Libreboot left the GNU project on 15 September 2016

UPDATE: GNU and FSF decide that libreboot is still a GNU project, against the wishes of the Libreboot project. - After 4 months, RMS finally honoured our decision and formally announced that libreboot is no longer a GNU project

What happened

A transgender employee at the FSF was being bullied by a transphobic employee. When the transgender employee filed a complaint, they were fired because the complaint was seen as troublemaking. A transgender person standing up for their rights in the workplace was seen as hostile. A transgender person is someone whose internal gender identity (in their brain) is different to the one they were assigned at birth. This mismatch can cause many transgender people to become extremely depressed, even suicidal. Many who are like this seek to transition to their real gender, and in many places (including USA) are subject to harsh treatment. Many end up being homeless, even if they are highly skilled, because they are fired from their job as a result of discrimination, or they are not hired for the same reason. They also regularly face abandonment by family and friends, in addition to being turned down from housing opportunities by transphobic landlords who turn them away. Transgender people are among some of the most vulnerable people on earth, particularly trans women. Transgender people are more likely to commit suicide than almost any other group of people, precisely because of how hostile the world is to trans people.

It didn't seem to even matter to them that the individual in question had worked hard for the FSF and been an extremely knowledgeable and reliable person for the organisation - and a huge supporter - for many years.

Leah Rowe, libreboot's main developer and founder, is a transgender woman herself, and several transgender people have contributed to the libreboot project. What the FSF has done is truly disgusting, so Libreboot voluntarily left the GNU project in protest. GNU is funded in large part by the Free Software Foundation. We will not name the person who was fired, for their privacy and safety.

The libreboot project will not stand by idly, while such an injustice is permitted to occur at the FSF. That's why libreboot has left the GNU project. We must not tolerate anything like this at the FSF, an organisation which has historically been extremely open to minorities and embracing of diversity generally.

The FSF lied, in response to libreboot's allegations

The FSF issued this public statement. They don't mention the issues being raised at all, while outright denying the allegations. This is to be expected, afterall. They then wish their former employee the best of luck.

The individual in question had donated countless hours to keep the FSF running, with years of expertise and absolute passion for the work. To the FSF, this didn't matter at all.


The FSF ought to have a lawsuit on its hands. What they have done is actually illegal in Boston, MA, where they operate. Unfortunately, the individual who was discriminated against has decided to remain hidden, which is why they are not mentioned by name.

The following people should either resign and/or be fired from the FSF, to be replaced by other people:

Statement from Joshua Gay, former FSF employee

Joshua is not the trans person that was fired, but left the FSF shortly before the event occured. Joshua was the person at the FSF in charge of reviewing hardware for Respects Your Freedom hardware certification. Joshua was closely involved with other staff members at the FSF and witnessed what was going on

This is based on private IRC conversations with Joshua, during the incident.

Joshua, who also left the FSF, said it's unsettling that this was permitted to go on, having been aware of the disputes between the fired trans person and Stephen Mahood, the transphobic bully. He agreed with Leah that Stephen is transphobic, and had been aware of Stephen bullying the fired trans person after discovering (somehow) that they were trans. Types of abuses included humiliating the trans person during work hours, consorting with other employees to try and find their old name, misgendering them, saying bad things about them to management, etc, until they were fired. He said: In most organisations, there are ways to mediate disputes. At the FSF, there is no middle management, no HR and the board of directors more or less only communicates with the executive director. Individual staff members are never consulted about anything. There is little or no oversight of employee morale by the board of directors; instead, employees are left on their own to manage everything. The fight between Stephen and the trans person who was fired had been going on for a long time, before John Sullivan finally looked into it, months too late. This sort of mismanagement is unacceptable at an organisation like the FSF. In most organisations, there are ways to handle situations like this and prevent them from happening. Stephen is toxic to the FSF and extremely negative. Why doesn't the FSF keep a closer eye on its own internal affairs, especially relations between staff members? Why does the FSF not have a department for managing disputes?

The trans person who was fired had also found an old HR record from the FSF, regarding another transgender person who was not hired at the FSF, because according to the FSF, they looked weird in their job interview. This must have been someone who was early in their transition and therefore didn't pass well in their desired gender role. Transphobic and sexist discrimination at the FSF is rampant, and has existed long before Stephen Mahood, John Sullivan and Ruben Rodriguez joined the organisations; in other words, those three people are merely as bad as those who came before them, in this regard. The FSF has long had issues internally with equality issues, regardless of safe space policies that they have at their conferences.

