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Could we have a neutral summing up of the issues (without any editorializing)? I will attempt to do so in an answer, big picture style. Or you could think of this as "The Story So Far" for those who came in in the middle, or who are confused about what the heck just happened to Stack Exchange.

For context the "issues" being discussed refer to Firing mods and forced relicensing: is Stack Exchange still interested in cooperating with the community?.


Edit: The system is asking me to edit the question, to explain how this question is different from the proposed duplicate.

This question is about putting together a neutral, concise plot outline that can be generally agreed as being faithful to the known facts.

Here's what gave me the idea: A few years ago, I requested an impartial hearing to resolve problems my son was experiencing in school due to his school district's lack of understanding and support of Tourette Syndrome. The district lawyer invited me to collaborate on a "joint stipulation" document where the background facts would be listed in a neutral tone, as being "stipulated," or accepted, by both sides. As we traded drafts, I found out it's really hard for two people with diametrically opposed viewpoints to collaborate in that way. That experience was the inspiration for this question, and the answer I contributed, which served as the first draft for the slightly reworked, and hyperlinked, outline contributed by @rjzii.

I appreciate the patience and respect everyone has shown in this process.

  • 6
    This may be more aptly named "Summing up the meta issues" as the problem's not really on main /s – scohe001 Oct 4 at 17:23
  • lmao @ "close vote as too broad" but for real this question should stay open, but is at worst a duplicate of the aggregator – Aza Oct 4 at 17:39
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    @Aza - would you give my answer some thought and propose any changes you feel are needed, please? For example, item 2 -- can this be improved? Also, a commenter felt your point of view is missing -- so please propose concise additions as well. – aparente001 Oct 4 at 17:44
  • @apar Done. It still doesn't mention my resignation, but that's on someone else to add. My resignation is really just context, at any rate, so I won't be the one to do it. – Aza Oct 4 at 17:55
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    “The story so far:In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.” – Skooba Oct 4 at 18:54
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    @aparente001 I think it could be clearer if you add a specific subject instead of referring to them only as "the issues". – TylerH Oct 4 at 19:02
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    What Tyler is saying is that this question does not stand on its own without a user having prior knowledge of the issues. You should include something in the question or body that points to the root of said issues. – Skooba Oct 4 at 19:53
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    How are you not the best person to do it? You are the OP and know objectively what you are referring to. I proposed a simple edit that at least provides a starting point. – Skooba Oct 4 at 20:04
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    Note that Monica posted an account of the events from her side on her personal blog here: cellio.dreamwidth.org – Nate S - Reinstate Monica Oct 4 at 20:27
  • @Skooba - Thanks for the edit to the question. Very helpful. – aparente001 Oct 4 at 21:46
  • @Skooba - Do you feel ready to delete your comments now? – aparente001 Oct 5 at 0:48
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    @Tim - This concise outline approach has been helpful for many people, and the information and presentation given here are unique. – aparente001 Oct 8 at 19:35
  • 1
    Your proposal for a 24 hour strike, Let the network go completely silent for 24 hours. although good, simply won't work. It won't work on EL&U and ELL for one thing, because the vast majority of users posting questions on these sites have never visited meta in their lives and don't care about the network in the first place. It won't work on SO because they receive something like 6,000 questions per day. stackexchange.com/sites#questionsperday – Mari-Lou A Oct 16 at 6:21
  • 1
    ... One is the process of building consensus about what commonalities we all have in what we are trying to get from the company, One is about learning to work together. One is about building awareness and thinking about what is ethical. A biggie is that when an autocracy attempts to decapitate a democratic movement by bringing repression to an individual person, the community needs to form a protective phalanx around that individual person. Even if we have some question marks, perhaps there are some specific points we might not all support in every last detail that the ... – aparente001 Oct 16 at 6:38
  • 1
    ...individual person may have done, or in their stance. // There are so many ways in which we feel that we are getting blindsided, and we are impotent to do anything about. Trump is the US president for God's sake -- as an example. But SE is a place that was supposedly community built, and community maintained. Here is a hypocrisy that we can raise a coordinated voice to object to. I am tired of that occurring through endless squabbling about exactly how the CoC was written, and exactly how it should/will be enforced. Rather than asking everyone to stop arguing for awhile, ... – aparente001 Oct 16 at 6:42
182

Cultural Background: In the United States there has been a push to use gender-neutral language and gender pronouns when given.

Stack Exchange (SE) Background: Moderators and employees have access to the Teachers' Lounge (TL) as a private chat room with the understanding that material discussed within is private and confidential.

Network Background: Some users do not identify with a gender, and indicate that their pronoun is "they". They also ask that users try to get in the habit of using gender neutral language.


The timeline as known to the public:

