HUGE news from American Atheists re harassment (now with link to press release)

David Silverman, Amanda Knief, and the rest of the crew at American Atheists have put together what I feel exceedingly comfortable in saying is absolutely the strongest anti-harassment policy implemented in this entire campaign. AA just closed a conference call (to which I was invited, though my day job impeded my participation). They have gone above and beyond my wildest expectations for delineating what actions are objectionable, and what might happen if you engage in those actions regardless. The policy hasn’t yet gone live but here’s what was apparently sent around to the conference bridge participants. In the event that this policy is significantly altered after I’ve posted this, I’ll amend.

I’ll highlight in italics (emphasis) some of the most relevant parts. Bold in the original.

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, gender identities, 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, 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]


It’s almost like they read my musings on how to take this stuff seriously. Or, say, basically anything Stephanie Zvan has contributed to the conversation. Thank you for paying attention, American Atheists!

I’m also pleased to note that the JREF has included the following in their TAM FAQ:

How does JREF handle safety concerns?

The Amazing Meeting, while a private event, is held at the South Point Hotel Casino and Spa, which is open to the public. The safety of our attendees and speakers is a priority. If an attendee encounters a problem within the conference area, they should report the situation to TAM staff or hotel security. JREF has also engaged an independent consultant on these issues, with decades of experience handling security, boundary and safety concerns, to assist us in dealing with any matters should they arise at the event.

I’m optimistic that this new language (unsure when it was added) signals that they’re planning on publishing a code of conduct soon too.

Amanda Knief informs us that the official press release is right here. They’ve also published the policy in docx format. Let me know if you need it converted to something more portable, I’ve got the skillz to make it happen.

From the press release:

Silverman continued, “We are training our staff and volunteers to be able to take information from our attendees who have been harassed. These reports will be given directly to one designated senior staff member at each event to be assessed and to determine what action should and needs to be taken.”

“The Code of Conduct is a living document. We will adapt it as we learn from what works and what needs improvement. But the overall goal is to create fun, enjoyable, and safe conventions and conferences for everyone,” Silverman added.

The Code of Conduct will go into effect immediately and be used first at American Atheists’ regional conference in Minnesota, August 10-11.

Well done, folks. Well done indeed.

HUGE news from American Atheists re harassment (now with link to press release)

76 thoughts on “HUGE news from American Atheists re harassment (now with link to press release)

  1. 2

    I have absolutely no problem with that, personally.

    I’m waiting for the inevitable gnawing-at-the-edges though. Would love to see what parts the trolls lose their shit over.

  2. 4

    I think a “reasonable standard of offense” is important here. It’s not to avoid statements about religion because people are hypersensitized. You can say, for instance, religion is stupid, but you can’t, for instance, say that the religious are all terrorists, murderers and baby-boilers. If someone’s offended by “religion is stupid”, too bad. If someone’s offended by “you’re a baby-boiling monster”, they might have a point.

  3. 7

    Yes, definitely. The “Yes means yes, no means no” language was directly lifted, and it looks like the flow and structure is designed as an amalgam of both the OpenSF and the Geek Feminism wiki.

    I have no problem with this, unless someone claims copyright and demands they reword. It’s like the open source way of building a strong harassment policy, in fact.

  4. 9

    I doubt they have much of a problem with it either. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Not to mention it would be a huge dick move to say you can’t borrow our system for keeping our attendants safe to try to keep yours safe! You could do it but it makes you look really bad.

  5. 10

    xtaldave: yes, it’s depressing that people can’t just, you know, not harass one another. Codifying a clear code of conduct so everyone’s on the same page means people can’t just intuit how to treat one another like human beings instead of sex toys. Which, I fully agree, it’s depressing as sin.

  6. 11

    And as reasonable as this is, there are some who will still label it a Talibanesque oppression of men’s rights.

    But here’s to hoping this thoroughly reasonable document will be widely adopted without too much further strife. And thanks to the folks at AA for taking this seriously and doing it right.

  7. 13

    There were a couple of changes made on the call that should be reflected here. “…does not tolerate harassment of…” should read “…does not tolerate harassment of or by…” “Conference participants violating this policy…” should read “Anyone violating this policy…”

    Responsiveness is awesome.

  8. 16

    I think it’s very well done and quite comprehensive. I’d be inclined to attend an event that had a policy like this in place (if I were to attend one at all).

    If someone picks it apart, that person is likely someone who cares only about what he (or she) wants and not about others.

  9. 17

    I have a very minor quibble.

    The person making the report should get a copy of the report, and I mean at the time of the report. Not sent later.

    This receipt should be watermarked and identifiable as a proper complaint form.

    This way neither the organization nor the complainers can cheat (not that I expect that they would… I just get obsessive about things like that).

    If a report occurs and they lose it (honestly or on purpose? really doesn’t matter) the receopt can be recognized as official.

    I still think that mensa type stickers could make an appearance. It would help people like myself with social retardation.

    The receipt is the only real thought here. The rest is my own security bullshit.

  10. 18

    Jason Thibeault @ # 4: If someone’s offended by “you’re a baby-boiling monster”, they might have a point.

