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Not Just No But HELL NO! An Open Letter To The Organizers Of The Ravhellenic Games 2014

January 3, 2014

This needs some context.

Ravelry? It’s the largest and most amazing knitting website on earth.

Every year they have a large scale knit-a-long (which is a thing where knitters all knit…you know along with each other.) called The Ravhellenic Games.

At some point I fervently hope that they manage to pull this thing off without causing huge and unnecessary drama for the Ravelry site owners and operators.

This year is not that year.

From the art installation Knitting Nation 4: PRIDE by Liz Collins.

As my readers may recall, the Sochi Olympics are causing a lot of controversy because Russia hates it’s LGBTQ citizens and the LGBTQ community of the world.

Everyone recalls this, yes?

Cool, now we’re all on the same page.

Last night the organizers of the Ravehllenic Games (which used to be called The Ravlympics until the owners of the site got a cease and desist letter from the Olympic Committee) posted this.

The Ravellenic Games is a world-wide group made up of thousands of diverse competitors who believe different things and hold different opinions.

Diversity is wonderful, and we all appreciate it.

However, it can also lead to disagreements, sometimes of the less-than-polite variety, and no one wants that. We’re here for fun.

In order to minimize disruptions, the decision was made at the beginning of the Games that politics, politicking, and political discussions would not be acceptable in this forum.

Rainbows with messages, protests, pro- and anti- stances: these have their place. However, this forum is not that place.

This rule is posted on the front page of the group and in the FAQs, and an overt announcement was made a couple weeks ago.

We’ve had to edit a few posts to remove political messages. We don’t want to do this, you don’t want us to do this… please help us out by not posting politics in the first place.

They clarified several hours later with this:

The “no politics” rule is intended to make the discussions here welcoming and warm for all comers.

It applies only to the content of posts on the Ravellenics forum. This includes finish lines; event threads; team threads that are hosted here; and all other chatter.

Team names, Ravatars, project names, project notes, and team threads hosted in other groups are not affected by this rule. Political messages are central to the identity of many teams, individual Ravthletes, and projects. Feel free to express those messages fully in those settings.

First I’d like to say that the owners and operators of Ravelry don’t have anything to do with this decision. I am absolutely 100% positive they were not involved in it.

NOT THEIR FAULT. Just in case anyone was unclear.

Second, NOT CENSORSHIP. Please don’t say that it is. That’s a thing that governments do, not websites.

Finally, I would like to respond to the request entailed in the above quotes.


Why, when the group of moderators agreed on this policy, did someone not listen to the small voice that must have desperately screaming at you to stop?

When did you decide that in an effort to make people feel comfortable you were going to tell a not small number of potential participants that your definition of comfort did not include consideration for them and their allies?

At what point did you forget how words work? “Diversity is wonderful, and we all appreciate it. However…,” means you care not one whit about diversity.You care about the few hateful people whom, I would be willing to bet, complained that someone was too out in a post.  That’s how sentence structure functions.

Do you think that repeating the phrase “We are here to have fun,” has some sort of talismanic magic associated with it that will make it fun to talk about things like our representatives to the Olympic Committee or some of our athletes or their families or the massive tidal wave of rainbow knitted/crocheted shit you are about to see without mentioning why it matters to us?

Let me clarify some things for you.

Being bi, in my case, or lesbian or gay or trans or queer or questioning or Intersex any number of  designations? That’s not politics. That’s who we fucking are, just like being tall is who I am and being a woman of color is who I am. And in Russia, right now, this second, who we are is entirely likely to be a death sentence.

Right now, in Russia, which is the nation about to host this shindig that you want to  “just be about having fun,” real human beings are being targeted, attacked, and killed and no one will help them because those attacks have government sanction.

And you want us to be quiet about it?

The only reason I sit here able to write this to you because people in this nation marched and fought and risked everything and yes, in some cases suffered their own death sentences.

And you want us to be quiet about it?

