HSBNE is not a Safe Space
So, first off, the primary intended audience of this post is current/future members of HSBNE aka Hackerspace Brisbane. If you’re wondering why I’m writing this here somewhere open & public, it’s partly because I’m being blocked from posting it in the forums, but also because saying these things only in private has only allowed the bad behaviour to flourish. This censorship is wrong; if you can’t discuss issues then you can’t hope to fix them. It’s even worse when this censoring is being used to hide evidence of wrongdoing so members don’t know what’s really happening at their own space. But that’s the currently acceptable standard at HSBNE, and frankly, I don’t think the average member would agree with what’s actually being enforced if they knew it was happening.
For the newer members who don’t know me, I’m Mike & I’ve been a very active HSBNE member & volunteer for 8 years until recently. I’ve spent nearly a decade helping build HSBNE up as best as I can, and I still want it to succeed as much as possible. It’s a one-of-a-kind place, after all. But I’m deeply concerned that the direction it’s taking will cause the place to implode, and the fact that members aren’t permitted to know the direction it’s taking is incredibly worrying to me. I think it’s fair to say that anyone who volunteers to improve HSBNE does so because they want to make it a better place, however what’s “better” is sometimes a matter of opinion. For instance, wanting to portray HSBNE in the best possible light has been a thing for as long as I can remember, and in general it’s a good thing. Unfortunately, with time that’s morphed at first into hiding structural issues that are wrong without fixing them, into discouraging members from bringing them up, into outright punishing anyone who mentions them. This is an incredibly dangerous anti-pattern, because it not only perpetuates the original problem, it ends up actively encouraging it and the problematic behaviour increases. Bad things happen at all organisations and HSBNE is not some magical exemption; it’s how you deal with them that matters most.
I have been experiencing discrimination and defamation at HSBNE and I’m both being blocked from even telling other members this has occurred and also being actively prevented from having any opportunity to clear my name. This has even gone as low as lying about and attacking me for my disability. Because all my attempts to get these issues resolved internally have failed, I’m forced to take it externally with legal options. As such, I’ve filed a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission about the treatment I’ve received at HSBNE. I would like to share more details, but out of respect for the process & the current executive it’s best to avoid publicly discussing active complaints. So I’d ask anyone reading this to withhold your judgement if you have heard rumours about me as I have evidence backing me up that multiple members have been lying about me.
I’d also like to bring attention to sexual assault & sexual harassment happening at HSBNE. Yes, this is clearly against HSBNE’s rules, but that would require the rules to be enforced. A few years ago I was sexually assaulted by another member. I mostly shrugged it off at the time, until I was at a party last year where I mentioned HSBNE and the person I was speaking to said they quit after they were sexually harassed by the same member. Another person at the party overheard us and said they were also sexually harassed at HSBNE, but by a different member, and they said the place has a reputation for providing safe harbour to sexual predators. I messaged some other ex members that I felt left for suspicious reasons, and before I knew it the number was over half a dozen. This appears to have been happening for a period of time and there’s potentially more cases out there too. This is a perfect example of how silence is helping perpetuate this system as those responsible can keep getting away with it. I’ve debated how much information I should share about my case to warn others, but the fact that the systems are so broken at HSBNE that this keeps happening is far more worrying to me than my own incident, so I’ll just say that there are still active HSBNE members who have sexually harassed other members and visitors. I won’t be naming people for my own safety, fearing retribution, but I’ll simply recommend that women, fem presenting and vulnerable people avoid HSBNE, as my experience has shown that no action will be taken by the HSBNE executives to protect victims of these crimes.
In saying all this, I withdraw all past recommendations I’ve given for HSBNE aka Hackerspace Brisbane, particularly if you’re a woman, fem presenting, vulnerable or disabled person. I cannot in good conscience continue to endorse a place that is not a safe space and where the rules are borderline worthless and enforced unequally.
EDIT: Since I originally posted this, I’ve been private messaged by some ex HSBNE members. The number of incidents of sexual harassment I’m aware of has now increased by 3. Tell me with a straight face there isn’t a problem.
EDIT2: In case anyone tried to write off this post as just one member’s ranting, another core member has made two similar blog posts, covering the above plus other issues I also agree with but was scared of mentioning myself lest I suffer retaliation for calling them out. Speaking of retaliation, I’ve been given a Schedule Three 3-month ban aka the toughest ban available, for filing a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission. This is not an exaggeration or misleading or putting words in their mouth; filing the complaint was the only reason given for the ban. I’m saying this as a warning to any current/future members about what the current executive consider punishable/forbidden behaviour, such as trying to enforce the law when it’s been broken. Also, the rule used to justify this punishment was not brought in through the usual public discussion/vote by membership route, it bypassed all this to be rushed in unilaterally by the current executive under their override powers with just an announcement that it was now in effect, placing the onus entirely on them. I will not be commenting further on this illegal ban as it will be addressed as part of the AHRC proceedings.
EDIT3: The complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission concluded with no resolution. HSBNE flatly refused to acknowledge or do anything about even the most serious examples of illegal behaviour, even when presented with hard evidence and direct quotes of the laws that had been broken. Reporting illegal human rights violations remains a bannable offense at HSBNE, while committing human rights violations continues to be treated as acceptable behaviour. There were zero changes to prevent this from happening again to others in the future. Given this, there’s no way any reasonable person could describe HSBNE as a Safe Space, but that is exactly what they continue to falsely label themselves as. This blog post’s warning about the institutionally-engrained abusive attitudes of the organisation remains valid. Further details in this update post.