On May 29, 2017, I wrote a response to LambdaConfs’ purposeful invitation of misogynist Ed Latimore as their keynote speaker. I had already received considerable harassment on Twitter due to my speaking up about the event, but shortly before I was due to publish my response, Breitbart picked up the story, and the harassment became worse. I was afraid for my safety and I chose not to share my response with the world. You can find the Daily Camera’s story here.
The months following my speaking up were some of the hardest of my life. I was scared to walk out of my home. A man sought me out in real life at a party to tell me that he had heard of my speaking up, that he was a white nationalist, and that I was being discussed on 4Chan and should watch my back. That was a traumatic time for me, but I know it pales in comparison to the kind of abuse many women endure on a daily basis because they’ve chosen to speak up against bigotry.
Everything I wrote on May 29 still rings true for me today, with the exception that I’m no longer of the mind that government shouldn’t suppress hate speech. As I witness what is becoming of my country, I think that’s a discussion we all need to have, and a possibility we need to entertain.
I’m also far more resilient now than I ever thought I would be on May 29. I have grown into a woman who will not silence herself, and who believes that there is very much a right and a wrong when it comes to fighting oppression and injustice. I will not stop speaking up.
As you plan your conference calendar, know that there are conferences like LambdaConf that endorse misogyny, racism, and bigotry in their choice of speakers. You can choose to not attend these conferences and in doing so, be a voice for what is right.
Without further ado, I give you my response, unchanged from when I finished writing it on May 29, 2017.
“I didn’t know that people could be bigoted, even as they were smiling at you.” Hasan Minaj delivers this powerful line in his new special, Homecoming King. He tells the story of a white family who believed that he was good enough to study with their daughter, but not a good fit to be her prom date because they didn’t want him to be in the photos.
This kind of orthogonal bigotry is something I’m very familiar with. It’s an especially insidious and dangerous form of bigotry because it wraps itself in artificial tolerance by giving lip-service to inclusivity. I’ve experienced and witnessed it my entire life. It’s the kind of bigotry I experienced as a child when my parents and I were on an international flight. We sat next to a man who was extremely polite at the beginning of the flight, but who proceeded to get very drunk as the flight progressed. At one point, when my mom needed to move past him to go to the restroom, he called her a “fat Indian bitch.” It’s the kind of bigotry I’ve experienced when I was told to go back to where I came from by formerly tolerant New Yorkers while living in NYC after 9/11. It’s the kind of bigotry I experienced when a boy I liked told me that he thought I was really pretty but he wouldn’t touch me with a ten-foot pole because I’m Indian. It’s the kind of bigotry I experienced on Thursday, May 25, 2017 when I attended LambdaConf in Boulder, Colorado.
But first, who am I and why should you even be reading this?
I grew up in Southern Louisiana to immigrant parents. After attending NYU for undergrad, I returned to Louisiana for law school and then practiced there for 8 years, mostly in the criminal justice system. I saw daily the injustices perpetrated by those who would rely on the rule of law to justify bigotry and racism. I did my best to fight these injustices, but maybe I didn’t do enough. I wonder about that a lot, but I’ll probably never know the answer.
Eventually I decided it was time to commit to becoming a software developer, which is something I had been thinking about for years. I’d long wanted to be a part of a creative and inclusive profession, one that focused on generating solutions rather than bandaging problems after they had already escalated beyond repair. I also wanted to live in a place that was more ideologically progressive than Southern Louisiana.
So in early 2016, I gave most of my possessions away, packed what I could fit in my car, and trekked to Denver to attend the Turing School of Software and Design. I chose Turing not only because of its mission to promote diversity and inclusivity in tech, but also because it offers a phenomenally effective academic experience. I graduated from Turing in January of this year, and I can honestly say that it was one of the most challenging, fulfilling, and gratifying experiences of my life. The community at Turing really is inclusive, and I always felt supported and encouraged by the instructors and administration.
So, there you have it. I’m a woman. I’m a woman of color. I’m a woman of color who is brand new to software development.
I know my experience at LambdaConf is not unique, or even rare. But if I can expose even the tiniest slice of bigotry in the tech industry, and in the world at large, then I will. I’ve come to love this industry and the people in it. It’s an earnest, energetic, optimistic, and largely respectful community that I’m proud to be a part of. I want to see tech continue to be the industry that shapes how we live, and that cares deeply about the people it serves. To do that, tech must identify and root out bigotry and hatred wherever it exists, and I’m hoping to help with that.
If you’re unfamiliar, LambdaConf is a functional programming conference held annually in Boulder, Colorado on the UC Boulder campus. It is organized by John De Goes and his family, including his wife, Sophia De Goes. I’ve been learning Elixir (a functional programming language) lately, and one of the best ways to learn a new language is to spend time immersed in it among like-minded people. Billing itself as “one of the largest and most respected conferences on functional programming in the world,” I figured LambdaConf was a great fit. I didn’t really research the conference or its founders because I assumed an event of that size, with a ticket price of $581.24, was probably legitimate. I was so excited to be attending my first conference as a newly-minted software developer!
The keynote speaker on Thursday morning was Ed Latimore, a former boxer and current university student. Mr. Latimore is not a programmer. After an introduction by John De Goes, Mr. Latimore delivered a speech about overcoming fear. During his speech, I tweeted a few of Mr. Latimore’s statements. After his speech, I walked upstairs to attend an immersive Elixir workshop. When I checked Twitter during a break, I noticed that a woman had sent me Twitter search results for Mr. Latimore. Those search results indicated that he is a men’s rights activist, and an avowed follower of the misogynistic Red Pill ideology. I was disgusted by what I read.
