Zena Ryder sent me this response to what trinioler said in..“What trinioler said”:
I am one of the administrators of the [name omitted] branch of the Centre for Inquiry, based in [ditto], Canada. In response to trinioler’s comments about our branch, I would like to explain what has been going on over the last few months.
Our branch is very active. We have a number of regular events: the purely social monthly “Skeptics in the Park”; a monthly discussion group for kids, “Kids for Inquiry”; monthly informal talks, “Café Inquiry”; and a new monthly discussion group, “Round Table”. We are also associated with a couple of independent local groups — including a local women’s discussion group, Chick Chat, with whom we are co-hosting a lecture by Joyce Arthur of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada next month.
The topics of our Café Inquiry events range widely — from astronomy to math to humanist rituals. They have also included “Dismantling the Gender Binary”, “Digital Hatred: White Supremacy in the Information Age” and we have one coming up in October, “Addictions”. Our Café Inquiry talks are usually held at our local LGBT Centre, and when they are there, we always collect donations for the Centre.
In addition to these regular events, we hold a number of special events. We have volunteers who care deeply about social issues. We want to make the world a better place, and we are working hard — as volunteers — to do our share. (In addition to working at our jobs, doing our studies, raising our kids and all the rest of having lives.) We did a winter clothing drive last year — collecting winter clothing for a couple of local charities. We protested Sylvia Browne, concerned that she was ripping off vulnerable, grieving people. We co-hosted a debate on assisted suicide. We held a mini-conference in May, “All About Vaccines”, to help educate people about vaccines because there is an outbreak of whooping cough here in BC, which is of course incredibly dangerous for babies. This event raised money for the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. We held a summer fundraiser for our branch, at which we also collected donations for our local Food Bank. Along with CFI Canada’s Executive Director, Michael Payton, our branch co-signed a letter to the Mayor of [omitted for now], objecting to his recent pro-life proclamation. We are holding a Halloween blood drive, and in the spring we are holding an event that will raise funds for a mental health charity.
But we also have a public Facebook discussion group, which anyone (not just CFI members) can join. It caused us major headaches in the past. And it is this Facebook group that trinioler is largely judging us by. While we never had problems with hate speech, rape threats, or anything like that (such comments would not, of course, be tolerated and would result in an immediate ban) there were indeed issues with sexist comments, there were issues with belligerence and hostility. People understandably got sick of the fighting and, with the support of the national leadership, a number of us — volunteers who care about our group, and care about decent online behaviour — drafted, refined and installed a set of guidelines for posting. We ditched the Facebook group, and started a new one from scratch, with the new rules in place. Volunteers have spent hours moderating the group, and discussing whether we thought rules had been broken and what to do about it. One particularly egregious case, which trinioler mentioned, was a thread in which a number of inappropriate comments were made about breasts. This thread triggered a real life meeting — more volunteer time — when we discussed what to do. This was back in June, soon after we had instituted our new rules. We knew that there would be teething troubles, while people got used to the new situation. (The new situation being that, no, it’s not the case that anything goes just because you’re sitting anonymously behind a computer. There are real people, with real feelings, who read your comments. Your words do indeed matter.) We decided that rules had been broken and we issued warnings as a result. Unfortunately, the fighting and unacceptable comments didn’t magically disappear over night and the Facebook group continued to cause us problems, but we have tried — tried very hard — to make it better. We have not just ignored the problems. We worked on them and continue to do so. We have issued warnings and we banned someone who made threats in a different Facebook group. And our Facebook group is much better. It’s not perfect, but we’re working on it.
Some volunteers (and non-volunteers) weren’t happy with the speed of our progress on the Facebook discussion group, and decided to leave the Facebook group. That’s healthy. If a Facebook discussion group is causing you stress, and isn’t pleasant for you to engage in — it makes sense to leave. But these same volunteers have not left CFI-[omitted for now]. They come to volunteer meetings, they come to our events, they work on organizing events, they contribute to our fundraising activities, they help out in various ways behind the scenes. A great deal of CFI-[ditto] energy goes into our events — creating a real life community (as well as a Facebook community), doing some real life work, making the world a better place. That’s where most of our volunteers are inclined to direct their energy.
I completely agree with trinioler that ignoring sexism can be divisive. It’s no doubt true that if the administrators of CFI-[ditto] had ignored the sexism in our Facebook group, then we would have lost volunteers and CFI members. But the facts are that CFI-[ditto] did not, and does not, ignore the sexism on our page, and so we have not lost volunteers because of it. I am proud of our volunteer team and their hard work. I also enjoy working with them and I care about them as people. Their concerns are certainly not ignored.
CFI-[ditto is currently in the process of arranging a presentation by Desiree Schell, who will be talking with our group later this month about what the atheist movement can learn from the social justice movement. I sincerely hope that trinioler will join us. The more people with energy and enthusiasm working to get things done, the better.
[branch omitted for now]
[location omitted for now]