My housemate recently posted about the false positivity of social media. Feeling that as I’ve read one blog post after another with nothing but glowing reviews of #sfs16. Reading so many positive-only reviews has left me feeling uneasy.
I received multiple private communications regarding a number of upsetting situations at last month’s conference. Not all were accessibility related. In fact, most were not. Those who contacted me mentioned they hesitated to speak up or come forward with concerns and universally they were all scared or nervous to speak publicly or privately to Woodhull about their own negative experiences. Whether or not any of the people who contacted me have since submitted anonymous feedback, I don’t know.
So many of us seem to talk about how All Faves Are Problematic, but most of us are reticent to criticize or even critique that which is close to us. We’re afraid of hurting our friends and colleagues and of damaging our own statuses. This fear is understandable, but thinking beyond ourselves is often necessary in order to encourage growth. I think it’s better that those close to us be the ones to point out our flaws, because they are far more likely to want to collaborate on that growth than random outsiders who have no personal connections at stake.
Let me be clear: I want the conference to grow. I want it to do better, just as we all should strive to do better with each successive year. I want to do whatever I can to assist the conference and its sponsoring organization in making improvements.
And we all need to make improvements, including me. I recognize that. I had no idea that my remarks regarding my observations about inclusion at the conference would fall to the responsibility of the Accessibility Committee head, Crista Anne. Nothing at the conference gave me the impression that accessibility and inclusion were being regarded as intrinsically linked. The “Accessibility Statement” in the conference program speaks only to (some) access issues regarding the event space itself. It makes no mention of any sort of statement of intent regarding inclusion. I assumed they were being considered as separate issues. Not only was I wrong, but it was wrong of me to assume.
The “Human Etiquette” statement prior to the “Accessibility Statement” in the program puts “Refrain from making assumptions” at the top of its list of nine etiquette points. I didn’t refrain; I assumed. But I believe that there are people who have broken the second etiquette point (“Assume only one thing: Good intentions.”) regarding my public comments about the conference.
I have known Crista for over ten years. She is my best and dearest friend. Why on earth would I say anything that I thought would hurt her, her position with Woodhull, or the conference and organization that she so loves? I wouldn’t. If you think that I would, you don’t know me and you don’t know our friendship.
Etiquette point three: “Take responsibility for what you do not know.” I am doing so. I ask that others do the same. Crista and I have been discussing etiquette point number four (“Respect privacy and boundaries.”) and what that means for the future regarding our personal versus professional lives. We have both lived lives that have been very publicly open — to a fault, some might say — and I, for one, am still learning about what being publicly open can mean for my personal and private connections.
Therefore, etiquette point number five (“Move up, move back.”) comes into play. I had a few days regarding the conference where I was very outspoken, both at the conference itself and on social media. I didn’t publicly say everything I wanted to about my conference experiences and I won’t be doing so. It’s time for me to step back from this and to continue moving forward on my own work as an advocate. I want to make space for others to be heard. I know you are out there, wanting to be heard, wanting things to change, because you have told me so in private.
I’m asking those with concerns to please come forward and speak about them. It is time for us to collaborate with the Summit on problem-solving. The Director of Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Summit, Mandy Farsace, wants to do everything that she can to improve future conferences. Please contact her directly via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail Mandy at WoodhullFoundation.org. You can also contact Crista Anne, the head of the Accessibility Committee, via her preferred contact method, which allows you to be anonymous if you wish. An anonymous direct-to-Woodhull contact channel is also in the works.
Change does not come about without dissent. Flaws often are not noticed until someone points them out. Accountability will not and cannot take place without outside parties who are willing to ask for improvement.
I’m asking for improvement and I’m asking you to join me in that call. Together, we can make it happen. Not just for this conference, but for other things, too.
Nothing about us, without us.