  1. Some users feel it would be discriminatory for the pronoun "they" to be used in reference to a transgender participant who has expressly requested a particular pronoun.
  2. An SE employee announced an updated clarification to the Code of Conduct (CoC) in the TL requiring the use of preferred pronouns if known; announcing that the change is in effect for moderator communications (among moderators or from moderators to a user).
  3. Monica Cellio, an experienced moderator of several SE sites, said that she writes in a gender-neutral way (avoiding third person singular pronouns), and she would like to continue to write that way. She has said that she strives to be welcoming, inclusive, and sensitive in all of her interactions on the network (and elsewhere).
  4. An extended discussion occurred between SE employees and other moderators in the TL (and emails?).
  5. Some users consider Monica's behavior to have violated the current Code of Conduct (CoC) and/or the upcoming new version of the CoC, while others considered her to have not violated either CoC.
  6. An SE employee removed Monica's moderator privileges and announced her firing to all moderators on the network in the Teachers' Lounge.
  7. Monica announced that she had been dismissed as a moderator, stating that her online privileges were revoked, and then she received an email firing her.
  8. Other moderators resigned or suspended activity in protest.
  9. Sara Chipps (director of public Q&A at SE) responded to Monica's announcement.
  10. Caleb revealed in a resignation on Christianity.SE that the crux of the issue was the proposed pronoun policy.
  11. More moderators resigned or suspended activity in protest.
  12. Sara Chipps spoke with The Register concerning the events.
  13. A copy of the TL transcripts was leaked.
  14. More moderators resigned or suspended activity in protest.
  15. Sara Chipps posted "An Update to our Community and an Apology", saying “We removed a moderator for repeatedly violating our existing Code of Conduct and being unwilling to accept our CM’s repeated requests to change that behavior”, and “Moving forward, we will release an official process around removing moderators.” Monica disputed Sara's claims.
  16. Snow commented that there is a process for removing moderators.  BTW, the process
    • was posted almost seven years ago,
    • is the top result of a Google search,
    • says, “this process is for those rare situations where communication with one member has completely broken down and the team as a whole feels they cannot continue to work together.”
  17. Another wave of moderators resigned or suspended activity in protest of the mishandling of the update.
  18. Sara Chipps commented that Monica's case will not be "re-litigated".
  19. Monica posted an updated timeline of events, going back to June 2018, on her blog. (It was reposted in another answer in this thread.)  See also Stack Overflow Inc.: what we say versus what we do.
  20. Some of the remaining moderators wrote an open letter to the SE team about general disappointment.  This letter has been signed (at current count) by over 500 moderators and other registered SE users.
  21. Some of the remaining moderators wrote an open letter to the SE team about LGBTQ+ concerns.  This letter has been signed (at current count) by 133 moderators and other registered SE users.
  22. David Fullerton (President and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at SE) posted "An apology to our community, and next steps".
  23. 8 Oct 2019: The Register article "Flak overflow: Barrage of criticism prompts very public Stack Overflow apology – Sorry mods, we'll do better, promises CTO (again)" contains a new timeline on CoC, quotes Fullerton and Cellio.
  24. Monica received email from David Fullerton on October 8 at 15:10 UTC.  She did not disclose its content but says that she is not satisfied.

On October 10th, the company released:


Monica's summary of the issues from her perspective written Oct 24th.


A coordinated, weekly Day of Silence is proposed on 10/16/19 (to begin the following week), as a way of pushing Stack Overflow, Inc., to be transparent with Monica, and with the community; and to dialogue with Monica immediately, without preconditions.


Monica created a GoFundMe page to raise funds for a libel suit against SE for Sara Chipps's comments to The Register concerning the events.


¹ Copies of the deleted FAQ still available in the Wayback Machine and archive.is

  • 43
    I don't pretend to fully understand the pronoun issue, but under Network Baclground, my understanding is that the issue is more complex than described. Some people want "they". Others are offended by "they" and want a requirement that their preferred pronoun be used. Some claim that anything other than their preferred pronoun, including use of their username or disengaging, is offensive. Parsing some of this into the timeline seems inaccurate. – fixer1234 Oct 4 at 21:22
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    I would remove the reference to the Day of Silence for two reasons. 1. It barely registered. 2. The post suggesting this peaceful protest has been deleted. See "update" on How can the community take action to end the current crisis of trust? – Mari-Lou A Oct 25 at 8:31
  • rjzii - would you be willing to edit your answer, to bring us up to date with the major plot developments? I got so far behind with my reading I wouldn't be a good person to do it. – aparente001 Oct 28 at 12:01
  • Just for accuracy and thoroughness's sake, you might want to note that the deleted FAQ post hit -1930 points before being deleted, in case anyone is wondering just how extremely the community disagreed with it. – ag415 Nov 2 at 1:37
  • rjzii - I've updated my answer and incorporated some of your material and links. Feedback would be welcome. – aparente001 Nov 7 at 19:26
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+50

What is the Teachers’ Lounge?

I would like to clarify some points about confidentiality in the Teachers' Lounge and making its transcripts public, since there seems to be some confusion about the particulars.

The Teachers' Lounge (hereinafter referred to as TL) is a private chat room. That means, quite simply, that it is the opposite of a public chat room. Only diamond moderators and staff members can enter the room, participate and see its contents. Because it is a private room, there is an implied contract: what is said in TL stays in TL.

On a few occasions, information has leaked out of the TL into a public space. Most of these occasions have been benign; none of the information leaked was sensitive in any way. Nevertheless, some of us were uncomfortable when this occurred, because it suggested that individuals in the TL could make their own determination about what could or could not be shared publicly.

Participants in the TL need to have the ability to speak freely and candidly in the TL about a wide range of (sometimes sensitive) moderator issues, without worrying about it being leaked (intentionally or unintentionally) and having their words legislated in the court of public opinion. For this reason, the TL contains an admonition in its room description that reads:

This is a private room, never copy anything out of it.

This carries a stronger guarantee; yes, the information in this room is unconditionally confidential; and this is true whether any participant believes the information is sensitive or not, no matter how important it might seem to them for the public to know about it.