Now the Russian government will tell you that I am overreacting, that they do not hate the LGBTQ community. They simply want to protect their children from bad influences. People can still be gay, or any variation thereof. They just have to be quiet about it. They can’t use the games to show their gayness. So, no wearing the internationally accepted symbol of the gay. Other symbols are fine. I’m thinking specifically of religious ones. I’m sure the Sochi Games will have any number of mentions of The Divine. (I’m equally sure the Ravhellenic Games will have them as well.) And those will be fine. Just nothing that brings one of the most basic, fundamental aspects of what makes a person who they are, if that aspect happens to not be straight. They want to erase their LGBTQ community before the games begin, at least metaphorically.  They want all of us to be invisible.

And so do you.

And that is so not acceptable I don’t even know how to articulate it.

Oh wait, yes I do.

Refusing to allow people to discuss an integral part of their personhood? That is the opposite of “warm and welcoming.”

So you failed there.

I’m betting…not let’s be honest, I’m really hoping that the past day or so has been the opposite of fun for you as a group.

So that’s another failure.

Your decision is cruel. It is small minded. It is ignorant and it has blown up in your face in a spectacular fashion, which is no less than you deserve.

But the thing is, I’ve dealt with bigots like you before. So no matter the level of my outrage or how wide the group that shares it (it’s a pretty wide group, in case you were wondering) the only reaction that you will have is to cry Straight People’s Tears (which is the straight, homophobic variation of White Woman’s Tears) and whine that you didn’t meeeeeaaaaan it!

You will probably remind us that THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN, in the event that the first couple of times made that point murky.

Well Witch, what shall we do? I hear you asking. it’s possible that’s only in my head. It’s late and in what has regrettably become a New Year’s tradition, I am nursing a vicious cold. I’m going to assume that someone is asking that and just go with it.

There are three options; go up the chain, boycott or protest.

The first, going up the chain, is not my favorite because, you know, this bullshit decision is not the Ravelry owner’s responsibility and as such they shouldn’t be made to pay for it. That said, it may be the most civil and have the least negative consequences for those of us who have been harmed by this. If that is seen as the best answer and they can, within their own rules, intervene,  demanding that the Rav site owners pressure the mods for either a public apology and reversal of the decision or the removal of the whole mod team seems a reasonable request to make.

The second, boycott, is also not my favorite, because they win.

So I would go with protest which can’t be a surprise to anyone who has met me or read anything I’ve ever written. Make those motherfuckers work. gay up those threads like a pride parade. Do exactly the opposite of what they want. Then do it again. Then do it again. And again. Make this issue as public as possible within the Ravelry community and enlist protesting allies. (Possibly by sharing this blog. IDK, just an idea except please do that.) Sound a relentless drumbeat of gay, gay, gay, GAY and choke them with it. Change your Ravatar to something obnoxiously gay themed. And then post nice sweet things on every fucking thread you can. While you’re at it, any symbol that might be even a tiny bit controversial should probably be flagged because this is supposed to be fucking fun.

Now, protest has consequences and you will totally get kicked out of the group. That is when you stop. Straight talk. Don’t push or even look at the line between protest and harassment. Do not do it. The Ravelry site owners have been known to ban members in extreme circumstances. If you’re organizing a protest and you don’t stay on point, you may be opening yourself up to that. It’s not likely but it is possible. Actions have consequences, even when they are the result of righting a wrong. If there were no possibility of negative consequences we would probably not call them protests so much as, I don’t know, life.

Good luck, y’all. I’ll be over here drinking tea and mainlining zinc based products.

25 Comments leave one →
  1. January 3, 2014 3:58 AM

    finest idea i ever see………it is very innovative thing to do…..

  2. chalyn permalink
    January 3, 2014 7:39 AM


  3. January 3, 2014 9:20 AM

    I did email TPTB at Ravelry (Casey et al). I do business on Rav so I feel like engaging in a public protest is not something I can do (and I hate that, but realistically it could be disastrous to my business), so I decided rather than sit by and helplessly seethe I’d speak up. I honestly have my doubts it’ll accomplish anything, but I did what I could.

