What Philly tech should learn from a hate speech incident at a local meetup - Technical.ly Philly

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Apr. 19, 2019 2:32 pm

What Philly tech should learn from a hate speech incident at a local meetup

Transphobic rhetoric targeted at a local technologist was sent to 1,901 members of the Philadelphia JavaScript Developers group. Here's what they want the community to know.

At Thursday's Philadelphia JavaScript Developers Meetup.

(Courtesy photo)

Editor's note: With explicit permission from Melody Starling, we've quoted parts of the original Meetup message and linked to a screenshot of it below for the sake of illustrating the transphobic nature of its content. Please email me with any comments, questions or concerns (julie@technical.ly). — Julie Zeglen
Update: Meetup's comment via spokesperson has been updated. (4/19/19, 3:41 p.m.)

Last Thursday, at a Philadelphia JavaScript Developers meetup held at Guru’s Center City HQ, web developer and designer Melody Starling delivered a 15-minute talk before a room of technologists on how to create lo-fi hip hop beats using the output of the JavaScript package manager install.

The day after Starling delivered their talk, a transphobic comment hit the email inboxes of 1,901 members of the group, including Starling, who is trans.

In the message, an attendee by the name of Scott O’Connor railed against organizers for promoting “satanic values” by allowing Starling — referred to by O’Connor in the note to as an “abomination of God” — to give a presentation. O’Connor, a self-described Phoenixville resident who signed up for the event to “meet other JAVA SCRIPT (sic) programmers in the region,” went on to call organizers a disgrace to society, and ended the hate speech rant by complaining about the non-gendered bathrooms at Guru.

Reached after the incident, Starling agreed there was a need to shine a light on incidents like these, which should have no place in the tech ecosystem.

“Generally when I speak in Philly I normally have people coming up to me to mansplain or sell me on religion,” Starling told Technical.ly via Slack. “It has never been this bad. This type of behavior [kinda] scares [me] away from speaking in Philly. In fact, this is my first time speaking in Philly since 2015.”

In response to the message, co-organizer Beth Dickerson sent a lengthy note to Meetup members titled “What We’re Really About,” where she offered apologies for O’Connor’s message, and in no uncertain terms said it was a violation of the group’s code of conduct.

“To Scott O’Connor: NOTHING ABOUT YOUR COMMENT IS ACCEPTABLE. NOTHING,” Dickerson wrote. “We’ve stated clearly in our Code of Conduct that we enforce it strictly. While the rest of us are here to learn from each other about JavaScript in a welcoming community, you choose to sink into your ignorance and hatefulness in a desire to be destructive.”

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Technical.ly searched LinkedIn for people who have O’Connor’s name and list having JavaScript or software development experience in the Philadelphia area, but didn’t find anyone to fit that description. The user’s Meetup profile now seems to be deactivated, and Dickerson said O’Connor appeared to have left the group before organizers could ban the account. Neither Dickerson nor co-organizer Jonathan Belcher remember meeting O’Connor that day.

In an email to Technical.ly, a Meetup spokesperson confirmed that O’Connor’s Meetup account was deleted by the company due to the user’s comments.

“Hate speech, supremacy, and behavior that incites hate or violence is strictly prohibited, and this individual’s account and comment were quickly blocked from our platform,” the spokesperson said.

On Twitter, Starling thanked allies who spoke up after the comment was sent.

“I don’t really know what else to say, but this type of transphobia and harassment has no place in society and I’m glad that people are taking action to prevent this from happening again,” they tweeted.

According to Amber Hikes, the executive director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs for the City of Philadelphia, the hateful comment is a reminder that while laws offer protection from discrimination in areas like employment, housing and public accommodation, they cannot prevent ill will and hate from reaching members of the LGBTQ community.

“Melody was asked to be part of that meetup because they are qualified to speak about the topic at hand, and that’s all that should matter,” Hikes said in an email to Technical.ly. “Verbal attacks against members of the LGBTQ community — and trans people of color in particular — are not only disheartening, they are dangerous. These types of incidents are what motivates our office to continue combatting hate and providing support for the LGBTQ community.”

Guru CEO and cofounder Rick Nucci said the message — which mentions his company’s non-gendered restrooms — was “really disappointing to see.”

“At Guru we welcome and value everyone, no matter their backgrounds, orientations, or otherwise, both in who we hire as well as who attends our events,” said Nucci. “Hateful and discriminatory comments are not tolerated here.”

After the harrowing experience, we asked Starling what they wanted the Philly tech community to know:

“Transphobia, sexism, and targeted harassment has no place in the tech industry,” they said.

_

The City of Philadelphia’s Commission on Human Relations is tasked with reviewing and investigating complaints of discrimination. The commission can be reached by calling (215) 686-4670, emailing pchr@phila.gov, or through their anonymous tip hotline: (215) 686-2856. PCHR also assists in resolving community tension after hate crimes or bias incidents. GLAAD also offers a list of tips for effective trans allyship.

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