  • 22
    Is the room description included in the prohibition on copying? (Russell's paradox?) – Double AA Oct 4 at 17:51
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    @DoubleAA: Common sense would seem to prevail here. The room description does not contain any confidential material. – Robert Harvey Oct 4 at 17:52
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    Relying on "common sense" can be veeery dangerous these days. I hope you're right, though... – Marco13 Oct 4 at 17:59
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    Legally, the only things that can't be disclosed from things kept private to moderators is personally identifiable information. There is no legal reason stopping things other than PII from being disclosed; the only thing is an informal agreement. So disclosing the common sense room description is perfectly fine. – Sonic the Reinstate Monica-hog Oct 4 at 18:09
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    I'm sure this comment will be removed, but: are you sure that less transparency will help to solve these issues? Or is it that the whole model of this site with privileges and so on is built on the assumption that some users are more equal than others? – Schrödinger's cat Oct 4 at 18:10
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    @Schrödinger'scat: There's nothing in the transcript that will shed any further light on the salient issues. – Robert Harvey Oct 4 at 18:14
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    Don't get me wrong, but if someone had something to hide, this is precisely what they would say. – Schrödinger's cat Oct 4 at 18:15
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    That sounds like an accusation. Which is fine; all I have for you to rely on is my good faith. If it helps, take solace in the fact that I had enough integrity to maintain the confidentiality that we all agreed to when we participated in the TL. – Robert Harvey Oct 4 at 18:17
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    Let me stress that the above comments were not meant to be an accusation. Nonetheless it is true that in the real life there are checks and balances, and there are certain rules in place in order to ensure transparency. This is precisely in order make people trust in their leadership. If you abolish transparency, you will very likely run into problems of mutual mistrust. This is why I am pro transparency. – Schrödinger's cat Oct 4 at 20:50
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    @NKCampbell: The Teacher's Lounge is not the only thing that is kept private on Stack Exchange. For the most part, user suspensions are also kept private, and so is the entire working machinery of Stack Exchange corporate. You might as well ask why we don't have microphones in everyone's household in the name of transparency. Yes, there are legitimate reasons for having private conversations. – Robert Harvey Oct 4 at 20:51
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    It really isn't all that much secrecy. The vast majority of it has to do with sensitive policies and situations that legitimately require some discretion. – Robert Harvey Oct 4 at 20:56
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    @RobertHarvey As I have pointed out in another comment, comparing TL to a private house is a bad metaphor. It's more like a tribunal or a police district, since it has a public role in the administration of our common space. – Federico Poloni Oct 4 at 21:16
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    @Richard: Well the people who are leaking the transcript are just wrong. Regardless of their stand on this particular issue, the fact that they are willingly choosing to violate what most of the mods consider a very important principle means that they are not worthy of their diamonds. – Robert Harvey Oct 5 at 14:09
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    And I have no fear whatsoever of the transcripts being made public, other than the fact that it is profoundly disrespectful to those who played by the rules and acted in accordance with them. – Robert Harvey Oct 5 at 15:56
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    Not sure if someone already pointed this out, but if SO itself respected the rule of "What happens in TL stays in TL", then none of this could have happened. From the firing, to their announcements, to them talking to the press, at no point have they themselves been following that rule. Yes, they have not quoted literal text from TL, but it is 100% true that in this case, What happened in TL absolutely did NOT stay in TL. – RBarryYoung Oct 8 at 18:51
88

Monica herself has recently put up her own timeline of events as a blog post, which can be found here. In the interest of avoiding issues with dead links and avoiding link-only answers, the full text of the blog post is as follows (now with links included and a number of updates):

This is a timeline, to the best of my recollection, of the events that have been brought up as relevant to the current moderator-firing mess. (Current tally: 73 moderator positions currently vacant or suspended.)

Preface: The Teachers' Lounge (TL) is a private room where the convention has been that people can let their hair down a little. Discussions of policies, how to handle specific moderation situations, and (often) outside politics and other hot topics are often vigorous. It's like when programmers discuss/argue about some technical design point extensively. Often it is programmers discussing some technical policy point extensively In both cases, the goal is to refine the final product. Shog9, a senior community manager, described this dynamic in more detail somewhere that I can't find right now. It's also a place where people sometimes talk about deeply personal things.

  • June 2018: There was a TL discussion about gender-neutral pronouns and then "preferred pronouns". (I know they're not "preferred", but this was the phrasing used by the people bringing it up.) Some moderators who are not native English speakers expressed confusion. I said I avoid singular they for that reason, 95% of the time you can write around the problem, and (on SE) I'm offended when someone edits my posts badly to solve a gender-neutrality problem. (Editing well is fine, which usually means pluralizing or using a name or something like that instead of either generic "he" or singular "they".) Some people said not using preferred pronouns invalidates the person; I said for me it's not about the person at all but the quality of my own writing (an important part of my identity). Tension rose, other people said some things I saw as bullying, and I stepped out. For a long time after, I didn't enter the room unless strictly necessary. Note: no employee said anything to me about my role in this conversation, and while some other mods disagreed with my position, none said anything like "this is a Code of Conduct (CoC) violation". Employees witnessed this discussion.

  • End of June 2018: I was the second-choice candidate for a community-manager position at Stack Overflow Inc.

  • Later in summer 2018: another moderator made some very bigoted attacks against nonbinary and trans people. I can't remember if the comments specifically targeted one moderator who was out as NB or if they were more general. Either way, they were completely inappropriate. Some mods called for that mod to be fired, and a community manager said you don't get to do that. There were no public consequences for the rude moderator.

  • Days or maybe a few weeks later, the NB moderator resigned.

  • January 2019: a different moderator (henceforth OP) asked a question, tagged "discussion", on the moderators' private Q&A site ("team"): should we require people to use people's preferred pronouns? (Again, the moderator, who is trans, used the term "preferred".) OP self-answered to say, somewhat vehemently, that we absolutely must require this and using wrong pronouns is misgendering. I answered saying that we already have a negative commandment, don't call people what they don't want to be called (like wrong pronouns), which is proper, but this question calls for adding a positive requirement to use specific language and we shouldn't do that. I talked about writing in a gender-neutral way, that we rarely even need third-person-singular pronouns in our discussions, and not using a pronoun at all isn't misgendering. This was the top-voted answer, something like +53/-10 last I saw it. Note: Three different community managers posted answers after I did, and none said my answer was inappropriate in any way. (One disagreed with it, which is fine.)

  • February: A community manager said, in an answer, "we're working on this; send email if you have concerns". I sent email, got no answer, pinged, got no answer, I think pinged again with no answer, and set it aside. The question wasn't getting new activity at this point and fell out of my view.

  • Late August or early September: That same community manager posted a team question asking what kinds of optional training moderators would like SE to provide, if there were to be some budget for such things, to help us do our jobs better. The question listed some things that were already in the works, including diversity & inclusion. I posted two well-received answers, one about data mining and one about intellectual property. OP posted an answer saying "D&I training specifically about trans, and require mods to take it". The tone of the answer was pretty combative and people downvoted for that reason (as noted in comments). OP interpreted downvotes as transphobia. There was another answer that said something like "cultural awareness / different cultures, as part of D&I" that was presented positively and got a lot of support. (I know gender != culture; I'm pointing out that another D&I answer, presented constructively, was well-received.)