The FSF needs better policies for its staff, to prevent situations like this in the future, and that needs to be something that is discussed by the board of directors. It is completely unacceptable that situations like this are permitted to occur, even more so that policies in place to protect transgender people are not enforced within the organisation.

Statement from anonymous individual, also former FSF employee

Another person contacted Leah Rowe after the announcement to leave GNU, and that person witnessed the same abusive behavioural patterns from Stephen Mahood, but before Stephen was employed at the FSF. It was nonetheless the same kind of abuse. This person will not be named, and no specific events will be mentioned, for their protection. We will not publish any statement of theirs without their permission, so we will say nothing more.

Until all three of these people are expelled from the organisation and - more importantly - the organisation improves so that this is no longer a problem in the future, then we recommend the following actions by the public:

Libreboot has left the GNU project, and will probably never re-join. We will consider whether to re-open communications with the FSF, if and when the organisation resolves this blatant corruption. Leah Rowe demands that both FSF and GNU formally announce that Libreboot is no longer a GNU project, while revoking her FSF membership. She will no longer be donating to the FSF; Leah had donated $6120 USD to the organisation since 2015, before making this announcement.

Community reaction, and our response

Women are taken far less seriously, especially trans women, so it's only natural that everywhere all over the internet, people are demanding evidence, while others now regard Leah Rowe (the person who blew the whistle on the FSF's discrimination) as childish or unprofessional. This is highly disappointing, but it is not unexpected.

The libreboot project will stand firm, regardless. This kind of injustice at the Free Software Foundation must never be tolerated. To those in the FSF who are responsible: this issue will not go away.

It took the GNU project 4 months to finally honour Libreboot's decisions, but on 5 January 2017, RMS formally acknowledged it - his reasoning is flawed. They should have immediately honoured Libreboot's decision to leave GNU, but instead they arrogantly resisted it for months, and the only reason they gave up was because they realized that all of Libreboot's core developers were OK with leaving GNU and still preferred to work with Leah Rowe. This page explains why no project should ever join GNU.

Leah Rowe is not a hero, and she did a terrible thing

This is a personal statement from Leah Rowe. Leaving GNU was the correct decision. The Free Software Foundation really did fire a trans person for discriminatory reasons, and they really are guilty here. They do not deserve libreboot to be a member of their community, and the FSF deserves every bit of negative publicity and public shaming that they received. However, there is something that I need to publicly confess to the community, because my own conscience is not clean at all in any of this.

I accidentally made several mistakes which ended up outing the trans person that was fired. This person was stealth, which meant that they did not want to be outed. I have potentially cost them opportunities for a new job, in the process of exposing what the FSF did.

For this, I'm deeply sorry. I screwed up, big time, and I don't deserve to be praised as much as I was, even if I otherwise did the right thing in exposing the Free Software Foundation for their corruption of social justice.

I lost 2 friends, when I made this announcement. And I deserved to lose them. One of them was the person who was fired, and the other was friends with both me and that person. These people were the 2 people who I first came out as transgender to, before anyone else, and they helped me a lot during my early transition, when I was unstable. The trans person who was fired, I had already lost as a friend, and was deeply upset at the time. I had started to say nasty things to this person, over a disagreement, which was also my fault. I thought that exposing the FSF for their discriminatory practises would redeem me and possibly make that person be my friend again. Basically, I was trying to be supportive, but I ended up making things potentially much worse for that person in the process. I'm not a hero at all. I apologise to all of those in the community who congratulated for my "courage" after the announcement, because the truth is that I'm a coward. I was hiding behind a wall of false heroism. I'm actually a terrible person, and I did something terrible.

To my 2 friends (who I will not name), I apologise. You are both wonderful people, and I really hope you both thrive in life. You both deserve to be happy, and I wish you both well. I still regard both of you as friends, and still think fondly of both of you, even if I don't deserve either of you as friends.

This is my only regret.

Leah Rowe does not work for the FSF, and never has

This is a personal statement from Leah Rowe: I've seen some weird posts all over reddit and elsewhere that showed people were looking for pictures of me, for some reason. Normally I wouldn't care. Reddit and 4chan are not exactly serious websites in my opinion. Nonetheless, it does annoy me a lot to see a photo of the FSF staff #1 on google image search when I search my name, so I would like to share with the community an actual photo of me:

Back to home page

The source code for this page is available from a git repository.