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Transphobia in open source

A major developer of open source social networking software has a rather public statement about his opposition to “trans ideology” on his website. I won’t link to the statement, but I want to make my stance clear.

There is no such thing as “trans ideology,” which, as a phrase, reminds me of people talking about “the gay agenda” decades ago. It doesn’t exist. Trans people are not a threat. They are a marginalized, vulnerable group that is often denied fundamental human rights and that is currently being vilified by certain politicians and corners of the press. Transphobia is rife, unfair, and dangerous to this community. Like all bigotry, it’s also harmful and unpleasant to be around.

Trans men are men. Trans women are women. It is not a choice.

Open source software is built as (or, at least, should be built as) a community. While a person’s beliefs should be irrelevant to their ability to build software, they are not unrelated to how they show up in a community and how safe people feel communicating with them. It is essential to use an equity lens to build open source communities, ensuring they are open - structurally and emotionally - to contributions from vulnerable and underrepresented people.

A person’s politics and beliefs are their own until they choose to make them public. I would rather prioritize making the communities I am a part of more equitable, so I will not knowingly work with someone who has publicly expressed transphobic views, just as I won’t work with someone who has voiced racism, homophobia, or sexism. While these forms of bigotry don’t directly impact me because of the disproportionate power white, cisgender men like myself have in society, they certainly affect the people around me. My actions matter, particularly as I have more choices than more vulnerable people.

Some have painted acceptance of transgender people as opposed to acceptance of people with religious beliefs. It is not. It’s perfectly possible to be a Christian, for example, and to be open and inclusive to all people. I’m delighted to know many such Christians, Muslims, Jews, and people of all faiths. This supposed dichotomy is widespread and worth calling out: it’s fake and is often used as a cover for intolerance that has nothing inherently to do with religion. By helping to make communities I’m a part of open to trans people, I am not closing them to any other group other than the intolerant.

This is not simply a matter of opposing views. It’s a matter of accepting people for who they are and providing safe communities where they can do good work. There’s nothing abstract about it and it’s not a political debate.

Lastly, these statements are sometimes derisively described as “virtue signaling.” In some ways, that’s true. What I’m trying to say to my trans friends is simply this: you’re safe with me, and I care about you. I think that’s worth signaling.

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