  • Mid-September: I went on vacation for a few days. This isn't directly related, but there should be one happy thing in this saga of woe. Also, it means I didn't look at the TL transcript for about four days.

  • September 18: I got notifications of several voting events on that team post from January about pronouns. Usually a flurry of voting on a dormant post means it was linked somewhere, so I looked at the TL transcript, where I saw another mod refer to (and link to) my answer and call it "bigoted". (I would be happy to have this answer, along with its question for context, made public to challenge this claim, but I don't think it's legal for me to release even an answer I wrote myself.) I responded to that message saying something like "you falsely accuse me; please tell me what specifically you object to so I can clarify". The response persuaded me that the only problem was that this person disagreed with me.

  • Same day: An employee with a "director" title posted and pinned a message saying the company is changing the CoC to require use of preferred pronouns and avoiding them is forbidden. I asked questions, most importantly: would it now be a violation of this new policy to write in the gender-neutral way that I already use? And how are you judging "avoiding", which requires knowledge of intent? Other people had questions and issues too. One moderator pointed out a problem with something I was proposing to do and I agreed after it was explained and said I wouldn't do that. The employee did not stay to field questions, but came back a couple hours later to tell me "we've been as clear as we can and your values are out of alignment". Confused, I left. This transcript was leaked on Reddit over Rosh Hashana. It had been taken down by the time I got back online, but I was able to find a copy. On review, I don't see anything I said that would violate either the current or future CoC. No employee indicated to me any problems with my behavior.

  • I stayed out of TL from then on except to (1) flag something (two days later) and (2) respond to my firing (very briefly before being kicked). The discussion continued for the next two days, and on September 20 a community manager declared the topic closed, saying to send email if there's anything else you want to say. One queer moderator posted several messages objecting to this, and a CM (I can't remember if it was the same one) froze the room for the weekend. Two moderators who tried to post anyway were kicked out of chat.

  • I didn't read much of the transcript for the next week and don't know what was said after the room was unfrozen.

  • September 23: I received a reply from the CM I'd emailed back in February. It seemed to be an aggregate reply to that message and one I'd sent to the CM team on September 20 about the new policy. The email I received said some things that made me think my recent message had been misunderstood -- quite possible, as I'd written it quickly before Shabbat. I replied with questions and clarifications. The employee promised a reply "tomorrow", then got sick and said it'd be another day, then was still sick, and finally promised a reply on September 27. (The employee was definitely back to work that day and handling other matters.)

  • September 26: A queer moderator resigned in anger, with complaints about community managers, other moderators, and the "entrenched power structure", and vague accusations of bigotry. The notice accused employees of dealing in bad faith with queer moderators and putting them in difficult situations. The notice said a single incident prompted the resignation but did not elaborate. When I read it I assumed that incident was the shutting down of the conversation the previous week, but that has not been confirmed.

  • September 27: That email response never came. Instead, I was fired because they thought I wouldn't follow the future code of conduct. I've written elsewhere about the many problems with how this went down. Moderators across the network began resigning or suspending their moderation activities. I sent (separate) email to the person who fired me, the CM I'd been having that email discussion with, and Joel Spolsky, chairman of the board and (then-)CEO. I received no replies. Sara Chipps, Director of Public Q&A, left responses on various moderators' resignation posts maligning my character. You can see an example on my Mi Yodeya post. The cut-and-pasted message included, specifically referring to me: "When a moderator violates [inclusion and respect], we will always do our best to resolve it with them privately." Both halves of that statement are false.

  • September 30 (Rosh Hashana): When SE knew I would be offline and unable to respond, Sara Chipps made a statement to the press saying I'd been fired for CoC violations. This is, to the best of my knowledge, the first claim of a current violation.

  • October 3: Sara Chipps posted a non-apology "apology" in which she said I was fired "for repeatedly violating our existing Code of Conduct and being unwilling to accept our CM’s repeated requests to change that behavior". Note the escalation here: she now says current CoC, repeated, and repeated requests. I said "citation needed". This accusation was linked prominently on the front page of every site on the network. The next day, after a bunch of other answers had been posted that called her out on various issues, I added an answer of my own.

That's where things stood right before Shabbat.

Breaking news, October 6 21:00 UTC: the CTO stepped in, accepted responsibility, apologized to the community, and promised to contact me directly to apologize and discuss next steps. Finally! I look forward to that contact.

Update, October 7 19:00 UTC: No contact yet.

Update, October 8: I received email from David Fullerton today at 15:10 UTC. I am not satisfied (and this is a vast understatement). I asked for a discussion, which was rejected.

Update, October 13: David said, in his meta post and in email to me, that they planned to develop processes for removing and reinstating moderators by this past Friday (October 11) and that I could apply to go through the latter process once it existed. They did publish these processes to moderators on Friday. As of Sunday afternoon, I have received no further contact from SE about this process and how to set it in motion. I sent David email asking about it and have received no reply yet. Further updatess [sic].

Monica has since edited the post a number of times, but she has also now posted a second post which continues the timeline and contains the same information, and which I will thus reproduce in full below:

I've made some updates to my timeline post, but for those following me via the feed, some updates:

On Oct 6, David Fullerton, CTO, posted a pseudo-apology. I say "pseudo" because while, on first read, it sounds promising, the post doesn't actually apologize for what they did to me, only for hurting me more than they would have otherwise. David admitted to the serious process flaws and promised to contact me to apologize and discuss next steps.

On Oct 8 I received email, repeating the accusation that I violated the code of conduct and again without specific citations. David also claimed that I was warned and quoted two messages from Sara Chipps (that director) which do not sound like the warnings David says they are. The email said (as did the post) that they are developing processes for both removal and reinstatement and I could apply to go through the latter when it exists. The target for having that policy was Friday.

I immediately responded to the email (1) asking for what specifically I said that was a CoC violation and (2) asking for a conversation. David ignored the first and declined the second. This is the last email I have received from SE. I updated my answer to David's post to report on the timing of the email I received, as I'd promised the community to do.

