434

Over the past weeks, the uproar has been vast, spanning the new Code of Conduct, Stack Exchange's conduct over the years, and more. Gallons of internet ink have been spilled by everyone involved, including myself.

If you don't know me, I'm heather. I am a moderator on Quantum Computing Stack Exchange, and I'm a member of the LGBTQ+ community, or the Lavender community. On October 6th, I posted a letter I had co-written addressing Stack Exchange about the current situation and how it was affecting the Lavender community.

In the Lavender letter, I wrote

We are human, we are hurt, we are tired

I am not the only one who is hurt and tired. I am spilling ink today to talk about something different, to extend an olive branch, and to reach out under the belief that we are all human here.

Monica Cellio is a highly respected member of this network. I talked with her last night for a long time (with the help of Journeyman Geek as mediator), and we came to some resolution about our situation. I speak as a member of the LGBTQ+ community when I say the following:

  1. It is clear to me personally that Monica meant no harm by her avoidance of nonbinary pronouns (I say as someone who uses they/them among other pronouns). I believe that while there were problems with what she said, she meant all the best, and that is a starting point for a conversation, not an ending point for a long and productive relationship with Stack Exchange.
  2. It is clear to me that Monica was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that Stack Exchange took these unfortunate circumstances and used Monica as a scapegoat for something that had been festering across the network for a while, and did so in a way that is, quite frankly, unacceptable to me and to many others.
  3. It is clear to me that while there are problems in how this site handles LGBTQ+ issues (and, to be honest, issues surrounding tolerance and kindness in general), these issues do not stem from Monica, and it is beyond time that Monica gets a sincere apology and closure. Then we can all move forward with the understanding that we are humans talking across our screens in an attempt to make this site a better and more comfortable place to learn and help others.

I say that Monica and I have come to a resolution, and I say this because we talked. We talked understanding that we come from different backgrounds, with different perspectives. We talked understanding that we each carry different baggage with us. We talked knowing that we were there to understand each other, and that there would be more talking after this conversation, and the next and the next.

I post this today in an attempt to reach out a hand, and to ask all of you to do so as well, to ask Stack Exchange to do so as well. Talk to those around you remembering the faces behind the screens. I believe many things about the current situation, but this post isn't about that. We need to start healing. There will be much more to say, of course: about the Code of Conduct, about how Stack Exchange can regain our trust, about how the LGBT+ community has been marginalized on Stack Exchange. But this seems to me like a pretty good place to start.

Monica, I am sorry for the hurt you have experienced these past few weeks. I cannot claim to understand what you have been going through, but I hope that you can find peace with Stack Exchange. I hope that they can remember that behind the screens and the web of legal concerns lies a person affected deeply by their words, and reach out.

