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#BSidesSF: Violet Blue’s talk never should have been on the agenda

Feb 26, 20133 mins
IT LeadershipTechnology Industry

B-Sides ended on a sour note after one person's complaint led to Violet Blue canceling her talk. I appreciate the sensitivity of the matter. But this was the wrong call from the start.

BSidesSF ended on an unsettled note Monday, after a complaint led to a canceled talk. A lot of people were upset that a talk would be canceled after criticism from just one person. The talk was to be delivered by Violet Blue.

I don’t know Violet, though I do respect her for tackling taboo subjects and putting herself out there. For the unfamiliar, Violet Blue is a writer and podcaster specializing in sex education. I was surprised to see her on the BSidesSF agenda because it had nothing to do with security.

Her talk was described this way:

What drugs do to sexual performance, physiological reaction and pleasure is rarely discussed in – or out of – clinical or academic settings. Yet most people have sex under the influence of something (or many somethings) at some point in their lives. In this underground talk, Violet Blue shares what sex-positive doctors, nurses, MFT’s, clinic workers and crisis counselors have learned and compiled about the interactions of drugs and sex from over three decades of unofficial curriculum for use in peer-to-peer (and emergency) counseling. Whether you’re curious about the effects of caffeine or street drugs on sex, or are the kind of person that keeps your fuzzy handcuffs next to a copy of The Pocket Pharmacopeia, this overview will help you engineer your sex life in our chemical soaked world. Or, it’ll at least give you great party conversation fodder.

Someone apparently complained loudly. As a result, Blue canceled her talk.  Here’s the message that appeared on the BSidesSF site this evening:

I just want to do a quick recap of whats been said on twitter about the situation. I was approached by @vaurora (@adainitiative) about the inappropriate and alienating nature of @violetblue’s talk that was scheduled at BSides SF. After listening to @vaurora’s concerns, I brought them up with @violetblue and she graciously offered to not speak in the interest of mitigating any unnecessary drama and ill-will towards BSides SF. I then made the call to cancel the talk. I understand this is a very polarizing decision and many of you may be upset, for which I apologize. As an organizer of a conference, the last thing I want is to accept a talk only to later have it pulled. Given the situation at that time, it seemed like the correct call to make. If you have any feedback for me, please @-me on twitter or send me an email and I will do my best to address your concerns. –@verbal,

The organizers never should have put her on the agenda in the first place.

As I said, I have no issues with Violet Blue and her chosen topics. But this talk was billed as the stuff of “party conversation fodder.” I’m all for having fun, but I’m also a purist in that I believe a security event should have an agenda that stays on topic.

Yesterday, I wrote a post defending BSidesSF after someone suggested it was time for the event to “grow up.” I argued that it’s healthy to have events as different as B-Sides and RSA in the same week, that there’s a useful balance to the whole thing.

That doesn’t mean I support every decision organizers make. In this case, their blunder was big.

My advice for the future: If you’re going to put on a security event, make sure the talks fit the topic. If you add sex for entertainment value, you’re doing it wrong.