How the Perl community embraces diversity

Love for Perl unites diverse community

Three people connected, a group
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I've used Perl for several years, beginning in 2002 on Solaris, then moving to Debian and working on Koha in 2008. Surprisingly (bafflingly, in retrospect), I had not connected with the larger Perl community at all in that time, choosing to stay within the smaller communities I was already embedded in.

In late 2009, I finally started to understand myself better, and came out as transgender. Prior to that, I appeared to everyone—including myself—as a rather ordinary straight white guy. All of a sudden, at 41 years old, I found myself in a very, very small minority and rather anxious about the whole thing. But I knew from the get-go that I was blessed—I had an employer who was committed to non-discrimination, supportive friends and colleagues, and a loving family.

In the spring of 2012, I talked to my boss about attending YAPC::NA (Yet Another Perl Conference::North America), a conflab of Perl luminaries from all over the world, and a chance to connect with the larger Perl community. The boss OKed the trip and I started preparing to go. I was nervous, fully expecting to be the only trans person there (as I typically was at library-oriented events that I normally attended). I connected with the IRC channel for YAPC::NA attendees, and after some silent lurking introduced myself, hoping to at least have some names to look out for at the conference. Other than these virtual acquaintances, I knew nobody—I was going to a town I'd only been to once before with 300ish total strangers. As the time got closer, I was frankly terrified of what might happen. What sort of bigotry and discrimination would I face? Would I even be welcome?

The anticlimax

After all the worrying, of course, things were fine. When I arrived, I was greeted at the registration desk by one of the folks I'd met on the IRC, and I shortly met others. A group of people were going to one of the several arrival dinners that happen at the event, and while I was sitting around deciding which place to go to eat, I discovered that I was not the only trans person at the conference at all.

By the end of the three-day conference, I would come to know that there were no less than five gender-variant people there. Outside of support groups and the waiting room at my doctor's office, this was the largest number I'd seen in one place since I had started transition. I gave a lightning talk about the Koha community, since so few seemed familiar with it, and got a lot of questions and discussion afterward. It was all very normal, really. I was in my element, talking about something I'm passionate about, with people who were interested in what I had to say. I really didn't want to leave! One attendee, when I went to go catch my ride, caught me at the door, hugged me, and said in my ear, "You're gorgeous. Have a safe trip."

Three years in

Since that first YAPC::NA, I've attended three more. All told, I've given full-length presentations at two, lightning talks at three, and am considered a consistent fixture in the Perl community, even if I'm not one of the most prolific coders in the group. Every year, I look forward to seeing these wonderful friends from all over the world. Granted, the Perl community, like much of the Western Hemisphere technology world, is dominated by white males. Despite that, if you look just a bit deeper, you'll see an amazing diversity start to emerge.

We are Perl people, and there our similarities—in many cases—come to an end. We are fans of science fiction, of fantasy, of mystery, of romances. Hardware hackers and people who want to see software that does amazing new things. Beer drinkers, wine drinkers, liquor lovers, and tee-totallers. Vegans, meat-eaters, paleo-dieters, and Weight Watchers. Gay, straight, bisexual, lesbian, transgender, genderqueer, and asexuals. People of every faith on Earth, and no faith at all.

Despite all those variables, the Perl community gets along for the most part. Oh, we have our squabbles (particularly over technical matters), but the Perl community on the whole embraces the diverse viewpoints and diversity of expertise that come into it. Every year I get questions about the library world and how Perl is being used there.

What's your favorite geeking? Do you speak Perl? Then join in on the conversations. My own experience is that everyone who comes in good faith is welcome here.

in Open Source

This article is part of the Diversity in Open Source series to help foster an inclusive and welcoming environment by publishing a diverse range of voices on a variety of international open source topics.

About the author

Ruth Holloway - Ruth Holloway has been a system administrator and software developer for a long, long time, getting her professional start on a VAX 11/780, way back when. She spent a lot of her career (so far) serving the technology needs of libraries, and has been a contributor since 2008 to the Koha open source library automation suite. Ruth is currently a Perl developer and project lead at Clearbuilt. You can find out more about Ruth's passions and career...