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    @heather, you are awesome, brave and proactive. Thank you. This is probably the best and most needed post I've read on Meta in the last months. Maybe altogether. – Anton Menshov Oct 25 at 16:14
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    This post dispenses with the false dichotomy that we must choose between Monica and the Lavender community. If only SO, Inc. would see it that way. Also it's shameful that this reconciliation has to happen without involvement of SO, Inc. – Reinstate Monica Oct 25 at 16:16
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    @Solomonoff'sSecret As I said: "I believe that while there were problems with what she said, she meant all the best, and that is a starting point for a conversation, not an ending point for a long and productive relationship with Stack Exchange." This, to me, is one of the key points of what I said. – heather Oct 25 at 16:18
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    Yeah... Let's not turn the comments here into yet another unnecessarily partisan debate please. Heather, mad props for this - this wasn't on you, but you stepped up, again, and showed great strength of character in doing so. – Shog9 Oct 25 at 16:29
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    @weegee What can I do but continue to try? – heather Oct 25 at 16:30
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    @weegee Maybe. Maybe Stack Exchange won't listen to this. But I gained something from talking with Monica. I hope that some of the community gains something from this. – heather Oct 25 at 16:32
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    Felt exactly the same way when I read the title @weegee. Then I read the text, and yes, I think this one could be the one that'll actually work. Thank you heather for posting this. – yannis Oct 25 at 16:33
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    It's frustrating to me that it's on all of us to be bigger people with absolutely no buy-in from the company that, in a very direct way, caused all of this to get so far out of hand in the first place. Page after page, in all these conversations, the company is just straight up absent. We, collectively, did a lot of work for them to build this place, how about a little work in return? Too busy treating symptoms rather than address the disease? The employees are people too, I'd like to see them show up and be people with us. – Chris Oct 25 at 16:50
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    @heather Eh, nvm, I'm retracting my objection. While I'm still annoyed by posts that presume to speak for me in the name of the community, this isn't really one of them. – eyeballfrog Oct 25 at 16:53
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    Boom! Easiest upvote in weeks. – Sklivvz Oct 25 at 16:56
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    I only wish I could believe Stack Overflow will do something with this. They have been to quiet for too long. – Oded Oct 25 at 17:00
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    @Chris Yeah, it's frustrating. I feel a lot of your frustration, for different reasons. But I do think that some of the employees are people with us - the CMs in particular. And I think there's plenty we can do without SE - a lot of the mayhem on meta has been users getting angry with each other, along with getting angry at stack exchange. This post is addressed at the community as a whole, too. – heather Oct 25 at 17:01
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    heather, your initiative in creating this conversation and this presentation to the rest of us of lessons to take to heart demonstrate true leadership. Facilitating exactly this sort of conversation is what SEI should have done, discretely, weeks or months ago, instead of jumping to punitive action. We all have a great deal to learn from one another, and the more we can do so without drama, the better. Congratulations to you, Monica, and Journeyman Geek for setting an example of behavior that SE staff, moderators and users could all benefit from emulating. – Isaac Moses Oct 25 at 17:22
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    @Script47 Sorry, no. Monica and I both shared some very personal stories and honestly, it was meant to be a private conversation to begin with. I don't think I'd particularly want to share that conversation, and I know we both ended agreeing what was in that room would stay in that room. – heather Oct 25 at 17:47
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    The people directly involved and most personally affected have gone to great lengths to reach an understanding and heal the hurt. Both of their posts here are fantastic and courageous. They have gone the further step of sharing their private matter in the hope that it will be beneficial in helping others move in a positive direction. I'm dumbfounded that both posts have received downvotes and some people are nitpicking them as inadequate. Nobody else has standing to define what should be adequate, and these posts are not the appropriate targets for criticism and others' personal expectations. – fixer1234 Oct 25 at 20:27
268

Thank you for this heartfelt, encouraging message, and for being willing to have the conversation that preceded it instead of just walking away.

We need more of that at Stack Exchange.

It's too easy to forget that, behind the gravatar and user name, there is an actual human being. We have text-only interactions, sometimes limited to messages of a few hundred characters at a time, and we draw conclusions, think we know the other, when we don't. And then we filter all further interactions through the filter of what we "know", regardless of accuracy, and spirals happen.

That happens everywhere online (as we've known for decades). Now throw into the mix an environment where we discuss important issues that are deeply personal to those involved. What could go wrong with that, right? Currently it's pronouns, but it's also been religion (there's a lot of hostility to religion on the network), politics, national identity... topics that are challenging to discuss regardless of how respectful everyone involved is being. The current situation arose from a conversation in Teachers' Lounge that was by and large very respectful -- but involved deeply-held feelings that were in conflict.

If we can't even manage respectful private conversations without over-reactions, then how are we to deal with disrespectful public actions on the network? We've seen far too much trolling, far too many attacks, far too much pain. Our collective inability to recognize the humanity in our fellow moderators has emboldened those who cannot see the humanity in fellow users. It has added hurt, in particular, to the hurt already being felt by members of the Lavender community.

Heather, I regret that we had these failures of communication in Teachers' Lounge. It wasn't my intention to offend, and yet some were offended. I assume that those who offended me with their words also didn't intend to offend, and perhaps they will address that just as you and I did. I believe we both are now doing better at listening and weighing the impact of our words, and I hope others will join us in trying to rise above the quick reaction, will try harder to see the human being behind the screen.