Sometime in here, I am told, a community manager told moderators (via a post on the private team) that I have been told what the CoC violations were. This is not true.

On Oct 11 (Friday), SE published those processes for moderator removal and reinstatement on the private team. The post was described to me as an announcement, not a draft for comments.

As of Sunday afternoon, Oct 13, SE has not sent me any email about this process or how I can set it in motion. I sent email asking about it.

Update: On October 15 22:30 UTC, I received a response saying they are finalizing the process this week and they'll share the final version when it's ready. I have more to say about this in this post.

By the way, the "body count" -- the number of moderator positions either vacant or suspended -- is up to 79 (from about 50 individuals; some are on multiple sites), including four on Stack Overflow itself. One moderator deleted his accounts entirely. This is sad. It didn't have to be this way. :-(

Finally, Monica has made a third post, which she linked to near the end of her second post, explaining her attempts to contact SE and where the situation lies at this time. I will reproduce it as well.

Continuing from my previous post, the company published policies for moderator removal and reinstatement on Friday to all moderators. I understood this to be an announcement, so when I hadn't heard from David Fullerton with an update by Sunday, I sent email asking about it.

It turns out that what they posted was a draft, and they are making updates based on feedback. I'm glad to hear they're listening to feedback, but this introduces another delay. David said they are finalizing the policies "this week" and will send me the final version when it's done.

Reminder: the company has absolutely refused to reinstate me now, even though they admit that they failed to follow the process they already had for moderator removal. Even though David admits that I deserved the benefit of a private, comprehensive process, and even though a senior employee, Sara Chipps, subsequently maligned me repeatedly and very publicly (which is causing damage), they are unwilling to revert the change and then look at the original situation afresh. I have to instead apply for reinstatement.

From what I've heard through the rumor mill, the process, once started, takes two weeks and is probably biased toward the status quo.

With that as background, here is the email I sent to David tonight in reply to that message:

Thank you for the update.

Can we expedite any of this? Sara's public, defamatory accusations, made in violation of all prior Stack Exchange rules and conventions about privacy, are actively causing me harm every single day. They also resulted from a lack of due process for me. Reinstating me alone will not fix that, but it seems reinstatement is a precondition before SE will mitigate the harm done by these actions. From what you've said and the rumors I've heard about the timing in the policy, we're looking at another three weeks of delay and thus continuing damage.

I don't think you intend to cause serious ongoing harm to me. What can we do to alleviate it?


While I'm posting... a couple people have asked me questions privately, so:

  • I was not warned either that I was violating the CoC or that I was facing possible removal.

  • If SE is considering the messages in TL from Sara on September 18 to be warnings, then I did not subsequently violate the CoC, current or future. (I also did not interpret them as warnings that my status was in danger.)

  • There was one piece of email from a CM that suggested that if I couldn't see a path toward resolving the matter, I should step down. But I did see a path and said so. So (1) that wasn't a warning of impending termination and (2) even if it had been, the condition was not met.

  • I didn't go disrupt something elsewhere on the network after leaving TL. I didn't do anything that would call for an urgent response.

  • I think it is likely that the reinstatement process will be rigged against me. Nonetheless, I will go through it if that path is made available in the reasonably near future.

  • 13
    She also posted a brief response to the post about the changes to the new CoC, noting that she had not breached them, was happy to go along with them and demanding her immediate reinstatement. She was rebuffed by Sara Chipps and told that it was unhelpful to make posts like that. She responded by removing the post – Richard Oct 11 at 6:51
  • For once, I agree with Sara that they should now handle things in private. – dfhwze Oct 15 at 6:55
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    @dfhwze I would agree completely if they were actually handling things instead of apparently ignoring Monica's requests for her case to be reconsidered. Even if they refuse that request, they should at least tell her that. – Gryphon - Reinstate Monica Oct 15 at 6:56
  • @Gryphon Sorry I forgot to update the # of edits of Monica's post during my edit. Note Monica's blog now has a link to Stack Overflow Inc.: radio silence continues at the bottom. The linked page has more info., plus a link to Stack Overflow Inc.: more delays with additional latest details. I'm not sure what, if any, of this you wish to put into your post, so I don't think it's appropriate for me to edit it &, instead, am leaving that to you to decide. – John Omielan Oct 16 at 1:52
  • @JohnOmielan No problem it was a simple correction for me to make. I edited to include the other two posts, thanks for letting me know they were a thing. – Gryphon - Reinstate Monica Oct 16 at 2:12
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    I'd also just like to take an opportunity to thank Monica for her impressive commitment to honesty and transparency throughout this whole process. She's keeping all of us random people on the internet as well informed as she can throughout a process that I'm sure must be very difficult and painful for her, and she's doing a much better job of it than the entirety of SE. So thanks, @Monica, and best wishes in your efforts. – Gryphon - Reinstate Monica Oct 16 at 2:20
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    Thanks Gryphon. And sorry that my blog updates keep making you edit here. :-) In case it helps, I'm linking all my blog posts on this topic at the end of my Mi Yodeya post. – Monica Cellio Oct 16 at 2:27
  • @Monica, not a problem at all. It's certainly taking me less time to add them than it takes you to write them, and you're certainly busier than I am. And thanks for the tip, that'll make my checks to keep this post updated easier. – Gryphon - Reinstate Monica Oct 16 at 2:30
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    @MonicaCellio Could you make the permission to copy the text from your blog explicit? Without such permission, this would be a copyright violation. (Well, your comment above is probably enough for implicit permission, but explicit permission is a lot better.) Sorry to be a bit of a nag, but I think it's just better to do things correctly. Apologies if there is explicit permission and I just didn't see it. – Jasper yesterday
54

Version 2 (dated 11/6/19)

I'm going to write up the parts I've understood (but there is probably a lot more, that I haven't understood):

  1. Some SE users want to be referred to with the pronoun "they/them." For example, some members of the Lavender (LGBTQ+) Community, it's simply the pronoun the person naturally uses. As another example, sometimes "they/them" helps women to feel more comfortable participating in heavily male-dominated sites.

