This Is How It’s Done, Round 2: American Atheists Updates Code of Conduct for Conferences

I announced earlier today that American Atheists had adopted a code of conduct for its conferences. One of the thumbs-up points I made was that they are presenting this policy as a living document, open to being changed as needed and in response to feedback.

They have already lived up to this. In response to comments and requests, they have added “gender identity” as a category for anti-harassment. They have now posted the complete, updated conference code of conduct to their website.

Once again, I say: This is how it’s done, people.

This Is How It’s Done, Round 2: American Atheists Updates Code of Conduct for Conferences

14 thoughts on “This Is How It’s Done, Round 2: American Atheists Updates Code of Conduct for Conferences

  1. 1

    I’m one of those who wrote to point out the need for recognition of gender identity. Within– literally– minutes, I received a note to the effect “yes, that’s a flaw, we’ll fix it before publication” from the Administrative Director of the org. I was very impressed with the responsiveness!

  2. 2

    Yes, that made me very happy. I’d sent them an email about it and then someone in the comments on Pharyngula posted that they had changed it. Sure enough, I checked my email and not only did I get a response but an explanation as well.

    Well done all around.

  3. 5

    Thanks Nentuaby for your quick response, and it was heartening to see an equally speedy recognition and improvement of the policy. It matters (even though I’m quite unlikely to get to an AA event, there are plenty of gender variant people who will).

  4. 6

    Here’s the text, for those who don’t have a .docx reader handy:

    American Atheists, Rev 1.1, 6/26/2012 – This revision supersedes all previous revisions.

    American Atheists’ Conference Code of Conduct

    American Atheists is dedicated to providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone, regardless of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion.

    We expect participants to follow this code of conduct at all conference venues and conference-related social events.

    Yes means yes; no means no; and maybe means no. Please take no for an answer for any request or activity. You are encouraged to ask for unequivocal consent for all activities during the conference. No touching other people without asking. This includes hands on knees, backs, shoulders—and hugs (ask first!). There are folks who do not like to be touched and will respect and like you more if you respect their personal space.

    We have many different folks attending this conference: sexualities, genders, races, ethnicities, abilities, beliefs—these are just a few. Blatant instances of racism, sexism, homophobia, or other stereotyping and harmful behaviors should be reported to conference staff immediately.

    Please do not wear heavy fragrances—including perfumes, colognes, scented shampoos, etc. Some of those attending have allergic reactions to scented products. No one will object to the smell of your clean body!

    Please respect the sessions and the speakers. Turn off cell phones and other electronic devices, take conversations and noisy children outside the session room, and move to the center of your row to make room for other attendees.

    There are chairs and spaces at the front and back of the room that are marked “reserved.” The front row chairs are reserved for attendees with vision or hearing impairments. The back rows are reserved for attendees with mobility accommodation needs. Please leave these chairs and spaces free throughout the conference for those who may need them.

    This conference welcomes families with children and expects all attendees to treat these families with courtesy and respect. Parents or guardians bringing children are responsible for the children’s behavior and are expected to remove disruptive children from the session. Parents or guardians should be aware not all language may be suitable for children.

    American Atheists does not tolerate harassment of or by conference participants, speakers, exhibitors, volunteers, or staff in any form. Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion, sexual images in public spaces, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention.

    Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately. Anyone violating this policy may be sanctioned or expelled from the conference (without a refund) at the discretion of the conference organizers.

    If you are being harassed, notice that someone else is being harassed, or have any other concerns, please contact a member of conference staff immediately. Conference staff can be identified by t-shirts/special badges/other ID.

    Conference staff will be happy to help participants contact hotel/venue security or local law enforcement, provide escorts, or otherwise assist those experiencing harassment to feel safe for the duration of the conference. We value your attendance.

    [Email address for organizers]
    [Phone number for conference security or organizers]
    [Phone number for hotel/venue security]
    [Local law enforcement]
    [Local sexual assault hot line]
    [Local emergency and non-emergency medical]
    [Local taxi company]

  5. 9

    […] As to the Code of Conduct itself, it is extremely both well thought out and well written. The fact that staff for the events are already being trained in dealing with issues of harassment is a relief. The fact that they are responsive and added “gender identity” to their list of protected categories also indicates how seriously they are taking this. (Thanks to Greta Christina for noticing that) […]

  6. 10

    @Blake Stacey and J. J. Ramsey… FWIW, OpenOffice and LibreOffice can open .docx files (although yes, I agree that it would be nice if everyone would use non-proprietary formats!).

  7. 11

    This is… awkward. As a genderqueer person, I really don’t know how to take being told that my gender identity is not my gender.

  8. 12

    The lawyer in me reads the “who” list as non-exclusive and overlapping categories. I find it a bit strange to split the “what” definition of harassment to make verbal harassment the primary part of the notice and then (after a bunch of words) tack on the other forms of harassment.

