A recent article in Inc. reported the ouster of one of Drupal’s significant contributors based on controversial objections over his personal behavior and beliefs. The ejection was pursuant to violations of the project’s Code of Conduct. The Code of Conduct contains high-level imperatives such as Be Considerate, Be Respectful, and Be Collaborative. The article reports there is controversy over the reasons for the ouster, however, and that is where the story takes an odd turn.
In a blog post entitled “Living our Values“, Drupal founder and lead developer Dries Buytaert stated, “A few weeks ago, I privately asked Larry Garfield, a prominent Drupal contributor, to leave the Drupal project. I did this because it came to my attention that he holds views that are in opposition with the values of the Drupal project.” He goes on, “[W]hen a highly-visible community member’s private views become public, controversial, and disruptive for the project, I must consider the impact that his words and actions have on others and the project itself. In this case, Larry has entwined his private and professional online identities in such a way that it blurs the lines with the Drupal project.”
The “private views” apparently relate to Garfield’s interest in a lifestyle associated with the Chronicles of Gor “sword and planet” novels, which includes “relationships between dominant men and submissive women, the latter often in positions of slavery.” Buytaert stated in his blog post, “The Gorean philosophy promoted by Larry is based on the principle that women are evolutionarily predisposed to serve men and that the natural order is for men to dominate and lead.”
The controversy arises because it is not clear whether Garfield violated the Code of Conduct. Questions have arisen as to whether the ejection is appropriate if based on beliefs and values, rather than action — or on activity outside the Drupal project. In making such a decision, clearly, any project must consider how the public behavior of individuals reflects on the project, but some of those quoted in the article were troubled about where the line was drawn between personal and public action.
In 2014, Brendan Eich, an original founder of the Mozilla project, resigned after a short-lived tenure as CEO of Mozilla Foundation, after public criticism that he had donated $1,000 to California Proposition 8, which sought to ban same-sex marriage in California, years before. Among those bringing pressure were OKCupid, and online dating site, which asked its users to boycott the Firefox internet browser due to Eich’s support of Proposition 8. Eich resigned after less than a month.
Unlike Eich, Garfield was a significant contributor to Drupal, but not its leader.
Open source projects these days — like many organizations — are walking a difficult line between controlling behavior in order to create hospitable and diverse communities, and allowing for diversity in personal behavior and beliefs.