not wanting to change what it's always meant" is a red herring, since there is no single thing that marriage has "always meant".

I think what's really going on is about ownership as well. The aforementioned privileged group (a subset of individuals who are white, heterosexual, Protestant, and so on) believe that they own the concept of marriage and have the right to exclude people from it as they choose. They think marriage belongs to them. Let's make a table. By the way: when I say "fundamentalists" in the heading, I'm not meaning to imply that all opponents of universal marriage are religious. I also don't mean to blame the abstraction of "religion" for the misguided beliefs of real, concrete human beings. They are responsible for their beliefs, which can't be blamed on an abstract concept. I'm religious myself, so I know that many religious people hold open and accepting views, and many non-religious people hold bigoted, narrow views. Rather, the group I mean to name is that group that uses obsessive, almost fetishistic attention to the literal meanings of words (always according to dictionaries they wrote) as a weapon. Many of these people identify as religious, but not all.

Violent, misogynist men in the tech industryFundamentalists
Believe themselves to be superior to womenBelieve their relationships to be more sacred than, more moral than, better for society than, better for children than, just all-around better than queer people's relationships with each other
Rely on their roles as hackers, programmers or engineers to reinforce their self-esteemRely on the concept of "traditional marriage" in order to feel good about themselves and their relationships
Feel that open-source belongs to them and they have the right to enforce who enters geek/nerd/hacker spacesFeel that marriage belongs to them and they have the exclusive right to decide whose marriages the government recognizes
Are sometimes willing to use outright violence, or at least threats thereof, to protect their turfUse legislative and rhetorical violence to protect their turf, diminishing the quality of queer people's lives in real and concrete ways

Some people might say that fundamentalists don't deserve to be compared to murderers. Honestly, I couldn't care less how fundamentalists feel about being compared to murderers. When fundamentalists start thinking about how it feels for me when they tell me their relationships are better than mine, maybe then I'll start thinking about how they feel about the comparison. My activism is not to "convince" or "persuade" fundamentalists that it's more rewarding and enriching to see oneself as equal in worth and dignity to others than to see oneself as others' master, anyway -- I don't think I'm clever enough to convince them of that. My activism is to convince people like me to not sit down and take it.

I'm not saying that fundamentalists' feelings don't matter. Everyone's feelings are real, everyone's feelings matter. But there's a difference between having a feeling, and compelling someone else to care about it. If a fundamentalist tells me it hurts their feelings to be grouped together with violent people, I'm sure that they really do feel that way. But I can't address their concern if, when I engage with the person, all that happens is that they:

  • tell me that their intentions ought to govern me (i.e., that I'm not allowed to have any feelings about their words or actions that they didn't intend to make me have)
  • tell me that I'm obligated to sacrifice my autonomy to protect their abstractions (e.g. "traditional marriage")
  • refuse to acknowledge that it hurts to be told that you're inferior
  • even, sometimes, refuse to acknowledge that their actions could make people feel inferior

I have seen this pattern from both fundamentalists and misogynists too many times. Were I to spend my compassion on such people, I'd be entering into an abusive relationship: one where I am asked to consider another person's feelings, but they don't consider mine. I can't afford to pay that price. And that's the long way of saying that yes, I've considered what it means to draw an analogy between people who advocate that the state should repress queer people and people who commit violent crimes, and no, I'm not going to censor myself for the sake of the feelings of people who already hold power and privilege.

And, of course, I am not saying that rhetoric and murder are literally the same. They are different. But we can all agree on that. Where I disagree with some is that I'm not satisfied being told "You should be grateful we're only suggesting to other people that you're disposable, rather than killing you directly." Saying that we're second-class -- by designating us as the one class of adults that isn't allowed the basic freedom of having our relationships recognized as serious and committed -- as adult -- does send the message that we're disposable.

So, I believe that when an open-source community like Mozilla tolerates anti-universal-marriage rhetoric in a form that lives under a Mozilla domain name, that is tacit endorsement of an entitlement, on the part of fundamentalists, to claim marriage as their own and to use rhetorical violence -- language that implicitly (through appeal to a host of cultural baggage about the relative value of heterosexuals' and queer people's relationships) proclaims people like me as less good and less deserving of fair treatment than heterosexuals are. The spirited defense, in terms of so-called "free speech", that quite a few members of the community mounted of their right to use the blog aggregator in this manner -- as well as the total failure of Mozilla leadership to condemn the anti-universal-marriage statements as contrary to Mozilla's philosophy of openness and inclusion -- connotes, to me, the way in which violence against women and subordination of queer people are intertwined. And if it wasn't clear, the fact that one of our colleagues, a person who works in the same office as I do, explicitly told Christie and me that we didn't belong at Mozilla and should go somewhere else, as well as the fact that this person faced no concrete consequences for what he did, drives that message home. And if that wasn't clear, the fact that somebody with a stake in it was so passionate about fundamentalists' right to use any platform to defend their turf that they were willing to make a death threat drives home -- tellingly, aimed only at Christie (not at me, though I've been equally vocal) and shot through with disgusting comments about her gender, sexuality, and body -- that it's all connected.

You might ask me at this point whether I'm engaging in mind-reading when I argue that fundamentalists are really defending their turf, rather than defending "traditional marriage". I don't have time for that question. I'm entitled to interpret what you say, just as you're entitled to interpret what I say. A basic measure of respect adults grant to each other is to recognize that other people won't automatically trust you, assume you're telling the truth, or believe you when you state your motivations. I'm happy to hear someone tell me that I'm wrong or that I'm right, but deflecting attention from the content of what I'm writing by questioning my right to have higher-order thoughts about my social superiors -- insinuating that I'm obligated to believe that cops never lie, teachers tell the truth, and authority figures are always open and honest -- is just a way of derailing the discussion from substance into vacuous meta-discussion.

So what does this all have to do with the Ada Initiative? Well, I think the problems we have in open source are not primarily due to the relatively small number of men who are willing to commit physical violence or threaten it in order to keep open source a boys' club. Rather, I think they're due to the large majority of men in the community who are sympathetic to women's issues, who want to change things but aren't sure how, or who stay silent at everyday sexism -- the remarks that, as Aurora showed quite well, create an environment where more serious acts of violence flourish. The work of the Ada Initiative is helping make it easier to do the right thing instead of staying silent. Their work on codes of conduct for tech conferences has already made it easier for a woman in the software industry to attend a professional conference without worrying she'll be sexually assaulted or harassed -- something that almost all men in the industry take for granted.

I support the Ada Initiative because I stand with cis women, with trans women, with trans men, with genderqueer people, with queer cis men, who don't want to own the world -- who don't want to control a community or an industry -- but who just want to govern their own lives. People who want to make a good living, do honest work, and collaborate with others to build tools that will make life easier and better for people. These are modest goals, but if enough of the industry remains complicit in misogyny, they won't be achieved. Likewise, as queer people, we don't want to define marriage for everybody else and exclude people who aren't like ourselves from deciding what it means. We just want to live our lives, too: paying our fair share in taxes, visiting our partners in the hospital, raising children if we choose to, transferring property when we die, and so on. And where these two threads come together is that I still work in an industry that doesn't recognize that opposition to universal marriage is both a mainstream political view and hate speech that makes people in a minority group feel unwelcome and unsafe.

If you agree with me that the Ada Initiative's work is important, please wish me a happy 32nd birthday and make a donation. And then let me know. By doing so, you can be as cool as [personal profile] juli, [personal profile] etb, and Henry!

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Tim Chevalier

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