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September 18th, 2016

Discord at Libreboot Over GNU Withdrawal

A member of the Libreboot development team has painted a picture of a lead developer who is out-of-control.

It will probably not come as a surprise to anyone who’s been following the news about Libreboot’s sudden withdrawal from the GNU Project that not everyone connected with the Libreboot project is in agreement with project lead Leah Rowe’s recent actions.

FSF logoIf you need catching up, the story began on Friday when Rowe posted a notice to the GNU mailing list removing Libreboot — a project that produces free, open source and blob-free software to replace proprietary BIOS firmware — as a GNU project, which it had been since May. The reason, she said, was that an unnamed friend employed by the Free Software Foundation had been dismissed on the basis of her trangendered status.

“As a trans person myself, I find this disgusting,” Ms Rowe wrote.

Since then, both Richard Stallman, who is founder and president of FSF, and John Sullivan, the organization’s executive director, have issued statements denying that Rowe’s friend was dismissed due to issues of gender identity.

“Her gender now is the same as it was when we hired her,” Stallman wrote in an email response to Rowe’s allegations. “It was not an issue then, and it is not an issue now.”

Sullivan penned the organizations official response, which was posted on the FSF website. “While we understand that it is difficult whenever an employment relationship ends, the suggestion that the separation was a result of discriminatory animus is unfounded,” he wrote.

Evidently, the decision to remove Libreboot from GNU was made solely by Rowe without any consultation with others working on the project.

Today Damien Zammit, a developer with the Libreboot project, contributed to the discussion with a post on his personal blog, He paints a picture of a project lead who is both out of control and without boundaries. This is not a surprising assessment, given the angry and somewhat irrational tone of Rowe’s Friday announcement, which closed with the statement that “FSF and GNU can both go f**k themselves.”

“I have recently noticed that Leah Rowe is the only person who has git commit access to the website,, and also the only person who has git commit access to the codebase, which has only become a problem recently,” he wrote.

“We (the contributors) are not consulted about any of the views expressed on the website when they are hastily published by Leah,” he continued. “So, whenever you read ‘We believe…’ or ‘We say that…’ on the lists and websites, Leah has ultimate control of the libreboot project currently. It is clear that this person has been misusing control of the project to spew out irrelevant personal opinions on behalf of the ‘libreboot community,’ a singleton group of people consisting of … yes you guessed it, Leah Rowe.”

If it’s true that other Libreboot contributors are not consulted before posts are made to the Libreboot site about actions taken in their name, then it is obvious that Rowe has crossed some lines. A post to the project’s website explaining the project’s reasons for withdrawing from GNU, is published without a byline and is clearly intended to give the impression that it represents the collective viewpoint of the Libreboot community:

“We in the libreboot project are shocked and dismayed by some of the community’s overall transphobic and sexist responses to this whole ordeal,” the anonymous statement reads. “While many have been supportive, others have been hostile. In the first few days since the incident, reading several message boards, mailing lists and IRC channels, it’s obvious that the topic has quickly shifted towards being about Leah Rowe, instead of the actual issues at hand. There are calls by some to even replace Leah Rowe as leader of the libreboot project, or to fork the libreboot project.”

The piece ends with a demand for a return of funds that were evidently donated to FSF by Rowe. “She [evidently, Leah Rowe] would also like the $6,120 USD that she donated to the FSF since 2015 to be refunded to her by the FSF. She will then use this money to promote free software, and for better purposes. The FSF never deserved even a penny from her.”

If we are to believe Zammit, and he seems credible, this was all written by Rowe — complete with references to herself in third person — without consulting the project’s other working members although using the collective pronoun “we” throughout.

Zammit continues by writing: “I am embarrassed by Leah’s unprofessionalism, and the handful of us (who are too time-poor to maintain libreboot) a.k.a the *actual* libreboot community, will agree with me when I say that Leah has behaved highly inappropriately with regard to leading the libreboot project by:

  • mixing personal views with the administration of the project on behalf of others,
  • misrepresenting personal views to be the views of a whole community as demonstrated by countless references to ‘We’…”

If what Zammit writes is true, then I suspect we will hear from other members of the small team behind Libreboot within the next day or two. At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see either a fork or an abandonment of the project.

We will also doubtlessly see ugly and unseemly comments being posted about transgendered people, which has already been happening. This is an unfortunate unintended consequence, brought about not so much by Rowe’s actions, but by her manner of carrying them out, which some will try to use as indictment of all transgendered people. I won’t bother to point out the fallacy of any such arguments.

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

17 comments to Discord at Libreboot Over GNU Withdrawal

  • Tanja

    Just FYI, it’s transgender, not transgenderED. It’s not a verb. One does not transgender, one is transgender.

    I don’t know where that misspelling came from. It’s so common even some transgender people use it (Leah Rowe did), but at the same time there are many who consider it offensive. The offense taken probably is related to the “but you’re REALLY the gender you were assigned at birth” thing. Personally I just think the misspelling is weird.

  • Jamie McCarthy

    “We will also doubtlessly see ugly and unseemly comments being posted about transgendered people, which has already been happening. This is an unfortunate unintended consequence, brought about not so much by Rowe’s actions, but by her manner of carrying them out”

    I wish I could say I was surprised at this ugly attempt to pre-explain bigotry as the natural consequence of transgender people existing in the world.

    But since it arrived at the end of a one-sided report, I had already figured out the author’s bias. So it wasn’t really unexpected.

