On Including the Uninclusive

I work as a software developer at Mozilla; I’m also a bisexual guy, just for some context. I probably hang out in the “tech bubble” a bit more than I should so this post is based around an event in tech, but I think this analysis applies beyond tech. The world at large has issues accepting pretty much anyone outside what it thinks is normal and the tech scene isn’t that different (sometimes: it’s worse).

People fear what they don’t understand; they fear what they aren’t. And those at the top try to keep their positions by restricting the “other”.

The problem with these restrictions, be they racism or sexism or homophobia or xenophobia or whatever else, are hopefully evident to you. There’s no evidence that gays make lousy parents or women make bad programmers. Discounting people out-of-hand is hurtful, and it limits some of the best and smartest people because of hurtful, silly, preconceived notions. It’s not right.

When you meet someone who is racist or homophobic or insensitive, you should want to change their mind. You want to convince them of your world view; that people of all types should have equal rights. That’s good!

The way to do that is not to call them a bigot and dismiss them.

Prop Eich

Brendan Eich, the guy who wrote JavaScript and has been a part of Mozilla since its inception, became Mozilla’s CEO on Monday, March 24, 2014. A few years ago it came to light that he had donated $1,000 USD to a campaign against equal marriage for same-sex couples in California.

Brendan has since been painted as a homophobe, a bigot, intolerant, and many in the Mozilla community have called for him to step down as CEO. Some have said they will boycott Mozilla products and community while he is CEO.

It is entirely reasonable to feel that a CEO’s actions in a community built on openness and inclusiveness shouldn’t be someone who wants to limit people’s rights, especially when they relate to private actions. Mozilla believes greatly in people’s right to privacy, and who you’re fucking is a pretty private thing. It’s ironic and troubling that our new CEO did not respect this privacy, at least at one particular point.

Open a Dialogue

It’s important not to immediately cast off people who do wrong. If Eich is now in a position of greater power at the company and in the community, people should work to change his mind, not immediately condemn and dismiss him (like he did to queers in 2008). The same goes for any person you meet who does something wrong. You don’t say “You’re an idiot! You sexist pig!”. You stop the person, sit them down, and try to educate them. You say “What you did was sexist, and here’s why: …”

It’s not fair, but queer people are alienated in the minds of many straight people; we’re seen as deviants, immoral, or unwell. To alienate someone else by calling them intolerant, instead of pointing out that one of their actions was intolerant, alienates them. It alienates you further in their minds at the same time.

There is no forward progress in dismissing someone outright for one of their beliefs or traits–even if they’re wrong. As the already alienated people, we should know this, and be better than the person attacking you. You may not convince someone by trying to open a dialogue, but you will certainly not convince them by calling them a bigot and putting them on the defensive.

Try to be Nice, even when they aren’t

It’s worth asking people politely and without angst if their positions have changed. It’s worth asking people if they’d like to talk about it. It’s worth not being as reactionary as them. I have never won over someone by calling them a bigot and being angry–much the same way as I imagine no one has convinced the queer people yelling at Mozilla to “stop being gay” by calling them dykes or faggots and dismissing them.

I have honestly had success changing people’s minds about gay marriage by sitting down and talking with them.

Let’s stop yelling. Let’s open a dialogue. Evaluate the situation. Ask people how they feel. Try doing things without the snark.

Let’s just talk. Try to assume good intent, even when sometimes you feel there isn’t much.

Some interesting side notes specifically regarding Eich, queers, and Mozilla: