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The special support for women thread on Linux Australia's discussion email list was a long email discussion in October and November 2013 about when and whether "special support for women" such as the Outreach Program for Women were helpful or otherwise.
On October 29, David Newall began the thread with an email that read in part:
- Apparently we need special programmes to address an imbalance between the sexes; in politics, employment, management and elsewhere, this is widely accepted as appropriate. Linux Australia is not immune to this; we give opportunities and support to females. This puts an elephant in the corner: women gain opportunities at the expense of more capable (or more needy) men. This undermines their credibility; it raises reasonable doubts about their competence. Are they there from merit or merely to make up the numbers?
- We see ourselves as a meritocracy; for sake of honesty and transparency, our special programmes for women should candidly admit patronage of incompetence over political correctness. Let's cancel our "women in IT" programmes and replace them with programmes that reward "incompetent women in IT," or at least to widen eligibility to include hamsters and fish. That way, competent women, of which we have plenty, can leave no doubt that they won prestige merely on shining ability.
A large number of messages followed. Many were critical of Newall's position, but defences of it, or of his right to express it, included:
Newall followed up on October 30. On the same day, Hugh Blemings asked on behalf of the LA Council that the thread cease. Newall objected to the council attempted to end discussion of LA's actions. The council does not seem to have used technical powers to end the thread for some time.
On November 1, Newall obliquely referred to disciplinary action against a list member, presumably himself.
Warning for discussion of self-harm. On November 3, Newall emailed the list with a long list of quotes from his opponents in the thread that he considered hurtful, and disclosed that he had considered suicide in response.
Several people replied to Newall with apologies for any hurt he had experienced. There does not seem to have been an official statement of Linux Australia's position on "special support for women" at any time.