I was dismayed to hear the news of North Carolina’s anti-LGBT bill known as HB2. There were many thoughts that ran through my head, both personally and professionally. One thing that occurred to me is that there are at least two upcoming events being hosted in North Carolina that members of our Developer Advocacy team either plan on attending or are considering attending, FOSS4G NA and All Things Open. If the opportunity came up, would I attend these events as well? Would, or should, other members of our Developer Advocacy team still participate? Can these events still provide a safe space despite HB2?

As I considered all of this, I was encouraged to see IBM’s official statement on the passage of HB2 (IBM is one of North Carolina’s largest employers):

“IBM is opposed to discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, national origin, genetics, disability, or age. Our company has had an explicit policy of non-discrimination based on gender identity or expression since 2002.

“We are disappointed by the passage of HB2 in the North Carolina General Assembly because this measure will reduce, rather than expand, the scope of anti-discrimination protection in the state. IBM will continue to follow its global non-discrimination policies in the workplace, and believes that an inclusive and welcoming environment is the best way to attract talented individuals to our company.”

As with companies like IBM, communities need to be inclusive and welcoming environments in order to attract and retain talented individuals and a diversity of perspectives. I am a strong believer in the power of community. Developers learn about new technologies, new approaches to solving problems, and new ideas in large part from developer communities. It is of vital importance that developer communities are diverse and inclusive so that everyone can benefit from access to these communities. Laws such as HB2 directly undermine the ability to build diverse and inclusive communities.

Both FOSS4G NA and All Things Open have a history of valuing inclusivity and diversity. Before coming to any conclusions as to what I should do, I wanted to hear from the conference organizers. This is an excerpt of what FOSS4G NA had to say:

On behalf of the team organizing this year’s conference, we would like to respond to the recent legislation passed in North Carolina related to transgendered people’s rights to use the bathroom of their choice. This kind of legislation runs counter to the principles and community code of conducts adopted by the FOSS4G community such as the one by LocationTech hosted by the Eclipse Foundation, and OSGeo. As such, we simply cannot condone it.

We are unable to relocate the event with just 39 days to go. I want to personally assure attendees that the conference is open and welcoming to everyone, and this includes transgendered people. If you did not already know, I am a transwoman myself.

We have approached the venue to ask for their help to ensure our guests will be accommodated in light of this new legislation. They understand why this matters a great deal. We will share more details about what we are able to offer soon.

This is an excerpt of what All Things Open had to say:

In light of House Bill 2 recently being passed and signed into law, we’d like to reaffirm our commitment to diversity, inclusion, and providing a safe environment during the conference scheduled to take place in October. We don’t agree with any law that results in an unsafe environment for any person at our events or in the public at large, including this one.

To anyone considering attending All Things Open in Raleigh, do know the event will be a safe place for everyone and that we are currently taking every action possible to ensure this is the case, including working with the City of Raleigh and the Convention Center. We value diversity, inclusion, and take providing an safe environment that does as well very seriously. We have since we started ATO in 2013 and do not intend to change that anytime soon.

Whether or not to participate in these events (if the opportunity arises) is a difficult and complicated decision, with many factors to consider. My first and foremost consideration is safety: my safety, the safety of my coworkers, and the safety of other conference attendees. Even if I determine that I will be safe, what about the perspectives not represented at these events due to safety concerns?

One thing that really stood out to me was this excerpt from the statement by FOSS4G NA:

We humbly ask that you please do not protest the North Carolina legislature’s decision by boycotting FOSS4G NA 2016. Doing so hurts our conference, the not-for-profit organizing it, and our community. Each of which have a clear policy of inclusiveness.

If I decide not to participate, will I be harming the very people affected by HB2, as well as allies? I have come to the tentative conclusion that I will attend these events if the opportunity arises, as I feel that not attending could do more harm than good. However, I will be keeping a close watch on what these conferences plan to do to ensure a safe space for all attendees, especially transgender people, in light of HB2.

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