The network writ large, and the 600 or so moderators who care for it, are global, diverse communities. Diversity means sometimes encountering perspectives we disagree with, that we might even find deeply wrong or heretical. I experience this on our religion sites, and yet we manage to work together there -- by being respectful in how we present our perspectives, by being ready to listen, and by knowing that we're still all here for the same reason. If any of us were to be able to shut down the perspectives we disagree with, our communities would be poorer for it.

But some conversations are too painful, too personal, and we need to be able to say "let's not do this". We need to be able to step out instead of escalating, and we need to be able to communicate clearly that we're feeling hurt without it being seen as an attack. We need more "I feel" language and less "you did" language. This requires effort and will on both sides of the interaction. Communities of people with good intentions can solve these problems. We might need help, like mediators. We definitely need to presume good intent. But we can do it if we want to.

And we should want to. The alternative, where more and more people get hurt more and more badly, is too awful to contemplate.

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    @anongoodnurse as you requested: GoFundMe link. – Monica Cellio Oct 29 at 1:31
  • @MonicaCellio - Contributed! You set the bar way too low. May I post this somewhere besides my profile? Finally, thank you. – anongoodnurse Oct 29 at 4:14
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    @anonGoFundMonica the target will rise, but I'm trying to track with current expenses and near-term expectations rather than the worst-case scenario. And please share wherever you like, thanks! – Monica Cellio Oct 29 at 15:26
  • Unrelated: have you see meta.stackexchange.com/questions/337160/… ? I think it could be helpful if you personally tell us what you think about about that question ;-) – GhostCat says Reinstate Monica Oct 31 at 12:39
  • @MonicaCellio - I've been following this SO drama and haven't said much, but I fully support you. If it matters, I'm Christian. And while I appreciate Heather's post, based on what I've read from you, about you, about that convo in the TL, for those that witnessed what went down, and for those that were much much more offensive than you, I'm struggling with Heather's words I believe that while there were problems with what she said... Can I ask, what was it that you said that Heather and/or the lavender community is offended by? – sfors says reinstate Monica Oct 31 at 19:47
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    This is probably the answer from Gilles I'm looking for. – sfors says reinstate Monica Nov 1 at 14:26
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I go by ‘they’, and I speak for myself, not on behalf of all queer folks.

What I understand of Monica's position—based previously on public TL leaks and now on what heather has relayed—is a little baffling to me.

Nevertheless, it seems that SE.inc have foolishly chosen Monica as a scapegoat for much larger issues—and now, having put their corporate foot in their corporate mouth by suddenly bypassing established procedures and applying a potential future rule ex post facto, SE.inc do not appear to appreciate the law of holes.

In large part because of SE.inc's obstinacy about Monica, the queer members of the community whom SE.inc claimed to be trying to support are now being framed as an authoritarian minority abusing illegitimate power to ram a new CoC down everyone else's throats and put compelled speech in their mouths. Obviously SE.inc are not doing the harassment themselves, but it is not cool that by stonewalling Monica, SE.inc have exacerbated the harassment in the name of supporting us.

I think the first step for SE.inc to restore legitimacy—and to seriously address larger cultural issues in good faith—is to reinstate Monica.

(We also have some other issues of legitimacy in SE.inc's governance too.)

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    Well, as the saying goes With great power comes great responsibility. It's interesting to see that saying in light of your answer. SE holds on to power but doesn't seem to bothered about the responsibility that comes with it. – JJ for Transparency and Monica Oct 26 at 3:56
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    Every time I see a post or comment from someone in the Lavender community it helps me understand a bit more. I'm still trying to figure out where I stand on all this but I know I need to learn more about the side I know least about. Thanks. – Matt Gutting Oct 26 at 3:58
29

I'm just a random onlooker, but I'm really happy to see this development, and I'd like to thank @heather for approaching Monica and having this discussion, Monica for being open to it, and Journeyman Geek for mediating and (if I'm not mistaken) actually suggesting this approach. This is one of those awesome things where everyone who participates (in good faith) is a winner. Notably, the Corporation has declined to participate.

