How Not To Write a Code of Conduct

CN: Discussion of harassment and hate speech, transphobia, racism.

In previous years, the more feminist factions of the atheist and skeptic movements pushed events to deal with problems of discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual assault in various ways. One of those ways, and perhaps the most successful one, was encouraging events and groups to have an anti-harassment policy or code of conduct that would spell out what types of behavior were acceptable and how unacceptable behavior would be handled. At the same time, science fiction and fantasy conventions, tech conferences, and other events dealt with the same issues and also responded with a push towards robust codes of conduct. As more and more writers, speakers, and leaders refused to speak at events without good codes of conduct, these policies became common, with almost every relevant event having one displayed on their website.

However, having a harassment policy, code of conduct, or other similar document for your event is not enough. It actually has to be a good one, with clear definitions of acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and consequences for those who do not follow it. Those who experience an incident of discrimination, hate speech, sexual harassment, or similar problems need to know how to report these things and how they will be handled. “Don’t be a dick” isn’t sufficient as a definition of what behavior is and is not welcome at your event.

Just one example of a terrible code of conduct came to my attention recently. The event Gateway to Reason will take place in St Louis in late July and does have a code of conduct on their website. While Gateway to Reason is not alone in having a poorly considered conduct policy, theirs is particularly problematic and I’d like to discuss some of the ways it could be improved.
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How Not To Write a Code of Conduct