  2. Some SE users have requested that "they/them" be used as the default pronoun when a pronoun is needed in a discussion (in place of "she/her" or "he/him"), if the person's gender is not known (via profile self-description, for example).

  3. Monica Cellio, an experienced moderator of several SE sites, expressed the position that she has experience to be able to write about another person without having to use any pronouns; and her preference would be to have the freedom to write that way if she chooses.

  4. There is a special chat room open to volunteer moderators and company staff, which is known as the Teachers Lounge (TL). A conflict came up in TL between Monica and some other people during a discussion of pronoun use on SE. The outcome was that on September 27, Monica was stripped of her moderator status on all the SE sites she was moderating.

  5. A transcript of the TL chat segment where things came to a head exists and is/was available to some/all moderators, but not to the general public.

  6. Some people are interested to read a redacted version of the relevant part of the TL transcript, in the interests of transparency and to try to understand what happened. But moderators are not permitted to share TL transcripts in any shape or form with non-moderators.

  7. Some users considered Monica to have violated, in TL, the then Code of Conduct (CoC) and/or the revised version of the CoC (which hadn't been published yet), while others considered her to have not violated either CoC.

  8. A FAQ about the revised CoC has been published.

  9. Sara Chipps, the Director of Public Q&A, an unnamed "company spokesperson," and Monica were quoted in the press on October 1.

  10. Monica's exposition of events is available here and here.

  11. SE leadership has said very little at Meta.SE about what happened. But see this from the Director of Public Q&A and this from the CTO, who is "responsible for the product, engineering, and community teams."

  12. Many moderators and members of the general SE community are upset with what appeared to be a hit job: quick strike with, according to Monica, no warning, lack of transparency and apparent refusal to dialogue.

  13. Some moderators have stepped down or gone on a work slowdown in protest of the way Monica's moderator status was removed.

  14. There have been indications that some SE employees are working overtime and are stressed out (example).

  15. I proposed a coordinated, weekly Day of Silence on 10/16/19 to occur every Friday, as a way of encouraging Stack Exchange to be transparent about Monica's demotion and to dialogue with Monica immediately, without preconditions. Link (you have to scroll down)

  16. SE announced a complex moderator reinstatement process on October 21.

  17. Monica outlined her reasons for choosing not to enter that process.

  18. @heather, a member of the Lavender (LGBTQ+) Community shared their perception of some of the triggering events, in a sequence of comments culminating with "Monica appears willing to use any pronouns (including neopronouns) except they/them" (if the comments disappear, see this).

  19. Monica clarified her situation: "My avoidance of singular 'they' is not mere convenience/preference or even mere grammar. I tried to explain the deeper identity issues to heather, and also to a CM in email. (Also tried in TL, but people didn't seem to be listening.) But I am not going to post deeply personal stuff like that for the whole Internet; you'll just have to take me at my word that there are real reasons and it's not just fluff. I would never knowingly use the wrong pronouns, and I'm a good-enough writer that my natural, ungendered writing is not conspicuous."

  20. On October 28, Monica set up a GoFundMe page to finance a defamation lawsuit.

If I've distorted anyone's position, please propose a correction. If I've inadvertently introduced any editorializing, or any flippancy, please help me remove it.

If anyone has something to contribute, please do it in the spirit of a proposed collaborative edit, either in a comment or a separate answer.

Of course, anyone is welcome to start a new list from scratch, or use my list as a starting point.

An astounding complete chronological table of contents is available here. Note that to get to the more recent posts you have to click on PART TWO.


I appreciate everyone's cooperation with this neutral summing up effort.

  • 21
    Mind turning this into a CW so everyone can edit? – iBug says Reinstate Monica Oct 4 at 17:06
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    Adding links and references to each item is a good idea IMHO – Someone Oct 4 at 17:07
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    The gender pronouns are a minor issue relative to what we're experiencing. At most it's the trigger to recent events, and should definitely not be first on the list, if at all. Also - where does the "working overtime" part come from? Link? – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Oct 4 at 17:23
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    This answer would be greatly improved by adding references to where you're getting the information for each of these points. – scohe001 Oct 4 at 17:24
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    I am sorry but this doesn't seem like a neutral summary at all. You completely left out what Aza went through. – user330457 Oct 4 at 17:25
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    @ayhan Sounds pretty neutral to me. It's a statement of facts without editorializing. Perhaps you mean incomplete? Perhaps we could go back further, but I'm less familiar with Aza's story. Perhaps if you are and feel it's relevant, you could edit the answer? – mason Oct 4 at 17:28
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    This is also missing the important fact that the exact issue which started all this and which is triggering the CoC change was discussed in the moderators' Stack Overflow Team back in January, and not only did Monica's position acquire the highest score but not a single SE employee said anything at that time about her position being a violation of the current CoC. – Null Oct 4 at 17:36
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    It might be worth mentioning that at least two moderators (one current, one former) have contested the objectiveness of Monica's account - I'll try to find the relevant links – MikeTheLiar Oct 4 at 17:45
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    you might want to add something about yesterdays crummy apology for "shipping on Friday". – Peter Turner Oct 4 at 17:46
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    @PeterTurner - I left a lot of things out that are one lots of people's laundry lists of beefs. You're welcome to write your own answer if you want to make a longer, more comprehensive one. – aparente001 Oct 4 at 17:49
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    @MikeTheLiar Conversely, at least two moderators have validated the objectiveness of Monica's account. I'm one and I remember seeing others. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Oct 4 at 17:52
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    Insert after 6: Some moderators who have reviewed the TL transcript have said Monica did not violate either CoC. – Monica Cellio Oct 4 at 18:10
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    @Aza Whilst you are right about the facts, an edit war will get us nowhere. Writing "some people consider the sky to be blue" is a concession you have to make when some people insist it's green. – wizzwizz4 Oct 4 at 18:23
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    @fixer1234 - I'd like to hold off on including things that haven't been corroborated. Don't newspaper editors push journalists to get two corroborating accounts on top of the first source? Also, I want to leave SE a graceful way out. I mean, do we just want to fan the flames, or do we want to find -- if not a happy ending, then at least something 99% of us --at least-- can live with. Also, let's see how many of our comments are no longer needed, and delete them, to make this page easier for people to read. – aparente001 Oct 4 at 22:02
11

