Originally published at Ramblings from the Flip Side (Site under construction). You can comment here or there.
Some people have shown interest in my opinion of the SFWA controversy. In light of this, I’ve decided to openly post the email I previously sent the SFWA board about Theodore Beale’s highly-charged response to N.K. Jemisin.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from working in customer service is that emotional diatribes seldom solve problems. In order to get proper attention for one’s complaint, one must state the complaint in a manner that draws attention to a business’s goals. Adding potential resolutions for the conflict is also essential. I tried to apply these lessons (though I wasn’t as concise as I should have been) to the below letter. And really, in business letters should be much shorter, the sentences tighter, the word choices smaller (no $100 words), and the points made sooner. But I think I did pretty well.
Dear SFWA committee members,
I am writing to you in regards to Theodore Beale’s recent violation of the SFWA twitter feed user policy, as well as his continued harassment of several SFWA members and publishing industry professionals.
SFWA is a good organization dedicated to protecting, promoting, and educating the writing community at large as well as its paying members. It has opened many doors for me and been a great font of wisdom. But when one of its members attacks another member on a public forum and prosecutes the attack with such gleeful vitriol using SFWA’s own social media tools, SFWA’s reputation suffers, as does its influence in the publishing industry. This issue goes far beyond political correctness. While certain established members of the publishing industry may be able to ignore Theodore’s constant attacks as delusional ravings, there are many more unestablished or new members who see a man indulging in hate speech being backed and given silent approval by a professional writing organization.
The U.S. is a free country. Hate speech or no, Theodore Beale’s words are protected by federal law. Harassment, however, is neither a right nor a protected act of free speech. With his demeaning comments and racist insults, he creates what companies would term “a hostile workplace environment.” His presence in our community makes me uncomfortable. And it is entirely possible that Beale’s actions using SFWA tools opens up the organization to a lawsuit if Beale targets someone less forgiving than those he has denounced before.
SFWA is a private organization. While we cannot prevent him from exercising his federally protected rights, we can decide whether to allow him to use SFWA as his platform and whether someone who harasses other members can stay in the organization. It pains me to discover I can find no mention of “harassment” in the SFWA by-laws, or any indication of how SFWA aims to protect its membership from internal or external harassment. Yes, there is a website of how SFWA deals with sexual harassment at SFWA sponsored events. But Beale’s hateful tirades are not gender specific, nor are they aimed only at female members of SFWA (though it seems anyone with a set of mammary glands is his favorite target).
I urge you to consider adding a plain vanilla harassment policy to SFWA’s by-laws or stated policies. I ask that you consider the continued membership of Theodore Beale under the premise that he is doing SFWA more harm then good by remaining a member. I point to the increasing number of members who are uncomfortable remaining in an organization where other members are allowed to defame and humiliate them using official organization tools.
Beale may take expulsion as vindication of his position. He may try to play the martyr card. That is no excuse for avoiding the damage his continued membership does to SFWA or publishing community at large. He will always have his fan cult, but without the use of the SFWA name and the SFWA toolset he will quite likely fade from the radar of new industry professionals. In addition, taking action over a clear case of harassment will salvage some of the respect SFWA has lost in recent months. If the organization takes a stand against harassment of any flavor, it will go a long way to engendering the trust of members and potential members.
Thank you for your time,