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.
If 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, Zammit.org. 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, libreboot.org, 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 libreboot.org 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.