I only have one question (stemming from my ignorance): was there a direct conflict or rift between heather and Monica in the Teachers' Lounge that was related to the start of the whole debacle? If that's the case, it makes this reconciliation even more meaningful!

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    Not so much a direct conflict, but more that we started with very...opposing opinions on things, I think, and we still disagree on multiple things. This is the sort of thing that can only be resolved with multiple conversations and hard work by both parties to understand. – heather Oct 25 at 21:57
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    @heather Can we get your opinions on things? Right now all I've heard is Monica preferred to speak in a gender neural tone in general and CoC originally seemed to force pronoun usage regardless of context. I haven't seen the leaked TL. From my perspective it's perplexing that there could have been any hurt/argument from those alleged statements no matter one's cis-ness. Are there problems with her public opinions that could cause harm to the lavender community? If so, if it isn't addressed, there's just going to be hurt again. If not, and the real issues weren't disclosed, no problem. – whn Oct 26 at 1:11
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    @opa It's very hard for me to distill my thoughts on the situation, and there's also a lot of personal background to it for me, so keep that in mind when reading this. Monica refuses to use the pronouns they/them. While this sounds like not a huge deal, I find it more helpful to reframe the issue this way: I have a friend who is a trans man. If I said to him, "I respect you, but using he/him pronouns bother me fundamentally, so I'm going to reword my sentences to not have any pronouns" - no matter how well and naturally I phrase my sentences, that will be painful for him to have his ... – heather Oct 26 at 1:18
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    ... identity discarded like that because I "was bothered". This is problematic and painful, especially when it's targeted at a specific group that is often marginalized to begin with. Monica has her own personal reasons for not using those pronouns, and part of my problem is that that is so outside my experience that I find it hard to understand that. Unfortunately, when Monica attempted to share these experiences, the phrasing she used - reasoning about "grammar" and "compelled speech" [I say this all from having read the transcripts extensively] echoed common arguments from people who ... – heather Oct 26 at 1:20
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    ... have much worse motives than Monica did. For example, take the "compelled speech" argument. When you participate on SE or talk with people, you're effectively entering into an implied social contract. You can use slurs and offensive language, but there will be consequences - on SE, suspension. Using incorrect pronouns is effectively a slur, and aggressively avoiding pronouns can feel like just as much of an insult to someone's identity. Perhaps it helps to reframe this way: if you had a friend who preferred the nickname "Steve" instead of Stephen, but you restructured every sentence ... – heather Oct 26 at 1:22
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    ... to avoid using that nickname because you found it problematic, and even continually stated you found that nickname problematic, that would be really uncomfortable for Steve, right? He wouldn't feel welcome. It's the same thing, but with pronouns, which for some reason tends to put some people up in arms. Or the "grammar" argument. Singular they has been used for hundreds of years, notably being used in Shakespeare. These are classic 'arguments' when talking about these issues, and so they became signal flags. Talking directly with Monica, I don't believe she had the broader intent ... – heather Oct 26 at 1:25
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    ... that most people using those arguments do, but nevertheless what she said hurt. The unfortunate language she used, and her repeated insistence on not using they/them meant that she became an...easy scapegoat to Stack Exchange in the middle of a broader, far more complicated issue that has been festering on the network for years. These problems - especially coming from a productive, well-respected mod - should be the start of a conversation like I began having with Monica, not a suspension. This is partially about lavender issues, yes, but those are so broad one post won't solve it ... – heather Oct 26 at 1:27
