(Gender)queer conference guidelines and tips?

Hey all,

Within the International Association for Cryptologic Research we are always looking into improving diversity of our community and creating an open and safe space for everybody.
We are currently looking into mandating guidelines for conference organizers on how to accommodate our more gender-diverse subcommunity. One example is allowing/encouraging attendees to put their pronouns on their badges.

We can think of a number of guidelines and best practices ourselves. But I have been at RustFest before, and RustFest seems to have very mature guidelines for these kinds of things.

So I was wondering: Has that been written down somewhere? Is there some kind of handbook that we could learn from?

We are interested in issues like: Where do we hold our conferences? How can we make (gender)queer attendees (feel) safer at conferences in less safe cities/countries? Should we encourage people to put their pronouns on badges, or should we just offer the option? Is there anything that we are missing?

(Btw. I do not officially represent the IACR. I am just a member involved in thinking about these issues.)

Hi! I'd recommend emailing the RustConf organizers directly. This forum is usually only used for questions about the programming language and so the people who may be able to help you might miss your question.

There's a link in the CoC section of the RustConf site.

Cheers!

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And note that RustFest is different from RustConf -- contact the organizers of RustFest too :slight_smile: In addition, researching genderqueer specific conferences might have more info written down. Also remember accessibility!

I have organized Rust Belt Rust, I don't have any of this written down really. In addition to pronoun stickers that we had as an option for people to use at registration, I have tried to find venues with gender-neutral (that is, single occupancy) restrooms available. I've also put up signs that indicated we supported people using whatever restroom they felt most comfortable using.

Have a separate, clearly indicated field for "What would you like your nametag to say", that is, don't assume the name on the credit card should be the name for the nametag. At registration, have multiple ways to look up people (sometimes people put silly things on their nametags but don't remember when they get to registration). Basically avoid using potential deadnames unless you absolutely need to.

As far as safety in less safe cities/countries, make clear that if anyone would like a buddy to travel to/from hotels to the venue, you'd provide a trusted conference volunteer?

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Oh, that's totally my bad. I should have finished drinking my coffee before replying. Thanks for the correction! :slight_smile:

Hey, @dsprenkels, thanks for asking! I'm one of the founders of RustFest and Oxidize (and used to organise eurucamp).

I'm not sure I can give guidelines per se, but let me share a little bit of experience. They generally apply also to all marginalised groups, with some tuning. e.g. RustFest cares a lot about being accessible to neuroatypical people and disabled people, so some of the methods intersect, some clearly not. I'll number things for clarity, but it's an unordered list. It's also incomplete.

  1. Make sure that your organisation is okay with what you are doing. I'll be upfront: eurucamp - a conference a the end known for really caring about accessibility and gender-balance - was not organised by all people who wanted to work on those things. But, and that's the important bit, no one opposed those things - so the people that wanted to implement those things could freely work, without arguing their case regularly. Internal concern-bearers quickly cross the threshold where they cost the people implementing such things time and bandwidth, subsequently making them move to better places. This is not to say that there should be no healthy criticism, but addressing minorities is very prone to concern trolling. Make sure the organisation passes an explicit mandate and that illegitimate concerns are subsequently denied as such. If your even has a CoC and an organiser questions outreach to/representation of groups that are mentioned in the CoC - there's a message to be found there.

  2. Similar to that: if a feature in a conference doesn't have a budget, it's secondary. Make sure your efforts have a committed budget at your disposal, as small as it may be. You may even be able to find a sponsor for it.

  3. With the tough things out of the way: Be relaxed about it. This will be a multi-year effort (and I will get into the reasons why) and contrary to popular opinion, no one expects you to do everything right immediately, have a plan for changing your event gradually, but achievable. And that means you will fail - quite a bit. Particularly, people will give you the feedback that they do not want to attend your event (yet?) or that they do not want to invest time into your event. It's a grind. But no one expects you to fix the world in a day.

  4. Similar to that: be thankful for every help you can get from the queer community. There's a toxic trait of organisers expecting work from marginalised communities to get their issues fixed. Don't be that guy. People will expect you to be that guy when you approach them. I call that "paying for the sins of our peers". When you have questions: be prepared, don't take a lot of time, be very thankful and: be willing to pay for advice. You'd be amazed how much the willingness to pay 50$ for 30 minutes of great advice shows that you are serious. In our industry, where people are well off, for simplicities sake, we often donate that money to non-profit of the recipients choice, to avoid international invoicing and such.

  5. Feelings are reality. This sounds simple, but is often ignored. "I have a bad feeling about your conference" is often met with the attempt of making a rational argument why people were never in danger. That's not how things work. Make your default to listen closer, try to spend time with people talking about the issues they experienced by getting to know more about the issues, not with arguing them away. For better or worse, marginalised people are experts in their own marginalisation. You are not and you never will be (unless, of course, you are in the situation where you are exactly in the same niche, but they you probably have a different level of communication anyways).

  6. Simple,standard solutions. Extremely simple solutions are well understood and communicate well. Our conferences post an emergency phone number switched to the conference chairs - cheap and effective and communicates "we're here in any case". It's flexible and doubles as a "i got lost in town" number. The accessibility contact is an email address, not a form - turns out, blind people prefer that :). CFP procedures that mitigate against gender/class bias are around and well understood. Pick a standard one.

