Is someone's private sex life ever grounds for passing professional judgment? This is the issue that has gripped the Drupal community since late March, when a prominent member of the open-source programming project named Larry Garfield was banned by its founder, Acquia CTO Dries Buytaert.
On Wednesday, a group calling itself Drupal Confessions published an open letter of protest addressed to Buytaert, objecting to his handling of allegations directed at Garfield. At press time, the letter had more than 50 signatories, both named and anonymous, accompanied by their own "confessions." The letter demands that Buytaert reinstate Garfield, be receptive to shaking his hand at an upcoming conference, and promise not to punish people for their thoughts or actions outside of the Drupal community.
Named signatories include the CEOs and CTOs of multiple Drupal-based companies, such as Wunder, Amazee, and Zivtech, as well as community leaders. The letter proclaims, "We reject whisper campaigns, smear campaigns, and witch hunts that are designed to destroy the reputation of professionals with details stolen from their personal lives. [...] And above all, we reject the extremist notion that our personal lives must be subjected to an ideological purity test in order for us to participate in professional communities."
Garfield appears to have been kicked out of Drupal because of his private participation in the Gorean subculture, which is commonly understood as a type of BDSM inspired by a sci-fi book series. What's in dispute is whether Garfield's Gorean practices or beliefs were found objectionable in and of themselves, and whether Buytaert and Drupal Association head Megan Sanicki handled the matter appropriately.
Buytaert did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but Sanicki emailed Inc. a statement: "We appreciate and value the collective response. The Drupal community is a diverse and vibrant one, and all of us care deeply about it. The events of the last few weeks have allowed us to see where we need to evolve. We're looking forward to working with the community as we revisit important tenets of our code of conduct and governance structure."
Multiple Drupal authorities, including Buytaert and Sanicki, have issued statements asserting that Garfield did not violate Drupal's code of conduct. That admission has fueled an ongoing uproar among Drupalers, as they call themselves, and even adjacent open-source communities. The controversy has spanned numerous Reddit threads, Twitter conversations, back-channel Slack discussions, and other venues both public and private. Garfield supporters appear to outnumber detractors, but the latter group has been equally vocal.
Developer Jack Aponte took the opportunity to discuss a sexist comment made at DrupalCon 2014, which culminated in the resignation of a Drupal Association board member. Shanley Kane, the founder of now-defunct diversity-in-tech magazine Model View Culture, tweeted that the Drupal Confessions website "is a poetic f***ing ODE and love letter to this motherf****r [referring to Larry Garfield] and other misogynist white males." Kane added, "The only time open source 'communities' do ANYTHING about 'diversity' it's about WHITE MANS 'DIVERSITY OF THOUGHT.'"
Tech diversity activist Ashe Dryden commented, "Drupal, making things worse while remaining completely clueless," then added, "There are REGULAR, KNOWN bad actors in the Drupal community and the association and leadership was never concerned while I was there[.]"
On the other side, Drupal core committee member Stefan Ruijsenaars told Inc. via Twitter DM: "I didn't write this statement, but I support it and have helped these Drupal members find a voice for their concerns. It's my hope the whole community comes together again in an act of reconciliation that makes us stronger than ever before."
Emily Rose, lead developer evangelist at Salesforce, said on Twitter, "OSS [open-source software] folk: the personal lives of your contributors are not appropriate subjects for scrutiny and public discourse. I am disgusted by this." Rose added, "I operate professionally under the specter of my personal life becoming discourse. What's happening in the Drupal community terrifies me." Rose, who identifies as gender non-binary, also said, "When I see my peers supporting the ousting of Garfield from @drupal, I ask myself what they will be saying when the transphobes come for me."
Regardless of who is right, the mere fact of the controversy may have an adverse impact on Acquia, the VC-funded company where Dries Buytaert is cofounder and CTO. Obama administration alum Jason Goldman quipped on Twitter, "My v first thought on seeing this was 'thank Christ I am no longer running a drupal site on behalf of the president.'" In a subsequent tweet he noted that Acquia is a government contractor.
Several community members have suggested, both in public and in conversations with Inc., that Buytaert had an intractable conflict of interest. Larry Garfield is employed as a technology director at a company called Platform.sh, which directly competes with Acquia in the Drupal space. An Acquia representative denied that the company's interests had any bearing on Buytaert's decision, and Garfield also told Inc. that he didn't think it was a factor. The Drupal Confessions site itself is hosted by an Acquia competitor, Squarespace.