Over the last several weeks, a handful of people reached out to me to express concern regarding a specific aspect of the GNOME Code of Conduct. One that was perceived, by those that contacted me, as discriminatory against multiple groups of people.

That portion of the GNOME Code of Conduct reads as follows:

“The committee will not act on complaints regarding: “Reverse”-isms, including “reverse racism,” “reverse sexism,” and “cisphobia””

“Will not act on complaints” of certain types (directed at certain groups). That's a pretty intense statement. We need to break this down a little.

Some of these terms may not be familiar to many, so I am providing a short glossary here to make sure we all understand the words we're talking about.

  • Cisphoba: Fear or hatred of cissexuality or cisgenderism, or of cis individuals.
  • Cisgender: Having a gender identity which matches the gender one was assigned at birth.
  • Reverse Descrimination: Discriminating against members of a designated group which has in the past unfairly received preferential treatment.

Neither the GNOME Code of Conduct, nor any linked page within it, seems to address specifics around which “groups” would be impacted by this – which does raise concerns around how it could (or would) be enforced (or not enforced). The only group that can be discerned as directly impacted are those that are “cisgender” (based purely on the refusal to act on cisphobia).

The most commonly understood groups this would apply to tends to be “Men”, “White People”, and “Heterosexuals.” Though, since this is not spelled out in any of the documentation I can find, that is simply an assumption. Perhaps an accurate one, but an assumption nonetheless.

The GNOME Code of Conduct recommends that, if anyone has questions regarding that portion of the document, they should read a document entitled “No Reversisms” written by Sage Sharp – which also failed to shed any light on which “groups” this applies.

Some clarification was obviously necessary.

Dropped a line to the GNOME project, described the concern outlined above, and asked if this actually means that reports of racism against white people, reports of sexism against men, and reports of hate speech directed at heterosexual people will not be acted upon.

Is this understanding what was intended, or are there examples that GNOME can provide which would better clarify this section of the Code of Conduct?

I received a response from Federico Quintero, who co-founded the GNOME project back in 1997 – and who currently serves as the Vice Secretary of the GNOME Foundation. This is Federico's response, in its entirety.

“The clause you refer to is intended to indicate that outreach and diversity efforts directed at under-represented groups are permitted under the code of conduct. For example, a social event for women would not be classified as being outside the Code of Conduct under this provision.

Basic expectations for conduct are not covered by the “reverse-ism clause” and would be enforced irrespective of the demographics of those involved. For example, racist behaviour will not be tolerated, irrespective of the race of those involved. Nor would unwanted sexual attention be tolerated, whatever someone's gender or sexual orientation. Minorities don't get a free pass on basic standards of conduct; we expect all participants in the project to uphold, and expect, the same high standards. I hope that clarifies the clause you mentioned. If your contact has concerns that haven't been covered, they should feel free to contact the Code of Conduct Committee for clarification.

Federico Quintero (on behalf of the Board and the Code of Conduct Committee)”

First off, well done to the GNOME team – they got a (potentially) tricky question, and they handled it thoughtfully.

I like Federico's straightforward stance on racism – one that I share – “racist behaviour will not be tolerated, irrespective of the race of those involved.” Clearly the GNOME team has their heart in the right place with that.

With that in mind, it would seem to me to make sense to modify the GNOME Code of Conduct to reflect that. In its current state the document clearly divides racism and sexism into two categories: Those the GNOME team is going to act to stop, and those the GNOME team will allow.

I don't get the impression from Federico's email (or the many wonderful GNOME team members I've known over the years) that the intention of the GNOME team is currently reflected in the words of their current Code of Conduct document.

That said, allow me to suggest a simple solution: Simply remove the entire “The committee will not act on complaints regarding” section. It's short. And, honestly, rather pointless. It only serves to make a declaration that some groups are worth helping, and others are not. Deleting this section instantly makes the GNOME Code of Conduct more welcoming, more equal, and inclusive. By definition.

While you're at it, adding in a little “Be Excellent To Each Other” at the end couldn't hurt.

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