For this Pride Month, The Signpost interviewed queer Wikimedians to better understand their views on inclusivity in the Wikimedia movement. Vermont is a steward and administrator on the Simple English Wikipedia. Padgriffin is a vandalism patroller and new page reviewer, primarily active on the English Wikipedia. Tamzin is an administrator on the English Wikipedia and a SPI clerk.
How did you first get started with editing Wikipedia?
- Vermont: I started out on the English Wikipedia working mostly on article topics that interested me, like Charles Mattocks and other important Vermonters. Did a lot of NPP and AfC work, and eventually shifted away from the English Wikipedia to more global stuff.
- Padgriffin: I started out by doing anti-vandal work and patrolling new pages, mostly reverting cases of vandalism and CSDing blatant cases of advertising.
- Tamzin: (Setting aside some sporadic IP edits and bored afterschool vandalism...) My favorite geography trivia fact has always been that France's longest border is with Brazil, so when I noticed that the article France treated that country's overseas departments like territories, I put in an edit request. A day later, I noticed an article that I incorrectly thought was OR, and created an account so I could AfD it. Whoops. But hey, the edit request was granted, and the footnote I added to the article's lede after becoming confirmed is still there.
What's kept you sticking around?
- Vermont: The people. Editing a website without friends seems quite boring to me. It also allows me to keep a good balance – some weeks I’ll spend most of my Wikimedia-related time editing, other weeks I’ll spend most of it chatting with people. Or I’ll change up how I contribute, maybe I’ll answer VRT queues or close RfCs or do some spam cleanup. The wide variety of ever-changing work, and the diversity and awesomeness of the people we have, has kept my attention for years.
- Padgriffin: I would say that would be the sense of working towards a greater goal and the people- the knowledge that my work actively contributes towards maintaining the overall quality of the Wiki is quite satisfying. It has also allowed me to meet and chat with other (mostly) like-minded people, and I've met plenty of interesting personalities over my 8 years of editing.
- Tamzin: Editing Wikipedia is a rewarding experience, whether that's writing an article, completely restructuring a complex template, or sifting through a convoluted sockpuppet investigation.
What are your thoughts on inclusivity in the Wikimedia movement?
- Vermont: The movement has a decent way to go, and so does the world. A queer person’s experience on Wikimedia projects depends, to a large extent, on the project that they’re editing and the areas that they focus on. Some projects are rife with intolerance, others are warm and welcoming. I think there’s certainly a lot that can be done here, especially in terms of developing properly-nuanced global standards for conduct, as well as outreach and small-project capacity building through affiliates and communities. My experience with this is certainly skewed, as someone who hears so much more about the bad things than good when it comes to inclusivity; regardless, as a movement that has members from all parts of the world, levels of tolerance vary dramatically across and within Wikimedia projects.
- Padgriffin: While my personal perspective is quite limited, as I mostly stick to my personal circles, I believe that the movement is overall quite inclusive, and I've met numerous other members of the LGBTQ community on those platforms.
- Tamzin: I'm for it!
In your experience, how has Wikipedia changed? Has it become more or less inclusive?
- Vermont: In aggregate, I think the movement is becoming more inclusive. Again, I am certainly skewed on this; as I’ve started to become more public with my queerness the circles of people I talk and contribute with have shifted, and I feel a high level of inclusivity. I also am not looking at this from the position of a new contributor, who can be more vulnerable to intolerance and exclusive behavior. Venturing away from my usual groups, however, is often uncomfortable and can lead to exclusive/intolerant situations. There are various projects with anti-LGBT userboxes, for example, and though it does provide a helpful list of people to avoid, it’s less than optimal knowing that people you collaborate with may very well believe you shouldn’t have rights.
- Padgriffin: I personally believe that it has become a lot more inclusive over the years, at least on the English Wikipedia, as I've never personally encountered editors who have been intolerant towards my sexuality- I would personally attribute this to the environment created by policies WP:NPA and WP:CIVIL, as members of the community are expected (and required) to act in a civil manner.
- Tamzin: When I started editing, you could get away with most forms of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric on-wiki as long as you weren't painfully blatant about it, and with certain forms even if you were. That's changed, and I guess makes us both more and less inclusive. It's still easier to get away with LBGTQ-phobia than, say, racism, but often that may come down to admins not being aware of relevant dogwhistles. Overall, I'm very proud of the progress the community has made in the past decade. We've continuously had at least one openly queer arbitrator since 2013, if I recall correctly, which is a very uplifting statistic.
What are some of the biggest challenges that the Wikimedia movement faces in fostering an inclusive environment and how can these challenges be met?
- Vermont: One of the larger difficulties in the Wikimedia movement as a whole is differences in inclusivity between projects and cultures. A good (though not particularly recent) example is from the Amharic Wikipedia, where an admin enforced a ban on queer contributors in line with Ethiopian anti-gay laws. The movement decided nearly unanimously to globally ban this user (who has since become an LTA), but no one really noticed this problem until a globally-aware, active contributor was affected by it. We don’t know how many potential local contributors were lost due to this exclusivity and intolerance. I think this is somewhere that the UCOC can help, to some extent. One of what I believe to be the more important parts of the Enforcement Guidelines is the section that prevents local projects from maintaining policies contrary to the UCOC. Though this does not necessarily make it easier to find these local issues, it will speed up enforcement and removal of problematic policies when found. This also does not prevent local contributors from being intolerant, as we know from the various projects which are open to queer contributors on paper but which may have hostile contributors in positions of power. The Wikimedia movement, as with the rest of the world, is going through a time where large populations of internet-users hold very differing culturally-informed stances on LGBT+ issues. We cannot press a button to make it go away on Wikimedia projects, but we can do everything possible to make explicitly clear that the Wikimedia movement seeks to be a tolerant one.
- Padgriffin: I believe that the single biggest challenge faced by the movement is that it is close to impossible to truly stamp out hate, especially in a large, global and community-driven project such as Wikimedia, where members will be inevitably divided over social, cultural and political lines. The sheer size of the movement creates the risk that intolerant and hostile environments can form in pockets of the community without being noticed, and that damage will have been done by the time they are identified and stopped.
- Tamzin: We always need to be on the lookout for any attempts to assert a "right to exclude" (on the basis of religion, politics, culture, etc.). Another thing we need to remain vigilant against is internecine conflict within the LGBTQ community. There was a trans user who made a number of deeply transphobic remarks that admins didn't initially recognize as such because they were unfamiliar with that brand of rhetoric. But we'll never fix the problem of bigotry in Wikimedia, or in any space with a dynamic population. The best we can do is always stay aware of common strategies being used to undermine inclusivity.
What advice would you give to someone who's making their first edit to Wikipedia today?
- Vermont: Make friends. Talk to people. Some people love editing in the corner, updating articles on some specific genus of plant, but many like to mix in the social aspect, whether it be to ask for help and learn, or just to be social. Finding people with experience, mentors, who you can also develop friendships with is truly one of the most fun and productive parts of engaging in a community like Wikipedia.
- Padgriffin: My personal advice would be to read up on basic policies and interact with other users, as Wikipedia is, after all, a community project- if you have questions, don't be afraid to ask up on resources such as the Teahouse or on the talk pages of other users, and don't be discouraged if your edits get reverted. At the end of the day, we're not flawless, and we're a work in progress- this applies to both users and the project as a whole. If you see something that you disagree with or are unsure of, be sure to speak up or ask.
- Tamzin: Find something that's wrong on a page that doesn't seem very busy. Fix it. If you make a mistake, ask for help. If you wind up in conflict, move on to something else.