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We want Diversity – As long as its the Same!

diversity, adjective: showing a great deal of variety; very different.

No matter how hard they try, it seems like PHPUK (at no fault of their own) just cannot avoid a gender controversy.  In 2013 it was Web and PHP Magazine’s t-shirt debacle (a situation that was handled poorly all the way around), and this year- the keynote speaker refused to shake hands with one of the female organizers.  An act that most definitely did NOT go unnoticed in the joind.in reviews.

Like 2013 (again, I thought the t-shirts were in poor taste, but a lot of assumptions were made because of them), people were ready to pounce.  As mentioned in my previous post, sometimes we’re too quick to make judgements, too quick to become offended rather than to understand.  After all, what many saw was simply a man refusing to lower himself to shake hands with a woman!  Sexist!

Of course, if you know Yitz, aka @CodeRabbi, you would know that he is in fact a Rabbi.  You would also know that he is one of the most caring, and most respectful people you will ever meet, someone who values and respects EVERYONE.  Someone who will even give you his ice cream because it may not be Kosher!  I don’t know about you, but I can’t give away ice cream…

To take a little bit of a tangent, I am a fairly conservative Christian.  While I do not subscribe to every aspect of the church I attended, gender interactions were very strict.  Not because there was disrespect between men and women, but rather because there was reverence.  Whether or not you agree or disagree, a man was not allowed to ride in a car alone with a woman other than his wife.  Holding hands was to be saved for marriage, and you could in fact sit too closely together (I got in trouble for this from my ex-girlfriend’s mother).

The concept behind this, while bizarre to some, was that each RESPECTED the other so much as not to give even the smallest possible hint of impropriety.  That as a man, I respected the woman so much that I would not risk defiling her reputation, and likewise the woman respected the man as equally much.

Again, you may think this is weird – and that’s understandable – it’s definitely not mainstream in today’s culture.  But hang on with me for a second.

In the movie, FireProof, Kirk Cameron did something extremely weird for Hollywood.  If you watch the movie, there’s a scene where he kisses his wife, almost in a silhouette.  The shot was not actually designed to be done as so, but rather Cameron insisted that if he kissed anyone – it would be his REAL wife, thus they darkened the view to hide that they had swapped women.  Cameron thought that if he would have kissed another woman, even as an actor, he would have been disrespecting his wife and his marriage.

This brings me back to PHPUK and Yitz, a happily married man.  For him to have shaken hands with ANYONE of the opposite gender would have been him WILLINGLY disrespecting not only Johanna, but also his wife.  I think that’s important to understand – because of HIS culture, HIS religion, that shocking moment would have been him saying “I do not respect you or my wife enough to not shake your hand.”  Personally, I think with everyone watching, with all eyes on him, and with all the intense allegations that constantly hit the Twitter feed regarding sexism (again, read my last post), I think Yitz was not only brave, but tremendously respectful.

With brings us to diversity.  Diversity isn’t just about gender balance, or race, or culture, but also religion.  As a conservative Christian I know I have to be careful what I say in the tech community.  I’m not one who goes around blasting fire and broomstone services, but I know that even by mentioning my religion at the wrong time I will offend someone.

One of the joind.in comments even made this clear, “Relogious or not – it should not come in the way of normal decency.”  But this is in its very self intolerant of diversity in our community, and ignorant of WHY he chose not to shake her hand.  It’s really the equivalent of asking a Sikh to remove their Dastaar, or a Christian or Muslim not to pray- all because that may not be “normal” or what we’re used to.

Here is my take away from all of this, religion has no place being preached at a secular conference- as a conservative Christian I don’t want to hear someone bashing my beliefs, and I’m pretty sure most non-Christians don’t want me preaching to them.  But this does not mean that religion has no place in conferences – as it is ingrained into the very fabric of the attendees.  Whether atheist, agnostic, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish, Christian (Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witnesses), Muslim, etc – each person has a right to their beliefs.  See this is what makes us different, not just gender, not just race, not just our social-economic status, not just our educational background, our hobbies, but also our morals and beliefs.  This is what makes our community not only diverse, but strong.

Footnote – PHPUK is a GREAT conference, with tremendous leadership. I think it’s very important to identify this as a community issue, not a conference issue – as honestly, this could have happened anywhere – it just happened there. I don’t want anyone to think for a second that I blame the organizers for this – it wasn’t their fault that a few attendees chose ignorant responses over edifying conversation. We as a community need to be slower to speak, quicker to listen, and more diligent in understanding.

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