    That depends. Boiling babies is indeed monstrous. Only a light steaming should be necessary; with proper marination, even grilling requires only a few minutes.

  11. 19

    CFI has also created a harassment policy for conferences. The abridged version was included in the program for the Leadership Conference this weekend and we were told that the full version will be online within the next few days.

  12. 21

    Is this still open for public comment somewhere? It should have something like “actual or perceived gender identity” added to the protected class type paragraph for the protection of trans people. That sadly can’t be inferred from the bare mention of gender sure to the many other organizations that explicitly deny such an implication.

  13. 24

    They’ve apparently said they want this to be a living document and are open to improving it. Here’s their contact info from their webpage. I already sent them a little message thanking them for the policy and suggesting they fix that oversight. I’m sure if a few other people want to chime we can get them to fix that oversight.

  14. 26

    Greta just pointed out that I should have been more careful with the part that said “For staff/volunteers only”, even if I think the whole document should be public and it didn’t occur to me that that part might not be published ultimately — it’s yet to go live on their site. I removed that chunk. For the record, it was every bit as excellent.

    nentuaby: good catch. I hope they address it adequately, and will update this post when they update their page.

  15. 27

    I have been contacted by Amanda Knief, who confirms that the oversight has been corrected and gender identity has been added to the policy.

  16. 28

    THIS is how it’s done.

    Amanda’s a lawyer, by the by. If she can make these changes on the fly without tweaking her lawyer-sense, that’s a good sign to me about the general legalities of what we’re talking about.

  17. 31

    I just got a letter from Amanda Knief as well, explaining what paragraphs were amended and how. Paragraph 1 and Paragraph 9 have been edited inline here. She also says that due to technical difficulties, the policy won’t be up on the website til tomorrow.

  18. 33

    This looks pretty good, and the updates sound appropriate.

    The parts about noisy children did make me feel a little uncomfortable, though, and I think it’s really important that conference organisers try their hardest to cater for parents who often have to choose between coming with kids or not coming at all. Childcare being provided is ideal, but also having noisy zones where parents can take grouchy kids, but still watch a presentation via streamed video can be the deciding factor when one is considering whether or not to attend, otherwise, one might see that section of the policy and figure it just easier to stay home and not risk the entire conference being a write-off if their kids feel especially grouchy that day.

  19. 34

    Turns out they fixed their problem with their “interwebs” (Amanda’s word — which only makes me love these folks all the more), so the press release and policy document are both posted on the site. I’ve added links and a blockquote at the end of this post.

  20. 37

    Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion, sexual images in public spaces.

    They forgot “age” and “language”.

    They’ve also published the policy in docx format.

    Docx? I feel discriminated against!
    They should also have an anti-discrimination policy that requires them to use true open formats.

  21. 40

    @mas528 said:

    This way neither the organization nor the complainers can cheat (not that I expect that they would… I just get obsessive about things like that).

    It’s a good idea, not because people are likely to cheat, but because it makes it harder for the people against whom the claims are directed to cry foul. Multiple independent lines of assurance for authenticity and an audit trail of what happened make it much harder for someone to get sympathy (or sue) should they be sanctioned as the result of a complaint.

    A lot of the people against strong response to harassment reports cite the concern that people could lie or falsify information to satisfy a personal vendetta. Even if this is vanishingly unlikely to actually happen, a system that has built-in resistance to such actions can serve as (admittedly imperfect) protection for the victims and conference, and also reduces the size of the nit-picking audience.

  22. 42

    I’ll just toss this out here, too, if that’s OK (I mentioned it at Greta Christina’s blog too): FWIW, OpenOffice and LibreOffice can open .docx files 🙂

    (Although of course I agree that everyone should be using non-proprietary formats for shared documents!)

  23. 43

    Jason, re the policy’s statement of religion (!) as a matter that folks at American Atheists (!!) events will be barred from “offensive verbal comments related to”:

    I think a “reasonable standard of offense” is important here.

    Whoa, though—isn’t that exactly what (well, one of the many things) the woman-bashers are up in arms about? Aren’t they arguing that the complaints various women have voiced fail (their self-serving and privileged notions about) a “reasonable standard of offense”?

    Surely we should have far more sympathy for claims of offense on sex/gender/gender identity grounds than we do for functionally identical claims on religious grounds? Why do non-victims have the power/right to evaluate the reasonability of victims’ claims in the religious case, but not in the gender one?

    It’s not to avoid statements about religion because people are hypersensitized.

    Again, the parallel with women complaining about sexual harassment doesn’t redound terribly well for the forces of good and right. “Hypersensitized” is very much one of the (milder) things that the misogynist brigade has accused outspoken feminist atheists (most directly, Rebecca Watson) of being. Why should women claiming sexual harassment be exempt from cries of “hypersensitive,” but not religious believers claiming religious harassment?

    (One possible answer: women do not enjoy overwhelming societal privilege, whereas religious believers do. But in the context of an AA convention, religious privilege is, at least, a hell of a lot weaker. At an atheist convention I very much expect religious sensibilities to be taken less seriously than women’s sensibilities are—and it seems to me that that’s entirely right and proper. Unlike women’s sensibilities writ large, religious sensibilities have a consistent tendency to be full of shit.)