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    ... This is about starting to move back to where we should have been: talking about why these things are painful and the problems that need to be solved. The lavender issue is broad and complex and Monica is one wave in a sea of issues. Firing her was not the answer. @opa does this begin to answer your questions? – heather Oct 26 at 1:28
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    @heather Wow, that's a bigger reply than I was expecting. I understand and agree that: avoiding using pronouns, and using the wrong pronouns can be hurtful to trans people. I now believe I even understand why what Monica said could hurt people (despite, again not seeing TL). If I understand correctly, it wasn't that she had some religious reservations, or personal bias against transgender people. You are saying that she appeared to put her own convenience above the feelings of trans people? That makes a lot more sense. I see how someone could be hurt by that with out bad faith. – whn Oct 26 at 1:50
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    @opa I think that's getting much closer at the truth, yes. Monica appears willing to use any pronouns (including neopronouns) except they/them. I still have several major disagreements, therefore, with her perspective, but that's an issue you talk through, not fire over. I've suggested sensitivity training for mods on several occasions, including in the lavender letter, and I think that would've been very useful here. Sorry for the massive reply =) Sometimes shortening things cuts out important details. – heather Oct 26 at 1:53
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    @heather thank you for the thoughtful reply here. It’s good that we can have these discussions... but: I’m still unconvinced about your reasoning around compelled speech. You’re right that if we use slurs there’s consequences - but that’s not compelled speech. If we use no slurs, we’re fine. Until now there was nothing we had to say (just lots of things we couldn’t say). Until recently, it appeared that we had to use pronouns. It has since been clarified in the new CoC FAQ that completely avoiding pronouns is allowed (so now it’s “don’t use the wrong ones” not “you must use the right ones”). – Tim Oct 26 at 9:38
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    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. I can't do anything about witch-hunts, of course. – Monica Cellio Oct 27 at 1:30
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    @MonicaCellio I know I brushed over that a bit, but I didn't want to share your specific personal reasons, so I didn't know how much I could share. Thank you for commenting to share what you're comfortable with. – heather Oct 27 at 19:10
  • @MonicaCellio Not sure who you replied to, in case it is me, I didn't mean to say that you were literally making arguments around convenience, only that others may have interpreted what you said in that way, and gotten hurt by said interpretation. When I say "You are saying that she appeared to put her own convenience above the feelings of trans people? " It would be clearer to say "You are saying that to individuals who were hurt, she appeared to put her own convenience above the feelings of trans people?" but I didn't want to accidentally invalidate others feelings – whn Oct 28 at 4:43
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    if SO has updated the pronoun guidelines to allow gender-neutral writing, It's no harm, no foul. These are sites for programmers. I don't understand the need for forced language and if we don't have to use it, and can keep it gender neutral now (right?), let's move on. But Monica's situation needs to be remedied first. It was handled very poorly. This drama over pronouns is just exhausting and if that's where some people want to live, that's their business, but don't expect everyone to adopt that same mindset. No ill intent here, but it's just unreasonable to demand that people use them. – sfors says reinstate Monica Nov 1 at 15:36
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I post this today in an attempt to reach out a hand, and to ask all of you to do so as well, to ask Stack Exchange to do so as well.