By now, a meaningful compilation of all relevant events (and the necessary context to know about) would easily fill a whole book (with many pages, printed in a really small font). Thus, a summary boils down to:

  1. Over many months, even years, small cracks in the relationship between the company (Stack Exchange Inc.) and the community (of users on the Stack Exchange network) slowly turned into broad rifts, and at some point into large canyons.
  2. In the broader context of adding "gender neutral language" to the Code of Conduct, a well respected moderator of the user community was "fired" by the company, without due process.
  3. For many members of the community, that incident, on top of the aforementioned "prior conflicts", was the last straw that broke the camel's back.

The community feels that the company is no longer listening, and not showing the respect that the people providing volunteer efforts deserve. (I can't comment on the POV of the company, as I am not a member of that group)

That is the essence, gist behind the current turmoil. Anything beyond that won't be a summary. If you are looking for that, a good starting point with many links and a historical timeline can be found here.

You should understand: if you really want to get to a "fair, neutral" assessment, you will have to study dozens of questions, hundreds of answers, and thousands of comments. Worse: various content has been deleted (more or less gone forever). And not just stuff from September/October 2019. You would have to go back 2, 3 years (at least) to identify all those events that turned small cracks into rifts into canyons.

  • 3
    a lot of the posts and comments relevant to the issue have been removed (such as the initial CoC post) and are only available to high rep users to see, so to get the fullest picture available to the public at the time you'll have to find saved screenshots or web page snapshots – user1306322 Oct 28 at 9:23
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    For that "book" 1. we need an external backup, more robust to SC-censorship 2. a redactor that compiles that into readable form and keeps that current 3. a publisher. No really: historians, archae-sociologists and other fields need good and ideally complete source material for all their dissertations to write on this. // "Rift" is from plate tectonics? Then why not colour in the resulting volcanoes between the new continents? – LаngLаngС Oct 28 at 9:56
  • It's not "sometimes" available to 10K users, deleted posts are always visible to 10K users. Deleted comments are also visible to mods, and can also be resurrected by them. Doesn't happen often, but if a mod has deleted a comment, they can undelete it too. – Mari-Lou A Oct 28 at 10:02
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    @LаngLаngС I mainly made that point ... to point out that it isn't possible to give a "complete" summary that fits into the average attention span of average people these days. Seriously: I put up a link to the big meta.stackexchange.com/questions/333965/… in our company's slack. People were really confused. After I gave them the above 3 line summary, people were much happier. It allowed them to gather more information afterwards, because they got a rough map with the key elements. – GhostCat says Reinstate Monica Oct 28 at 10:02
  • @Mari-LouA Sometimes content is available to 10K users, sometimes it is gone. That is the key point here. The other way around: as soon as you start to explain all these details, the summary turns into an encyclopedia. Which I want to avoid here. – GhostCat says Reinstate Monica Oct 28 at 10:03
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    @Mari-LouA How do you search for deleted posts as a mere +10k user? You may see them, but you can't find them as a non-mod! // Ghost: imo this focuses too much on 'pronounism'. In that way it can be easily misread for the 'broader context' being the gendering thing, and not dozens of related and different issues. – LаngLаngС Oct 28 at 10:09
  • @Mari-LouA This is about balancing. A) accuracy will require you to provide tons of material. Resulting in B) a lot of people going "I don't want to spend 2 hours reading this wall of text". When a person asks for a summary, they want a summary. The other answers here do a good job at providing the encyclopedia. – GhostCat says Reinstate Monica Oct 28 at 10:15
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    @Mari-LouA But I tried to further improve things. let me know if that works better now. – GhostCat says Reinstate Monica Oct 28 at 10:21
  • Better but "sometimes available to 10K users" is misleading, it suggests that deleted material is sometimes available to 10K. That's not true, Deleted posts are visible to them, how they find that deleted material is a separate issue, but with all the links to deleted posts (e.g. CoC FAQ) and links to deleted questions in the last month or so, that content will always be visible, until SE decides to redact (aka permanently delete) the content, which I wouldn't put past them. – Mari-Lou A Oct 28 at 10:27
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    10k users can't see deleted comments. – Ian Ringrose Oct 28 at 10:39
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    @Mari-LouA Reworded again. I hope we can end this discussion right here, that is really not a detail that actually matters. Some content got deleted, some people can still see some of that, most can not. – GhostCat says Reinstate Monica Oct 28 at 10:40
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    In #2, I think an important factor for many is that the firing happened with no due process and then company representatives talked about it publicly in inappropriate ways. Mods have been fired before, but never like this and never with the extra added defamation. – Monica Cellio Oct 29 at 21:32
  • @MonicaCellio I tried to be as neutral in my language as possible, but I agree that making that change is necessary. – GhostCat says Reinstate Monica Oct 30 at 3:41
-2
+100

I don't think one can give a "neutral summing up of the issues" because the one core issue here is so non-neutral and divisive, despite being hidden to some degree (and hidden purposefully by those arguing one side of it).

The elephant in the room, as I now see it, is that a substantial number of people on SE dismiss the concerns of certain non-mainstream people and how they're made to feel unwelcome in ways not obvious to those dismissing these concerns.

SE has not dealt with this in the best possible way, and has even made some serious mistakes, but that doesn't change that were doing something to address a problem for these non-mainstream people. Unfortunately, those who want to dismiss the concern SE was trying to address have leapt on these mistakes as an excuse to promote their agenda of, "we mustn't address or even think about the problems of and non-welcoming attitude toward those non-mainstream people."

Below I will discuss one reply that exemplifies this core problem, a problem that I've seen recently in a large number interactions in SE on this topic. After the example I'll give my personal views on what I see as the main issue.