    • January 3, 2014 9:41 AM

      That is a totally valid and reasonable point. You should not have to risk your livelihood because of the hateful behavior of others. After all, THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN!

      • Anthea Brainhooke permalink
        January 4, 2014 10:55 PM


  4. January 3, 2014 10:39 AM

    I like the protest idea. I think the actions of the Ravellenics mods are unacceptable. (I’m WenzerLuvsSmoke on Rav)

  5. January 3, 2014 1:31 PM

    I must admit that I never take part in these events. Historically, the Knitting Olympics originated with the Yarn Harlot and she only did the Winter Olympics. So far, she hasn’t mentioned the Olympics in her blog but she’s on holiday at the moment. As far as I’m concerned, the events on Ravelry are a spin off from her original idea but participation in this years events would be contrary to the political viewpoints she seems hold.

    I’m personally boycotting Sochi 2014 and decided to do so a few months ago due to the gay (or human really) rights issues.

    I think I will do something to make my opinion public like changing my ravatar though. Maybe I’ll post in the Ravellenics group at some point when I don’t have a migraine and am more capable of stringing words together.

  6. Paksenarrion permalink
    January 3, 2014 11:11 PM

    Friends, I’m a Ravellenic mod and have responded to the PM Isobel sent to the whole mod group. We are volunteers managing this event. This involves some feeling our way as crises flare up, oftentimes when only one or few (or no) mods are available to engage in dialogue before tempers flare. I would hope you would engage in further dialogue before deciding that the only or best course of action is public protest.

    I speak only for myself here; I have not consulted with the other mods before posting this, nor does what follows represent the views of all mods, I’m sure. I consider myself an ally. I am an educator. I have argued vigorously (and successfully) that teams with strong political stances and identities are a vital part of the Ravellenics. We are all in favor of a strong expression of that identity in projects (including notes, names, and images) and team iconography.

    The prohibition of political commentary dates all the way back to our first event, corresponding to Beijing. People have justified strong feelings about Chinese policy, in wand then. We also have Chinese (and Russian) Ravelers who should feel equally welcome as their human rights activist sisters and brothers. We are trying to avoid a situation where slogans and sentiments are posted that alienate or appear to target those deemed complicit or insufficiently enlightened.

    I realize that the situation is irretrievably complicated by the history of power structures that casually alienate and target LGBTQ folk. I recognize the Gordian knot one inherits when appealing for civility when such appeals have frequently been used to silence and belittle. All I can ask is that you will assume our goodwill and attribute any hasty missteps to the difficult task we face as moderators. Please, instead of breaking out the Molotov cocktails quite yet, help us craft an inclusive and welcoming event for all.

    (A friendly, minor correction: The Ravellenic games are held biannually, not annually.)

    • January 3, 2014 11:37 PM

      If you consider yourself an ally you are doing it wrong. In an attempt to make Russian and possibly anti-gay participants welcome you made the LGBTQ community feel unwelcome.

      And I’m sorry, I can’t assume your good will because after having seen the real active harm this decision has caused your mod team has decided to defend it rather than stop hurting people. And the worst thing about this is, it’s an easy fix. All you have to do is apologize, acknowledge that you made a hasty and poor decision and then reiterate that while the standard rules about debate apply, members of the LGBTQ community are in no way prevented from talking about who they are or the things that matter to them.

      If you specifically and the mods collectively are not willing to do that, you may want to revisit what ally means. Because seriously, you’re really doing a shit job of it.

      • Paksenarrion permalink
        January 4, 2014 12:22 AM

        As you and I discussed via PM, that’s exactly what we’re doing. Your positive contributions and engagement have been helpful; I appreciate your willingness to rise above rhetoric to do so.

    • sueb2b permalink
      January 4, 2014 8:18 AM

      > help us craft an inclusive and welcoming event for all.

      This message sounds like we should beg for a few headpats and be grateful when we get them but we’d best not say “yo, this is crap.”