    You can say, for instance, religion is stupid, but you can’t, for instance, say that the religious are all terrorists, murderers and baby-boilers.

    …Under penalty of being thrown out of an American Atheists convention? Seriously?

    I think it’s a very bad idea to include religion as a protected class at any atheist convention. It’s just begging for Gelatogate II: This Time The Theocrats Have The Rules On Their Side.

    I’m strongly in favor of the policy overall, and I think its application to sexual-harassment issues ought to be (though, alas, isn’t) uncontroversial. Putting religion on a par with gender, though, seems to me to be a real—and rather shocking, given the source—mistake.

  24. 44

    @ fwtbc #33

    I assume you mean this section:

    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.

    Is that correct?

    Here’s the thing. That’s common courtesy. That should be expected anywhere and the fact that it has to be set out just shows how far we’ve started failing when it come to child rearing. If you take children to an event, you should also take a bag of things to keep them occupied so they don’t become disruptive. Though, yes, childcare would be nice if the event planners want to be more family/parent friendly.

    I look at it this way. My four-year-old (aka William the Bloody) is defiant, loud, and stubborn. I wouldn’t even consider taking him to an event unless it was tailored specifically for children (like a birthday party). If I wanted to go to a conference, I’d find someone to take care of him, be it my spouse, a family member, or a babysitter.

    My baby (16 months and still occasionally nursing) I’d take him with me if I were going to be gone for more than a couple hours. If he started making a fuss (teething, for example), it’s my responsibility to remove him. I might miss something, but the same thing would happen at a cinema, or a concert. Anyone who leaves the room – whether it’s for conversation, to remove a noisy child, a coughing fit, or to go for a smoke – would miss out on some of the session.

    I’ve got a ten-year-old, too. I might let him go to some sessions if I thought he might learn something from them. I’d expect him to be quiet and listen just like everyone else in the room. If he had questions, I’d expect him to wait until they’re allowed and then ask. If he started complaining or acting up, I’d have him out of there in a flash. With him, though, I’d be leaving to take him home where he would lose privileges for acting out in public. I’d be sad that I missed something, but that’s a risk I’d be taking by bringing a child with me.

    Would I even consider going to an out-of-town event? Only in one of two places. 1) In Halifax where I’d have family nearby to take care of my children and can fit in visits to justify the cost of flying the family out there. 2) In Edmonton (driving distance) but only if someone came with us to take the kids to West Edmonton Mall while we were busy. Otherwise, I would only go to something in Calgary because I have some family to look after the kids and I don’t have to pay for transportation or lodging.

    Streaming video is nice and all, but unless all the options are local, there are so many more factors to whether a parent will go than the fact that they might miss something if they have to remove a disruptive child. In fact, I’d be more likely to go to an event with this clause in place simply because it means that other parents will have to do what I would have done anyway.

  25. 45

    I think there should be a serious revision of the clause “unwelcome sexual attention” unless you clearly define that flirting is still okay – assuming it is.

    Also “No touching… ”

    This is incredibly controlling and will, I would suggest, inhibit many more people than might be offended by being touched on the shoulder to get their attention. I would say the onus should be left to the people who object to any kind of social contact making this known rather than asking social people to inhibit themselves. ‘Inapropriate’ touching, with a definition of what that would reasonably entail, can be spelled out.

    “Please do not wear heavy fragrances…”

    This is grossly un-egalitarian. I find it totally unacceptable to tell people how they groom themselves.

  26. 46


    Normally I would agree with you. There have been times when someones perfume or cologne was so strong that my eyes were watering. That is what is meant by ‘heavy’ fragrances. It is rare, and should be covered. The same can be said for those that choose not to shower for weeks on end. 5000 of your closest friends are sharing a room at a conference center. You have to be courteous. Now that being said, I can count on one hand the number of times I ran across someone who I felt would fit the extreme condition.

  27. 48

    I’ve been researching this for the past week or so. Can someone please explain to me how this policy would have stopped elevatorgate?

    It looks like the elevator dude could reasonably claim that he was asking “for unequivocal consent” and once the answer came back as “no” then he stopped. The policy forbids “unwanted” sexual attention, but how will a person know it is unwanted without asking?

    It shouldn’t matter, but I am, in principle, not opposed to having behavioral guidelines for members/participants; and the concern over women’s comfort should be addressed. This has no bearing on the merits of my concerns, but I have no interest in reading 400 posts about my sense of gay white male self entitlement. So let’s put on our big boy dress and big girl pants and think about the policy.

  28. 49

    Who said anything about *preventing* someone from being creepy, charles? Also, you’re lying by elision about Elevatorgate and what the actual conflagration was about.

  29. 50

    Creepy is not sexist or misogynist. Being in a lift at 4am with anyone (or even alone) in a strange place can be creepy. The majority of the policy could be scrapped and replaced with, ‘Don’t be an asshole’ IMHO

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