In one of my recent comments¹ I said:

This protects Christians just as much as anybody else. If I say my religion requires that I call you "she"/"her" etc. you might quite rightly be annoyed if you prefer "him" and I refuse to use that. If you take your argument to its logical conclusion, you can do nothing about that because insisting on being called "him" would be "forcing me to tolerate" that. I instead say that you get to pick whether you want to be "him" or "her"; and I just extend this to everybody, rather than limiting it to the people who pick what lines up with Christians' choice.

The reply contained a number of points, all of which are bad or irrelevant arguments being used as excuses for denying the validity of the problem.

I've never seen one get mad about that kind of thing online, in regards to some random poster on a forum.

In other words, "I don't see it as a problem, so we need not address it." The idea that certain minority problems are not problems that need to be addressed is the basic problem here.

I have, on the other hand, had a transwoman attack me with a bunch of angry PM's on the Kerbal Space Program forums when I referred to them as "he", because I didn't read their profile.

That things happen on other forums that would not be condoned on SE under the old or new CoCs is so staggeringly irrelevant to rules for politeness on SE that I can see it only as an attempt to mislead, particularly when it identifies a member of a minority group (and makes that their primary identifying characteristic) and then goes on to say, "they attacked me."

If this is not a deliberate attempt to put a minority group in a bad light, that's all the worse. Not being conscious that you have a "those annoying minorities are causing me problems" attitude makes the problem even harder to address.

Online, especially on sites like SE, your gender isn't relevant to the conversation.

Again, complete dismissal.

When someone starts calling you by the wrong pronoun it may not be relevant to the topic, but it certainly is relevant to the communication. Nobody would argue that there's not a problem if I start or continue referring to a mainstream male "George" as "she" after I've been asked by him not to do that. Yet if it's a person where a substantial number of people, for whatever reason, don't agree with the pronoun or gender that person has chosen for him/her/whateverself, people start finding excuses to try to erase the problem, as above.

I am male. I wouldn't get mad if you called me "she", in the course of a larger discussion, because which gender pronoun you use almost certainly has no bearing on whatever we're talking about.

Again, "it's not a problem for me and maybe not even other people I personally know, so I've decided that your feelings don't count and you must accept my decision that it's not a problem for you, either."

Replying "I don't have this problem" when someone else states a problem they have is nothing but dismissive.

We're not talking about consistent harassment in PM's, which is certainly against the old CoC...

So, the poster introduces exactly this topic in a way that puts a minority group in a bad light and then says, "don't discuss what I just did there."

...we're talking about someone using whatever pronoun they happen to pick for a random user they know nothing about.

Except we're not. We're talking about people who, after they've been informed of someone's preferred pronoun, insist they have a right to refuse to use it. The "I didn't know the correct pronoun" argument has been addressed time and time again in the last week or more, and we should all be able to agree that if you didn't know, you get gently corrected and everybody moves on. But no, people have to keep bringing up this straw man, which only inflames the argument. This is not arguing in good faith; this is an attempt to derail the real argument and preserve the status quo.

Why should that person be forced to pay attention to something as meaningless as getting the right pronoun? At best, it's just an unnecessary nuisance, worse it could impact the readability of their post.

And what a great summary: "I refuse to see your problem, I've just erased it, and you'll have to accept that. My concerns are far more important."


This whole brouhaha has been pretty enlightening for me. Lack of acceptance of non-traditional genders turns out to be very widespread in SE, or at the very least there's a not insubstantial and very vocal part of the community willing to defend lack of acceptance.

It seems that over my past decade here I too have suffered from a classic case of, "it wasn't my problem so I didn't see it." (And I probably suffer from that to some degree still.) I probably also am to some degree part of that problem; I imagine there will be times when someone's preferred pronoun feels weird to me to use.

But these are all reasons why I must step up and say, "Yes, when someone asks me to use their preferred pronoun, I will do so, and I will not question it." I, without even thinking consciously about it, expect that myself, and pretty much automatically I get that myself (which is why I don't think about it). I need to consider others who don't happen to be in that situation.

This is not to say that there aren't other issues that need to be dealt with, other ways in which SE management has gone wrong, or even that this particular issue could not have been dealt with better. But it's incumbent on the people bringing up those side issues to make it clear that they agree that everybody has the right on SE to be addressed by their preferred pronoun before they start diving into (or, less charitably, bikeshedding about) the details of how that's done because there are clearly people here who do not agree with that at all and who are using the details as cover for their disagreement with that core issue.

As for those who really don't agree, it's unfortunate for both them and those of us who remain that we lose their valuable (I do not use that term sarcastically) input on other topics. But sad as it is, I think it's better to take a hit on this than to throw some non-mainstream people under a bus yet once again.


¹I am avoiding giving references here where that would lead to easy identification of certain individuals. They can probably be tracked down anyway, but the point here is that I'm giving an example to demonstrate a general problem, not trying to point out individual troublemakers.

  • 4
    I awarded a bounty to this answer because I agree with 1. The idea that certain minority problems are not problems that need to be addressed is the basic problem here. 2. When someone starts calling you by the wrong pronoun it may not be relevant to the topic, but it certainly is relevant to the communication. 3. Nobody would argue that there's not a problem if I start or continue referring to a mainstream male "George" as "she" after I've been asked by him not to do that. (Cont'd) – Mari-Lou A Oct 28 at 9:29
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    (Cont'd) 4. And what a great summary: "I refuse to see your problem, I've just erased it, and you'll have to accept that. My concerns are far more important." 5. Lack of acceptance of non-traditional genders turns out to be very widespread in SE, or at the very least there's a not insubstantial and very vocal part of the community willing to defend lack of acceptance. – Mari-Lou A Oct 28 at 9:29
  • I am very happy to use an individual's preferred pronouns (well, not happy if those pronouns are artificial ones, but I can cope), and and I try to use singular "they" when talking about an unknown person. However I find the lack of due process in this situation unacceptable. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Nov 11 at 17:28

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