Wikimedia Diversity Conference

Logo of Wikimedia Diversity Conference
Wikimedia Diversity Conference

As I write this, the first Wikimedia Diversity Conference is being held in Berlin. The aim of the conference is to establish a dialogue within the Wikimedia movement. We are here to discuss areas that are not adequately represented within the various projects, share best practices, and come up with ideas on initiatives to improve things for the future.

The lack of female editors and poor coverage of female subjects are well known, and events have been under way in many places to correct this problem. Another area of increasing focus is geographic diversity within the movement. Some of this is societal. To be able to access or contribute to the various projects an internet connection is vital. To that end, initiative such as Wikipedia Zero is helping to address this in developing countries.

My area of focus at this conference is something less commonly known or talked about. Even when we talk about LGBT issues, most of the attention is directed to the LGB parts of the community. While some of the issues and difficulties facing lesbian, gay and bisexual people are shared by transgender and gender non-conforming people, there are many that are unique to them. When transgender related discussions do occur, many of the participants often demonstrate a critical lack of understanding of the issues involved.

The world we live in splits people into two discrete mutually exclusive categories of male and female. However, human beings aren’t so simple. Increasing amounts of both research and anecdotal evidence have shown that gender is actually a continuum or spectrum. In addition, not everyone’s sex appearance, gender identity and gender role matches.

Gender non-conforming people are often exposed to discrimination, bullying and hate crime in their family life, education, employment and wider community. Estimate by the Gender Identity Research and Education Society in 2011 gives a figure of 1% of the population for the number of people that experiences some degree of gender variance and 0.2% for those that undergo transition from one gender binary to the other.

In the Wikimedia movement, while we show some acceptance of gender variant people such as with the change to the gender preference on MediaWiki, we still have a long way to go to be truly accepting, inclusive and understanding of trans people and the issues facing them. For article subjects that are transsexual, the situation is fairly okay if the majority of their notability is post-transition. If however, their transition takes place publicly when they are already famous, our treatment of them is much more unsatisfactory.

We as a community need to understand that referring to a trans person for example by their pre-transition name or using the wrong pronouns and gender language are unacceptable. And when insensitive or discriminatory comments are made, the person making the comments need to be made aware that it is unacceptable, instead of punishing people for raising the issue. We need to accept that our current practice and behaviour may not always be right and listen to people that have an understanding or knowledge of the issues. Just as importantly, as with any other under coverage areas, we need to improve both the breadth and depth of our article contents in the area.

Just by thinking and talking about the issues, we will be moving in the right direction.