April 9, 2011
By Adam Bink
A few housekeeping items of note here.
First, thanks to all who made suggestions on community dialogue and improvements. Many of them are helpful. The good news is that we are transitioning to a slightly different blog platform, one that will make things better for you on the user end regarding content (for example, I will be able to display/embed videos in posts that I cannot currently) and some things on the commenter end, as well. Look for this transition in the next two weeks, probably less.
If you have not made suggestions regarding how to improve community dialogue — or a wish list for technology — please use this thread to do so. I cannot promise that we can do each and every thing because of technology limitations, but as someone who has co-run a blog now for nearly four years, I always seek to improve the user experience, since you are what makes P8TT. I genuinely mean that.
Second, there have been a lot of discussions on what the site has evolved to while the trial is in limbo, many of them thoughtful. I’ll be writing some thoughts on all of that likely tomorrow.
Now, onto the messy topic: religious discussions on the site.
Yesterday’s thread devolved into another series of attacks over the role of religion in one’s personal life. Yes, I use the word attacks because by and large, those engaging were not engaging in healthy discussion of the intersection of religion and LGBT equality. I know this because not one single comment contained the word “LGBT” “gay” “lesbian”, quoted religious verse to reference how different religions deal with queer individuals, discussed how more people of faith can be reached to support equality, or anything that related in any way, shape or form to the mission of this site: covering the Prop 8 trial and discussing news, actions, and ideas to further LGBT equality for all.
Stop and think about that for a second. Feel free to re-read the thread and past threads. Then, there are two points I have to make on this topic.
The first is that what this blog is a place for is discussions of all topics that closely relate to LGBT equality.
What this blog is not is a religion blog, forum, AOL/Yahoo chat room, e-mail listserv, or any other kind of space that exists for discussions of “your” interpretation of “my” religion, or whether there is a divine power, or whether atheists are “militant”, or whether rank-and-file Catholics are supporting an anti-gay diocese, or anything like it. If you are looking for that kind of discussion, you best find it elsewhere. To quote my colleague Markos Moulitsas at DailyKos, “it’s a big internet.” It certainly is, and I guarantee you can find those kinds of discussions in, or take them to, any number of different spaces for it.
The second is that even if this were a religious forum, the level of heated rhetoric and attacks here on the subject of religion and religious fervor or lack thereof is appalling and not the best use of moderators’ time. I try not to individually name commenters when making these kinds of points, but on this I will need to point to what Ray in MA wrote on yesterday’s thread (selectively and with my bolding). Here’s Ray:
Something to keep in mind…
We can’t have the incredibly talented folks at P8TT babysitting us.
1. It’s very expensive.
2. It takes time away from doing what they do best: engaging the real enemy and keeping us informed.
We need creative technology to keeps things in check.
Technology is expensive. There has been a substantial investment in the technical architecture of this SITE, and as with any software it has it’s limitations.
And we are all grown-ups here.
While I must admit I am probably not as incredibly talented as Ray thinks I am (modesty!), his point is spot-on.
Here’s what we can agree on. We can all agree that we are here to advance LGBT equality (“engaging the real enemy”) and cover the Prop 8 trial (“keeping us informed”). Every minute I have to scan the comments to see who called who a “militant atheist” or “religious proselytizer” or accused someone of “pointing out inaccuracies about my faith” or “pushing religion on me” is a minute I cannot work to find the next Ed and Derence and get them in the Los Angeles Times so the next Louis can read about them and be touched right on his heart. Or blog on the trial. Or organize to pressure a Senator to support DOMA repeal. Or ensure that certification of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal doesn’t take months longer. Or work with our field team on our 50-state DOMA repeal project. Or start what often are really thoughtful community discussions on pressing issues of equality. I am fortunate enough to do this in a job that I love, and I have repeatedly stated how in awe I am of this community and its enthusiasm and willingness to be put to work (how many times have many of you asked who’s next to call last December on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, or how you can help on DOMA repeal?). 153 of you just paid to keep this site operating, and you did so because of the work we do together to bring about LGBT equality, not the work we do together to foster flame wars on religious fervor.
That is my, and our, central mission, and one on which we must remain focused. It is one, to Ray’s first point, that you are paying me to spend my time on, and paying for the space in which we do it, and so distractions must be taken seriously.
A full set of guidelines will come soon, but the flame wars are such that things have to change now.
1. If you are engaging in a discussion on religion, the discussion must be directly related to improving LGBT equality. Examples would be how our community can do a better job of reaching devout African-Americans, or improve the Catholic Diocese’s position on certain issues, or what people of faith do in their own congregations. When having these discussions, you must refrain from personal attacks on whether it is right or wrong that one is religious or atheist and keep the discussion focused on improving equality.
2. If the discussion diverts towards arguments over how “LGBT people would all be better off if there were no religion” or “if atheists didn’t try to attack people’s religion, we could make progress”, or any kind of personal attack, take it off this blog. You will receive one public warning in the comments, and one only, to shut it down and take it elsewhere. If you don’t, I will have to start moderating your comment ability and/or banning. This warning system applies to each separate discussion but I will also be watching for troublemakers who repeatedly hijack threads to have these arguments and who will be treated as such. The point is to ensure that everyone knows what is in-bounds and out-of-bounds so we can gear towards the central mission of this site. I want everyone to stay and make helpful contributions towards the mission of this blog.
3. There are any number of ways to take it off this blog. One is to go to a mutually agreed upon a different forum, chat room, listserv, blog, what have you, to have the discussion. A personal suggestion would be Street Prophets, a progressive blog community on faith and politics, which also has the ability to write in a public diary yourself. A second recommendation is to exchange e-mails, whether your regular personal one or one you set up especially for this purpose, such as “firstname.lastname@example.org”. A third is to exchange Twitter usernames and direct message each other. A fourth is to set up your own blog — easily done on WordPress. A fifth is to chat via Skype, or even phone or in person if you feel comfortable. Whatever your level of privacy, there is an option available for everyone.
To those who say you shouldn’t “have to” set up an e-mail or use Skype or whatever just to engage in an argument, well, then, I’d suggest your argument isn’t important enough to be having in front of the people who come here looking for news on the Prop 8 trial, and discussion/actions on how to improve the lives of LGBT people. It’s a big internet, folks. Find the appropriate space for it.
Look, I prefer self-moderation. I don’t like having rules and having to police comments. If I wasn’t typing this post right now, and then having to read and respond to the responses to it on my Saturday afternoon, I would be organizing Wisconsin members to ask Sen. Kohl to become the last vote we need to repeal DOMA in the Senate Judiciary Committee (stay tuned on that). Or reading through a transcript of the Prop 8 trial to use in a new video project. Or filming the heartbreaking story of a bi-national same-sex couple, one member of which is about to be deported because he’s gay. I think we can all agree those tasks are a better use of my time. So consider this both a warning and a request to enable me to make this the space you asked for it to be, and to do the work for furthering LGBT equality we have done together successfully and will continue to do.
And thanks for making P8TT the strong community it is and can continue to be.