    It’s great to see the alacrity on fixes, tweaks and updates.

  9. 13

    [Cross-posted from Greta’s previous thread…]

    I suppose this isn’t a horrific problem or anything given the folks to whom (and the community among which) such behavior will be reported, but still:

    American Atheists does not tolerate harassment of conference participants, speakers, exhibitors, volunteers, or staff in any form. Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to … religion….


    I’m heartily in favor of the policy overall, but I guess I would advocate removing that last quoted word.

  10. 14

    It occurs to me that Gelatogate offers a worthwhile case-in-point for why it’s a bad idea for American Atheists’ harassment policy (or any atheist convention’s similar policy) to place religion on a par with “gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race,” and a handful of other characteristics, for each of which “offensive verbal comments related to” that characteristic are defined as harassment and specifically barred.

    I just don’t see how that policy could possibly be applied to religion without gutting an atheist convention—especially American Atheists’—of most of its content, if not indeed its reason for being.

    To refresh a little on Gelatogate: at Skepticon IV in Missouri in November 2011, Andy Drennen, a Christian man who owned a local gelato shop, happened to wander into a presentation of one event speaker, “atheist evangelist”/performing artist Sam Singleton. Drennen was deeply offended by Singleton’s performance (you can find both Singleton’s act and Drennen’s explanation of his reaction through the link above), and he attempted to retaliate by barring atheists from his gelato shop. He later reconsidered and apologized, though members of our community were divided in our willingness to accept that apology.

    Had Skepticon IV had a harassment policy in place that was identical to the draft one American Atheists have circulated, what would have prevented Drennen from filing a harassment complaint against Singleton, or against the numerous members of Singleton’s audience who vocally approved of his performance? Drennen indisputably (and understandably) believed that Singleton’s act and the audience’s response constituted “offensive verbal comments related to … [Drennen’s] religion”; given that, exactly how would we avoid deciding that, under the AA policy, Singleton and his appreciative audience harassed Drennen?

    There are ways (Jason Thibeault suggests one or two in a comment here), but I don’t see how they are at all consistent with the legitimate expectations that we have for the way claims of sexist/racist/etc. comments should be treated.

    For one, Drennen wasn’t actually attending Skepticon; he was an unauthorized interloper (though I believe admission to Skepticon is free, so this is at least slightly hair-splittingish). But if various attendees at a AA conference (say) sexually harass random bystanders who are not conference attendees, should the convention authorities dismiss it as irrelevant? Surely the policy should apply in those circumstances, shouldn’t it?

    Or one can argue that Drennen’s complaint was bullshit on its merits (i.e., Singleton and his audience weren’t being offensive), unlike the instances of sexual harassment that have received considerable attention in the past several weeks. But how is this consistent with the way we (rightfully) expect claims of sexual harassment to be treated? Who gets to tell a person alleging harassment whether the “comments” or the situation they describe are in fact “offensive”? A number of assholes have made it entirely clear that they are as unconcerned by the recently publicized incidents as most of us gnu atheists were by Singleton’s performance, right? How come it’s okay to pick Drennen’s claims apart, when it’s not okay to try to do the same thing to (say) Elyse Anders? (For the record, I think it is very much not okay to do the same thing to Anders or to any of the several other people who have recently come forward with accounts of harassment. Which is a major reason I don’t think a conference policy should imply that their accounts and Drennen’s are remotely worthy of similar treatment.)

    The final grounds I can imagine to give Drennen’s hypothetical harassment claim the back-of-the-hand treatment is that religion, unlike the other characteristics mentioned in the draft AA policy, confers on him a benefit via majority privilege; by contrast, privilege has very different effects on women, ethnic minorities, transgendered people, and other groups whose mistreatment is at issue here. But it’s at least worth pointing out that, on the floor of an American Atheists convention, the power of religious privilege (i.e., Drennen’s advantage) is at least severely blunted. Watching Singleton’s performance, Drennen clearly recognized that he was not in a societal milieu in which his claims of hurt and offense would be taken seriously.

    But the draft AA policy certainly implies to me that claims like his would have to be taken seriously—when, it seems to me, they absolutely do not deserve to be. How an American Atheists event—surely you guys have heard Dave Silverman speak, right?—could survive this policy without an entirely hypocritical (lack of) application of it wrt “offense” to religion I don’t understand.

    Again, I’d suggest that AA remove the reference to “religion” from the policy. Religion should not be treated the same way that gender, race, gender identity, and the other listed characteristics are; complaints about “offense” on religious grounds don’t deserve the attention that complaints about offense on sexual, ethnic, etc., grounds do—largely because complaints about “offense” on religious grounds have a consistent tendency to be worthless garbage.

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