I assume that Stack Exchange made its recent changes to the Code of Conduct in good faith and did not see that they were not as inclusive as they thought. That is reasonable; everyone has blind spots. Now it is time for another iteration to include back people who were accidentally excluded, such as those with social phobia, autism or certain beliefs.

Code of Conduct

My proposed changes to the Code of Conduct follow.  Changed words are in bold or italics. Rationales follow some changes.

Be kind, inclusive, and respectful.

Focus on facts, rather than the people who state them. Avoid sarcasm and be careful with jokes — tone is hard to decipher online. Prefer gender-neutral language when uncertain. If a situation makes it hard to be friendly, stop participating and move on.

Bringing back "kind" both psychologically brings kindness back into focus and makes the heading match the text better.

No bigotry.

We don’t tolerate any language likely to offend or alienate people based on race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or disability — and those are just a few examples. Use stated pronouns (when known). When in doubt, don't use language that might offend or alienate.

"Use stated pronouns (when known)" was removed because it differs in spirit from the rest of the paragraph and because it implies that not using them is always bigotry. Instead, we take a step back from a specific instance of the problem and speak to all language that offends or alienates based on gender identity. This is the same way other example groups are handled.

Since people with certain neurological disabilities were unintentionally excluded before, it makes sense to include them with this change.

"When in doubt, don't use language that might offend or alienate." is not a particularly autism-friendly sentence, because some people with the condition are always in doubt about what will offend people and what it implies about them if they do offend people. It was mostly redundant, and what wasn't redundant was interpreted by some to mean they have to walk on eggshells, which is the opposite of welcoming.

No harassment.

This includes, but isn’t limited to: bullying, intimidation, intentionally calling someone something they don't like, vulgar language, direct or indirect threats, sexually suggestive remarks, patterns of inappropriate social contact, and sustained disruptions of discussion.

Calling someone by pronouns they don't like is definitely calling them something they don't like. This phrasing captures additional problematic behavior as well.


Only one question is needed. This question encompasses and subsumes all the current questions.

Q: There was a lot of controversy about pronouns. What happened?

We made a change to the Code of Conduct. We didn't involve our community, we didn't listen to our community, and we didn't respect our community, and as a result, we hurt many people, including the very people we were trying to help. We were wrong and we will do better in the future.

We wrote thousands of words trying to clarify our policies, picking winners and losers, but that just resulted in a spiral of more questions and more hurt feelings. Instead of trying to pick favorites ahead of time, we should have trusted our users and moderators to resolve conflicts like adults, taking individual circumstances into account.

Edit: removed obsolete content, expanded remaining FAQ question.

  • 42
    I'd just remove all references to (neo)pronouns entirely, from the CoC and the FAQ. Also, I'd remove the "don't call someone something they don't like" part under No harassment, because I predict that could be weaponized. Imagine if someone said "I don't like to be called OP" or "you", and then we're back to the same problem.
    – user245382
    Oct 19, 2019 at 2:45
  • 4
    I don't like either "When in doubt, don't use language that might offend or alienate.". It's subjective and not assertive enough about what is bad behavior. Proposal (not sure it's elegant though) : "Keep in mind your audience diversity, don't imply any difference of value." The scope might be a bit more narrow but I think it has benefit from moving away from subjectivity.
    – Diane M
    Oct 19, 2019 at 4:39
  • 8
    Subtext: 'Do not use language that may offend or alienate...except towards curators, who may be verbally flayed as toxic, elitist, hostile etc. without any penalty'. CoC? Bah, humbug:( Oct 19, 2019 at 4:52
  • 2
    @Martin: I'd say that my subtext is that SE should hold itself to its standards of respect and inclusivity. Oct 19, 2019 at 7:21
  • 3
    I agree with Houseman: Some wordings are still too ambiguous and "easily weaponized" (as this seems to be called). But it's much less bad than the current CoC+FAQ.
    – Marco13
    Oct 19, 2019 at 10:40
  • 2
    I don't understand this, can you just show me a diff of everything side-by-side?
    – Giuseppe
    Oct 19, 2019 at 18:08
  • 1
    Perhaps we could express this as code - a state machine, maybe? - and write unit tests. Oct 19, 2019 at 18:10
  • 6
    Under your No Bigotry section, I'm pretty sure you forgot to mention a whole bunch of other marginalized groups. Hold on while I find my list ....
    – user102937
    Oct 19, 2019 at 18:29
  • 1
    @Houseman: calling someone something they don't like is harassing them, regardless of whether you think it's unreasonable to not like being called that. I did add "intentionally" to that phrase to make it harder to weaponize. Oct 19, 2019 at 19:32
  • 1
    @rockwalrus That's fair. That proposal was half baked, but I still think the point could benefit from further clarity. As a matter of fact, I explained extent of this concept to someone and finding a precise wording was very difficult to me.
    – Diane M
    Oct 19, 2019 at 19:49
  • 1
    "it still excludes people like @caleb who could be included reasonably [...] sometimes the best way two people can show respect for each other is to avoid an issue they disagree with each other about". I don't have a lot of knowledge about moderation myself, but IMO if you're going to talk about getting caleb back, you need to more explicitly address gareth-mccaughan's point, "I'm a moderator. I often have to refer to other users, I can't really choose which ones I have to refer to, and often it isn't feasible to avoid pronouns. So do I really have to use pronouns I find uncomfortable?"
    – sourcejedi
    Oct 19, 2019 at 20:26
  • 1
    First I thought this is mostly cosmetics, but now I really like it. It would at least calm down the current situation and would also be a basis for discussions about further developments of the CoC. Every fraction could then propose changes to this and explain the reasoning and the community could try to find fair solutions to it. Thanks for posting it. Hopefully SO takes a look here before posting their own update next Tuesday. Oct 19, 2019 at 21:16
  • 1
    @Authur: I updated the first section with some language from that answer. Oct 19, 2019 at 21:24
  • 2
    "We don’t tolerate any language likely to offend or alienate people" doesn't seem to take account of "'When in doubt, don't use language that might offend or alienate.' is not a particularly autism-friendly sentence". Oct 25, 2019 at 20:47
  • 1
    Offhand, I'd rather work with someone on the spectrum to decide that. My neurodivergence takes a different path. Oct 28, 2019 at 22:23