    Next time you write a piece like this, please give fair play to the claim of bias instead of leaving us to wonder. Especially if you follow that with explicit and detailed denials. That gives the impression of bias.

    And when you find yourself having to write:

    “If it’s true…”
    “If if we are to believe…”
    “If what X writes is true…”

    all in the same piece, that leads the reader to suspect that this is less reporting and more polemic.

  • Mike


    > “Just FYI, it’s transgender, not transgenderED. It’s not a verb. One does not transgender, one is transgender.”

    I’ve always read it as an adjective, many of which have word endings like verbs.

  • Dear Jamie McCarthy,

    I may be wrong but you seem to have things backwards. Plus I fail to see which kind of bias you’re talking about.

    You’re quoting out of context and I suspect this is leading you to the wrong conclusions.

    By quoting:

    “If we are to believe…”

    instead of

    “If we are to believe Zammit, and he seems credible,”

    you’re changing the whole narrative.

    Did you notice that, Or did I get it all wrong?

  • truth

    whaa! boo hoo! my feelings are hurt!

  • Tanja

    To be fair, I checked a dictionary and even that has transgendered as an alternative spelling of transgender. But transgender without the ed already is an adjective, no need to tack on extra characters that imply it’s not.

    Anyway this is just a thing that I know offends a lot of people. I’m more flexible about language because word for word translations from my native language would be considered horribly offensive in English.

  • Pete

    What is your native language, Tanja?

  • Mike

    > “But transgender without the ed already is an adjective, no need to tack on extra characters that imply it’s not. Anyway this is just a thing that I know offends a lot of people.”

    I’ve always read transgender as both a noun and adjective, like Caucasian. People are offended by weird shit and if an extra ‘ed’ offends someone, they have bigger problems.

    I’ve given up hope of using only words that won’t offend anyone and just use the words I feel like using. If it offends, I may offer a polite apology, but expect it to end there. Anything else is a problem with the person taking offense.

  • Eddie G.

    I will agree with Mike. Listen people, we live in a world where a lot of countries’ citizens are not ALLOWED to voice their opinions. To do so might mean death, if not for themselves then for their family, or abduction and imprisonment for decades! I live in America, and I have a RIGHT to say what I want to…if it offends you then accept my apologies, but I’ll not hold my tongue just because someone finds what I say offensive.
    Its tantamount to the whole Linux – GNU/Linux debate. Same thing (kinda) if I call it Linux almost 99.9% of the people who hear it KNOW what I’m talking about, if I’m writing a paper and decide to use the GNU/Linux moniker, 99.9% of the people who read it KNOW what I’m talking about. SO WHAT if I don’t call it that? Its my prerogative and decision to call it that and say it that way. If I happen to say TransgenderED person?….almost…..wait…no 100% of the people who hear that will KNOW what I’m talking about! Enough with the crying over stupid sh*t! There are SO many other issues at hand in this world today. In short: Humanity?…Grow UP!!

  • C. Mahan

    I couldn’t care less about gender, sexual preference, color, political bias, dietary preference, etc. ad nauseum.
    In the future please take up all such “issues” in the proper forum or keep them private. Wrongful dismissal and workplace malfeasances or controversies are between the parties involved, and possibly the appropriate judicial branch. I DON’T $#@#$%g CARE!
    Thank you.

  • Chris Wittle

    this stuff should remain out of the programming world – leave it to the democrats to carry this torch.

  • @Chris Wittle: Partisan sniping notwithstanding, the notion that the FSF should be apolitical misses the entire point of the FSF.

  • caitlin

    Y’all are missing the point, which is that fsf discriminated against trans women and that’s really messed up. Even Red Hat knows trans women need to be protected from discrimination! I mean come on!

    Eddie, if I say your a f*ckn dweeb, 100% of people will know what I mean. It doesn’t make it right, and it doesn’t make you any less of a dweeb.

  • truth

    They say emacs is a great OS, all it needs is a decent text editor.
    –whoops, I probably p*ss#d someone off!

  • Truth

    I agree with Jamie McCarthy. This piece is one-sided and completely ignores the potential for transphobia within the FSF. This piece also fails to address the helpful ways the FSF and other organizations can become more accepting of trans folks.

  • Mike


    > “This piece also fails to address the helpful ways the FSF and other organizations can become more accepting of trans folks.”

    That is presupposing the FSF isn’t already accepting of transgender people. There is no visible evidence that is the case, except the ranting (yes, it looks like ranting) of a single individual. Regardless of whether it is true or not, Ms. Rowe’s approach is not constructive. The proper place is a court of law.

    The funny thing is that this article isn’t really about the allegations against the FSF, so much as the apparent disagreement within the Libreboot project itself and as such, the truth of the matter between Ms. Rowe’s friend and the FSF is not really relevant to the article.

  • Jim

    Maybe I’m missing something here. To mangle an old saying, “There are nowadays 4 versions to every story. My version, your version, the truth, and how the press spins it.”

    So far, we’ve heard their version and the spin version (we probably won’t hear from the original person, and privacy concerns limit FSF from stating their side more than they have) and Y’all are getting upset about the way the spin version is put out, as that’s the only one that gets any response.

    Zimmit(?) & Co: either fix your issues with your leader, get rid of said leader with a coup, or say “Fork it!” and leave. At that point, go back to GNU and have your cake back, if you want. Or not. None of OUR business.