  7. Early outreach is king/queen/quing. Particularly when it comes to speakers. If you want queer people putting in papers into your CFP, your most stressful time is between opening that CFP and the time it closes. Research peer groups, send them the CFP, tell them why you want their papers, maybe even research their field of endeavour.

  8. Procedures and policies beyond the CoC. Don't invent your own. Pycon has awesome procedures, we adopt them almost carbon copy:
    Those are the ones for attendees: https://us.pycon.org/2022/about/code-of-conduct/attendee-procedure/
    Those are the ones for organisers: PyCon 2022 - Code of Conduct Enforcement Procedure
    Knowing what happens on issues makes people more comfortable to report.
    Make sure the final team deciding about actions/transgressions is trained and willing to act. If possible, get 1-2 people with previous experience, even if they are not from your conference staff. Entitle this team to make decisions for the conference team.

  9. Straight-up: the incident-free conference doesn't really exist. A lot of things go unreported. On the other hand, a lot of things are way less worse than what goes to twitter. Again: shoulders down. The most important thing is how you react and address issues and how active you are. Don't hesitate to have tough talks. The positive side is that from my experience, a lot of transgressions can be resolved and with good resolution resolves the conflict between the two parties much better. Your job as an organiser is to moderate that. I was in more than one situation where explaining the offender what they did wrong made them realise what they did wrong and give an honest apology to the person harmed. Helping people give an apology in such a situation and resolving the situation is a great.

  10. Be swift and clear about consequences on transgressions. The procedures mentioned above are to be applied quickly. Not everyone needs to be kicked out - e.g. I've seen very public transgressions where the consequence was asking the offender to publicly apologise. There's a whole list of consequences here.

  11. Make your default answer "thanks you". There's always an issue. That's fine. Everyone giving you more info about what's a problem at your conference is worth thanking. Think about it, try to factor it into next year. Some things may stay broken, some will get fixed. My general experience that the audience is still monitoring those things on a level and they are generally fine with that, as long as you aren't lazy. But no one expects you to be a superhero.

  12. Reach out to other organisers for their solutions. Got a concrete thing? Ask. There's people who enjoy this kind of work and you should, too.

I hope that helps to understand a little bit our mindset.

I wish you a great conference and hope it helps you to find adoptable tools where needed and the relaxation needed to approach the topic happily.

Florian

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Dear @skade,

This enumeration describes such a good mindset that I am just going to forward it verbatim to my partners in crypto (in particular because it focuses on all kinds of marginalized subcommunities).

Thank you so much!

Thank you! We will include this.

@wesleywiser, @carols10cents

Thank you! I will contact both teams.

@skade and others: There is actually one other thing in particular that we are struggling with.

The crypto community has some conferences in countries where some marginalized communities are less accepted, or downright illegal. For example, AfricaCrypt is organized in African countries, where expression of some LGBT+ identities is technically illegal (e.g. Egypt/Morocco).

The existence of these conferences are important for our geographical diversity; but at the same time, we have people that do not submit to these conferences because they are scared for their safety if they would attend.
This appears like a "there is no single solution" dilemma.

Does the Rust community have conferences or meetings in these kinds of places? How do you deal with this (apart from making people feel as safe as possible in these places)?

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We've run RustFest at conflicted places (Kyiv and Barcelona during a riot), but not in places where the law was against such expression. I've done activities through my company in the middle east. And it's subtle: I have family in Botswana where until recently gay activities where punishable by death, but the law was not enforced. We do have meetups in those locations.

So that gets really picky. Conflict of values is common and there's not a single solution. But a lot of that comes down to local knowledge. E.g. Marrakesh is the queer arab town (Gay Marrakesh Guide 2022 - bars, clubs, sauna & more).

Finding local people as advisors that are sympathetic with your cause is paramount. The second is having a coherent story and communication around it. Moving an international conference to a place where half of the attendance cannot go (note on the side: the US and Canada are picky there, due to passport privilege) is probably a no-go. But having a conference at a place for the local audience, which otherwise is often blocked from travel for visa and financial reasons is also something worthwhile.

There will always be dissonance. One thing that helped me is always centering the argument around the audience and less about global politics. Citizens of states are not necessarily okay with their policies and shouldn't suffer for them.

My experience is that anger and outrage happen when organisers haven't made their mind up and considered those issues under multiple perspectives. That leads to insecure communication, including organisers telling aggrevated people that they shouldn't be aggrevated. If you can clearly lay out that you made this decision because in the face of conflicting values (global reach vs. queer inclusion), most people will understand. This is where a diverse team helps, because it gives different perspectives.

And again: there's limits to our powers as organisers, and it's important that this is respected. Solving gordian knots is not among those powers ;).

Open, honest communication trumps everything - that also needs to be discussed with local organisers. The moment where I stop collaborating is where we cannot find one voice.

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You make a lot of good points. I think the takeaway that I should take from this thread is that a good mindset (with the organizers) is paramount, and that as long as this mindset is not there, guidelines are not really going to help you that much.

I'll communicate all of this back to the folks from IACR that were asking me about this. It is definitely going to be a challenge though, because even though the IACR board has members that are concerned about this, the conferences are often organized by local organizers which get rotated every year.

To all the people in this thread: Thank you so much for participating and sharing your experiences! :heart:

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