Just picking this sentence to stress how important it is for the party being reached out to to play its part. The community seems to have been discussing the situation for quite some time now, but it is very much a one-sided discussion in which the company seems rather silent. Most have been a bit more blunt about it, possibly because they think SE should be reaching out to the community, we shouldn't have to beg for it.

That said, I think most if not all in the community stand behind your message, and

let's hope the company will dignify it with a response.

17

A wonderful piece of work!

I think, in the end, it all boils down to "assume good faith/intent".

Which we basically don't have any more in the relationship between the community and the company. On both sides. Years of frustration, surprising actions leading to a loss of trust.

Your input here, and the answers coming back show us the way.

I hope the other side is listening, while keeping in mind that German proverb" to wait and to hope makes many a fool" unfortunately...

6

I think this is great that a trusted user from the lavender community was able to reach out to Monica and that they were able to connect and have a productive conversation. I think it is great that they both put themselves out there to allow this to happen. I want to thank them and JourneymanGeek for helping with this process and sharing the results. I think it shows that there is a chance for Monica and the lavender community to resolve their issues.

I am not a member of the lavender community, but I saw how Monica's actions hurt some users. Monica in the past has admitted her actions have hurt users (or more accurately caused them to feel hurt). There is no question in my mind that she did not intended to hurt anyone, but none the less, injury was caused. I hope that this conversation between a member of the lavender community and Monica will be the first step to Monica reaching out with an apology to the lavender community and the users she has hurt. If I saw such an olive branch, I could fully support efforts to reinstate Monica.

Just because I cannot fully support the reinstatement of Monica until I see an apology, does not mean that I don't support her in other aspects. I have seen how some users actions have hurt Monica. Monica deserves apologies from those users and from those of us that did not stand up and defend her. I am fully supportive of any actions that would help resolve those issues, regardless of if Monica apologizes first. I am also aware that the atrocious behavior of SE has hurt Monica (as well as the lavender community, moderators and users). These also need to be corrected and I support efforts to correct them regardless of if Monica apologizes.

Given the hurt that SE has caused Monica, maybe it is unfair to hope that she can rise above it and apologize to the users she has hurt. I believe Monica is one of the best among us and hope that she can step back and see how she can move this process forward. This conversation between her and Heather makes me confident that we can resolve the issues between Monica and the users she hurt and turn our full attention and support on how SE has hurt Monica and how SE's actions have empowered some users to act in ways designed to hurt lavender users.

I wish SE was leading the way in helping resolves these rifts, but instead they seem to be actively fanning the flames. As a user lead community, it encourages me to see users stepping forward and trying to fix the problems.

  • @MonicaCellio As for people attacking you, again, I am happy to look into it. As you have had a productive and private dialog with heather, maybe pass it along to her and ask her to ping me. Or we can try and setup something better for you. I am happy to work with you to resolve the issues. – StrongBad Oct 27 at 0:38
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    This conversation has been moved to chat for archival purposes. – Journeyman Geek Oct 31 at 10:28
-3

Thanks for this. It's awesome that people can put down the vitriol once in a while and talk.

Do you have a stance on restoration of her diamond? It's not clear in your post what action you feel is best in that regard.

  • Do you feel that her diamond should be restored promptly?
  • Do you feel that this needs more discussion to determine under what conditions her diamond could be restored?
  • Are you opposed to restoring her diamond, but in favor of an amicable (not accusatory, not condemnatory, etc.) social parting from moderatorship?
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    I feel her diamond should be restored. I quote: " I believe that while there were problems with what she said, she meant all the best, and that is a starting point for a conversation, not an ending point for a long and productive relationship with Stack Exchange." She never should have been deposed in the first place. That should've been the beginning of a conversation, maybe something like the conversation Monica and I had. I also would like to say that I'm not a huge fan of your phrasing "put down the vitriol", but as you would. – heather Oct 25 at 16:35
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    I don't think it's fair to make @heather a spokesperson for any particular group. I'm sure they have their opinions, but I don't think this was an attempt to become any sort of figurehead. Nor do I really think we need one. Heather was already brave enough to step up and post this actually constructive message. Let's not put them in the spotlight more than necessary. – terdon - stop harming Monica Oct 25 at 16:39
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    @terdon Thank you. I'd rather people focus less on me and more on talking with people. – heather Oct 25 at 16:40
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    I know what you mean is good here @Robert but "It's awesome that people can put down the vitriol once in a while and talk" is jarring because we've not seen any vitriol from either Monica or Heather. From others, yes, but they've been firm and tenacious but scrupulously calm and level-headed. – user56reinstatemonica8 Oct 25 at 16:42
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    @terdon I think it's good and important that Heather has explicitly said what she did here because I believe some of the decision-makers at SE have been guilty of using claiming to represent Heather and others as an excuse for not facing up to their mistreatment of Monica. – user56reinstatemonica8 Oct 25 at 16:45
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    @user568458 To be quite clear here (I don't want this to get lost): I do believe there were problems with what Monica said, and I do believe that Stack Exchange has a much larger problem with welcoming the LGBT+ community, but there's a different response to that. See points #1 and #2 of my original post, and in terms of #2, see the lavender letter. Nevertheless, there is no excuse for how Stack Exchange has handled the situation. – heather Oct 25 at 16:46

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