Why was BritRuby cancelled?

Besides the pseudo-official line that sponsors got nervous about a controversy about diversity on Twitter, why was BritRuby cancelled?

In fact, the organisers had announced two sponsors before they called it quits, On The Beach and globaldev. Both of them have disclaimed concern about the controversy:

No #britruby - incredibly sad. As a sponsor I know the attacks are ill-founded. All that’s happened is a great conf is dead. No winners.

Jonathan Smith, CTO of On The Beach, Twitter.

The cancellation of BritRuby is a shame and we want to state categorically that Globaldev backed BritRuby 100% regardless of the twitter controversy.

Steve Buckley, globaldev blog, “Our Response to BritRuby’s Cancellation”

So what’s the real story? Did they hope for more sponsors, but were turned down because of the controversy? Surely a little re-assurance that no discrimination was intended in the selection would suffice? I’m sure plenty of potential sponsors wouldn’t have been phased by a little ruckus on Twitter. Indeed, the Golden Gate Ruby Conference — incidentally, organised by one of the folks who raised the issue about BritRuby — bounced back fine from the controversy caused by the 2009 talk Perform like a pr0n star. They don’t seem to have had any trouble finding more sponsors for subsequent events.

So the question is: Why was BritRuby really cancelled?

Update: Chuck Hardy, one of the organisers of the event, says via email: “I will be releasing a personal statement shortly.”

Update 2: Avdi Grimm has posted On BritRuby, an essay about the cancellation of the event. The most interesting part is this:

So I started asking around. I thought of all the prominent non-white-dude Ruby conference speakers I could in the space of a couple minutes. Just people who came easily to mind, nobody too obscure. I wanted to know if they had been invited to be part of that initial group of 15, and had said no.

Sandi Metz. Bryan Liles. Reg Braithwaite. Angela Harms. Sarah Mei. Katrina Owen (Norway). Keavy McMinn (Scotland). None of these people were invited to be part of the initial line-up. In fact, I couldn’t find a single woman or minority Rubyist who had been invited to be part of that 15.

This suggests to me that, if concerns about diversity really were to blame for the conference’s cancellation, the only reason the organisers could have for shutting down the conference is their own shame at not being inclusive enough. That, or fears about appearing to be including a ‘token minority speaker,’ a concern mentioned in the pseudo-official response linked above. But as far as I know, the speaker lineup was not yet complete: there were still a lot of talks planned that had not yet been announced, that were presumably to come from the Call for Participation. If there was any point at which to include speakers from more diverse backgrounds, the next batch of talks would have been perfect.

Now, I understand that accepting talks from minority groups only after a controversy has been raised may stink of tokenism a bit. I agree with Grimm, though, that any discrimination in the speaker lineup that was initially announced was probably not deliberate. Not wanting compare apples (invited speakers) to oranges (accepted proposals), I’d happily believe a denial of tokenism with regard to the latter.

Update 3: Chuck Hardy has posted his personal statement as promised. In it, he seems to send mixed messages: one moment he says that no sponsors had pulled out; he also seems to suggest that none had threatened to pull out, and defending them from blame:

Firstly, I would like to categorically state that none of our sponsors had officially pulled out of the conference. Running a conference of this magnitude takes time, effort and money. We were lucky enough to be able to secure some amazing sponsors who believed in what we stood for and who were willing to support us.

The next, he is citing concerns about sponsors pulling out:

However, I was not prepared to put myself in the position of legal liability and cost ramifications if a sponsor were to pull out under social media strain.

And finally:

I stand by my decision as I will not condone or be apart of any personal racial and sexist accusation. I was not prepared to provide a conference that was tarred with such accusation.

I have emailed Hardy with some questions about his statement.

Update 4: I just got off the phone with Hardy. He told me that in addition to the two announced sponsors, there were a lot more companies sponsoring the event, and it was them, not On The Beach or globaldev, who expressed concerns about the controversy on Twitter, and were worried about the potential defamatory results of an association with the conference given the issues about diversity, and the possible accusations of racism and sexism attached to them. The contracts which had been signed for the event have all been cancelled, and Hardy himself is now personally financially responsible for any non-refundable charges associated with those contracts; the sponsors are being refunded in full.

15 speakers had been announced; 5 had yet to come from the Call for Proposals. The initial 15 were chosen from a list of 40 potential invitees who were selected over discussions about who, ideally, the best, most interesting speakers could be at the event. The 15 that were announced were the 15 who agreed to speak. Initially, there was a bias towards British speakers, that being the focus of BritRuby as an event, but they decided to open it up worldwide to get the best speakers they could for the event. Hardy himself was not involved in the decisions about who to choose from the CfP, again to avoid bias: he could be accused of discrimination against speakers flying in from other countries because it’s his responsibility to find the money to pay for their flights. According to Hardy, they had some very interesting proposals from Brazilian speakers which were to be announced as talks.

Hardy denies any deliberate discrimination. He also denies any emotional (shame / stress / fear) reason for calling off the event. He also cited the diversity of the organising team.

This post will be revised as I find out more information.