1 Answer 1


Use stated pronouns

This allows anyone to inject words into someone else's vocabulary without needing to communicate and discuss the concept. It harms the ability of people to represent their world views via their use of language. It establishes a new dogma by officially respecting and enforcing one set of beliefs around gender, identity and speech, eroding the very freedoms on which vulnerable minority groups rely to express ideas which diverge from the traditional and entrenched.

Instead, I suggest a slightly more tolerant rule:

Avoid unwanted pronouns

People who care to be respectful while maintaining their own world views should find this more palatable. It doesn't force new ideas or language, only sets boundaries on behavior that has been felt to cause harm by many users. It's also a better defined boundary in terms of determining when a user crosses it, which will support moderators in enforcing it. Finally, it still classifies pronouns as a sensitive subject around which care needs to be taken.

Some might say it still goes too far, others not far enough. I think it's a compromise position that more users could live with.

  • 2
    this is still lawyer language that targets a specific thing to do or not to do that obviously causes strife and is unenforceable unless you can read peoples minds. A list of what to and not to do will never be acceptable.
    – user148287
    Oct 20, 2019 at 14:48
  • How does this, practically, work? Some users will identify their preferred pronouns, but nobody makes a list of the pronouns they don't want. What if a user's list of unwanted pronouns is 100 entries long? The current CoC says "Use stated pronouns (when known)," while yours excludes the "(when known)," so is it now a violation if I use an unwanted pronoun when I didn't know it was unwanted? Instead of creating a "more tolerant" rule, you've managed to do something that doesn't address the original problem and is entirely unworkable in practice. Oct 20, 2019 at 19:24
  • @onetothrowaway: to be fair, that comment made more sense in the context of Someone's answer, which has since disappeared. Oct 20, 2019 at 23:25
  • 2
    @onetothrowaway No need for long lists, let's keep it simple. In the course of discussion, if one user misgenders another, the latter can inform the former of their preference. Continued misgendering would then be reason for a flag and mod action.
    – reaanb
    Oct 21, 2019 at 3:34
  • 2
    The revised FAQ go to endless lengths to describe intent plus implementation rules, and still isn't enforceable in a practical and fair way. I'm not sure it's possible to create detailed guidelines that aren't more offensive to some segments of the community than the problem it seeks to cure. The suggestion here is a much better presentation of the intent. Writing how to implement that is a different issue. This is a great starting point.
    – fixer1234
    Oct 25, 2019 at 18:05
  • 2
    At the core, this suggested change addresses one of the main complaints that have been made: Forcing people to say specific things is not acceptable (for many, many reasons). Not allowing to say specific things at least has precedents ("n-word", "hate speech" and whatnot). I'm skeptical of this as approach as well, because it immediately raises the question of whether "the limitations have a limit". But in general, tackling the problem from the opposite direction seems right for me.
    – Marco13
    Oct 28, 2019 at 12:46
  • 1
    @Marco13: The right way to handle that is to let the people who have conflicts resolve it them themselves, and if they cannot, for the moderators to step in, taking the individual circumstances of both parties into account. This is the same way all other non-pronoun issues are currently handled, and it seems to work. Oct 28, 2019 at 18:56

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