      If having rainbows in ravatars is political speech, then so is having pictures of opposite sex spouses as that signifies a government-bestowed designation that’s unavailable to many in the LGBTQ community. Yet the latter is ignored by the “all welcoming to a point” mods of the games, the former is banned.

      I don’t usually participate in the Rav games. This year I am raising my voice because I feel that there’s so much “well, we’ll just ignore this one little group, and everyone else will be happy.” Keep making the bigots happy, but don’t expect me to thank you.

      • Paksenarrion permalink
        January 4, 2014 12:49 PM

        As Isobel notes in her post, Ravatars were specifically not subject to the rule.

    • Florina permalink
      January 4, 2014 1:57 PM

      The problem is, dialogue hasn’t really been possible since the moderators have shut down any thread involving a post questioning moderator decisions. This being the case, do you have any suggestions for how dialogue is supposed to occur?

    • January 4, 2014 6:29 PM

      ” We are trying to avoid a situation where slogans and sentiments are posted that alienate or appear to target those deemed complicit or insufficiently enlightened.”

      That sounds disturbingly like the completely shit argument that went around post-DOMA ruling that says, in summary, that getting rid of anti-gay legislation isn’t nice because it makes the people who support it look like jerks. It’s one of those things where, if you substitute race for sexual orientation, you should be able to see that that is not ok.

  7. Joyce Roberts permalink
    January 4, 2014 12:06 AM

    I would add that your modly bigots singled out “rainbow messages”. You didn’t single out Pussy Riot, Obamacare, donkeys, elephants or tea parties.

    • Paksenarrion permalink
      January 4, 2014 12:51 PM

      We recognize that the singling out of LGBTQ symbolism caused hurt. We are working hard to make this right. Thanks for extending to us the time and goodwill necessary for us to learn from our mistakes.

      • Anthea Brainhooke permalink
        January 4, 2014 5:51 PM

        You could start by lifting your ban on rainbows in forums, for the love of Pete.

        • Paksenarrion permalink
          January 5, 2014 4:25 PM

          No such ban ever was imposed. We apologized for singling out rainbows with messages, and clarified our policy.

      • txvoodoo permalink
        January 4, 2014 11:36 PM

        Not just *hurt* – damage. Bigotry causes damage, and that’s what you’re protecting. You’re violating one of Rav’s biggest rules: be excellent to one another. You are NOT being excellent.

  8. January 4, 2014 1:36 PM

    To be fair, ravatars have been specifically exempted from the rules about political speech.

    On the other hand, the “pro-coffee” example really chapped my hide, and I’m not alone. I probably haven’t even thought of some of the reasons for that, but here are a couple that have crossed my mind. (And, Paksenarrion, I don’t know if this example was yours, but it seems to have been intended as a “reasonable” explanation of why the mods are trying to muzzle people.)

    Drinking coffee (or not) is a lifestyle choice for most people, rather than an inherent trait that’s part of their identity.

    By saying we can’t say anything “pro-coffee” for fear of offending those who believe drinking it “endangers the soul,” the mods are setting religious bigots’ comfort above basic human rights. If I were to post, “I’m making this blanket for my friend and her wife,” would that count that as a political statement? If it would (and we believe it would), and if “…my friend and his wife” wouldn’t even register (and we believe it wouldn’t), the policy bears an unfortunate resemblance to Putin’s.

    (Between “endangers the soul” and the singling out of “rainbows with messages,” I for one would be highly skeptical of any claim that this was just a random example that had no particular group or political issue in mind.)

    • Paksenarrion permalink
      January 5, 2014 4:32 PM

      It was not my analogy. I agree with your points. We have been helped by constructive feedback to understand that singling out the LGBTQ issue, even on the grounds that it is the dominant domain of protest over Sochi, was wrong and hurtful. You certainly don’t have to take my word for it, but having worked with this diverse group of mods for several rounds of Games now, over many years, I assure you that there was no agenda at work. We have apologized for our injurious rhetoric.

      • January 6, 2014 5:00 PM

        [em]We have apologized for our injurious rhetoric.[/em]

        I hope you are also making progress in correcting it.

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