Mr. Latimore has tweeted, “The female seems crazy, mostly because it’s not male. Every man has a range for sanity, but if you want logic and reason you want a boyfriend [sic]” Note the use of it to describe a woman. He has also tweeted, “Women are like fire. How they’re used in your life decides whether you have a warm cozy home or one that’s burned to the ground.” Another tweet reads, “Have always went out of my way to avoid crazy women. But then again I barely like hanging around sane girls to start [sic]”
In his blog, Mr. Latimore has written that he has “swallowed the red pill” and has proclaimed, “Humans get together to mate. For guys, most of the information used to make a mating decision is displayed in a girl’s physical appearance. It’s why we really don’t care about a girl’s personality. It has no bearing on her reproductive abilities. Girls and [sic] looking for security because not only are they physically weaker, but that pregnancy thing makes a girl unable to fend off attacks.”
There is an abundance of Mr. Latimore’s hateful misogynistic rhetoric available online. One merely needs to search his Twitter feed and blog to find it. I will not drive traffic to him from here.
After learning of Mr. Latimore’s misogyny, I tweeted at the LambdaConf Twitter account and expressed my dismay at their choice of speaker. Whoever runs that account decided the best response would be to direct me to their Code of Conduct (COC). The response was devoid of any remorse or responsibility for having invited and paid a misogynist to be the keynote speaker.
***Let’s take a little detour into LambdaConf’s COC, which includes this sentence, “The purpose of [the code of conduct] is to facilitate an inclusive and diverse community of professionals who productively work toward shared professional goals.”***
After receiving this canned response, I left the Elixir workshop and asked a volunteer to issue me a refund. He messaged Sophia De Goes, who appeared a few minutes later. When I informed her that Mr. Latimore was a Red-Piller and misogynist, she seemed unconcerned. In fact, her only concern was whether he had actually said anything offensive during his speech, which he had not. She expressed no remorse at having hired a bigot to deliver the keynote. She stated that they had published the speaker list some time back and that I could have researched him myself. She then directed me to write an email detailing my concerns if I wanted to request a refund. Again, much like the previous canned response, she expressed no regret at having hired a misogynist to speak. I left the conference angry and disillusioned.
Since Thursday, Mr. Latimore has called me “crazy” and an “idiot.” He tweeted that I was asking for attention and that he was going to give it to me, at which point I was inundated with nasty comments from his army of followers.
Mr. De Goes has called me a liar, and has refused to apologize or take any responsibility for choosing an avowed woman-hater to be his keynote speaker at a conference which he advertises as “inclusive.” He has publicly supported and endorsed Mr. Latimore.
This is not the first time Mr. De Goes has invited a bigot to speak at LambdaConf. Just last year he invited a white supremacist as keynote speaker. You can read about that here: https://www.inc.com/tess-townsend/indiegogo-campaign-funding-tech-conference-white-nationalist.html
Mr. De Goes has written in his blog that he thoroughly researched the white supremacist and chose to invite him nonetheless, so I have no reason to believe that he hadn’t thoroughly researched Mr. Latimore and was very knowledgeable about his misogyny when he hired him.
LambdaConf would like to hide behind its COC, and argues that merely inviting a speaker with bigoted views isn’t an endorsement of those views. But I ask, How is it not a tacit endorsement of racism to provide a platform to a white supremacist? How is it not a tacit endorsement of sexism to provide a platform to a misogynist? Could you really find no other speakers for your conference? Why did you choose these specific speakers if you don’t want to endorse their views? This is exactly the kind of orthogonal racism I’m talking about.
Mr. De Goes had a chance to rectify this misstep by apologizing. Yet he and his wife have put the onus on me to research his speakers in advance. Doesn’t the burden rest with you, Mr. De Goes, to not invite bigots into your supposedly inclusive conference?
The mentality evidenced by Mr. De Goes and his supporters is the kind of mentality that makes the tech community toxic, especially to newcomers. LambdaConf’s COC gives lip-service to inclusivity, but when it came time to actually implement it, Mr. De Goes instead chose to move in the opposite direction in a rather extreme fashion. We’re not talking about casual racism or casual sexism here. We’re talking about a white supremacist and a rabid misogynist.
I’ve seen this kind of shadowy bigotry as a lawyer. It’s easy to parrot official-sounding language, such as that in the COC, but such language is often merely used as an excuse to justify bad behavior. That is exactly what you are doing, Mr. De Goes.
Our government rightly cannot suppress free speech. This is why white supremacists are free to attend rallies where they chant Nazi slogans without fear of prosecution. Those same white supremacists may then go on to murder innocents on a train in Portland, but I believe the government should not censor their speech under any circumstances.
Misogynists are free to call me an idiot, and to critique my physical appearance on Twitter without fear of prosecution. Those same misogynists may then go on to slaughter six innocents in Isla Vista, California, but I believe the government should not censor their speech under any circumstances.
But LambdaConf is a private organization, a non-profit. It is under no obligation to act as a loudspeaker for bigotry. The fact that it has proactively chosen to do so speaks volumes about its organizers, and about those who support it.
I don’t have to tell you that bigots feel more emboldened in the current political climate. That becomes more and more evident with each passing day. But the tech community has a chance to be a bastion of innovation, independence, and inclusivity. There are strides being made to achieve that end. But conferences like LambdaConf are a stain on that progress.
What kind of tech community do you want? What are you willing to do to achieve that? Will you call out bigotry when you see it? Will you hold the tech community accountable? These are some of the questions I’m encouraging you to ask yourself in light of what has happened at LambdaConf, and what continues to happen in the tech community.
And to the multitude of compassionate, empathic, and kind individuals in this amazing community: thank you. Please know that you are on the right side of history. Do not be afraid to expose, shame, and root out bigotry wherever you encounter it.