Inclusivity in Amateur Radio

Recently, my ARRL membership was up for renewal. I thought about it for a long time, and finally decided to renew so that I could have a (very small) voice in the way the League is operating these days. There have been many recent criticisms of the ARRL. The one that I have chosen to focus on is the League’s lack of commitment to making amateur radio more welcoming and inclusive for diverse individuals. In this aspect, I think the ARRL has been failing miserably. From photographs of a seemingly monocultural leadership and membership, to a lack of discussion about who engages in the hobby, the League is far behind the curve when it comes to understanding society and who our amateur operators are. Consequently, many places in ham radio remain unwelcoming to a large number of talented, well-meaning, and genuinely good people.

I wrote this open letter to the ARRL from my own position of privilege and the associated power that comes with being a cis-gender, heterosexual white male in our society. I have decided that my directive in life is to use my power and privilege to advance those voices who are marginalized or who have been historically minoritized by society. I do this in my professional life, and I think it is important to do this in our hobby if we are to flourish and grow. Indeed, I believe we must make the hobby more inclusive to avoid becoming irrelevant.

I sent the following letter (co-signed by 44 fellow amateur operators) to a group of leaders at the ARRL. Please have a read to learn my main talking points.

I received the following response from ARRL CEO David Minster. To date, I have not received responses from any of the other recipients of my letter.

So it would seem that the League views developing welcoming and inclusive environments as “political” and will make no such statement. And it seems that they are a bit defensive about this (“the staff is diverse”). Notably, there was no response to my suggestion that the League elevate diverse voices by appointing diverse folks to leadership positions. That non-response speaks volumes, I think.

The work of making spaces welcoming and inclusive is only seen as political if one politicizes it because they disagree with the position or are threatened by the potential outcomes. Human dignity is not political. I see dignity as Kant wrote about it. Dignity is afforded to every individual based on their rational autonomy. But I suspect that a philosophical treatise on dignity will do very little to advance this position within the League. 

Of course, many inferences can be drawn from this limited response. But I will assert that if the ARRL does not embrace and welcome all of the creative, diverse, and active amateur operators into the hobby by foregrounding their work, we all suffer from the technical debt due to the lack of inclusion. And our hobby is at risk of becoming completely fractured and irrelevant.
Let’s keep this conversation going. I know that I will do so! Please feel free to reach me on Mastodon

Addendum: Reply to the ARRL Response

I replied to the ARRL’s response with this:

Update: some thoughts on commenting

I’m happy that so many people are engaging with this post and talking about the issue. If you’ve left a comment but it has not been accepted, then you either a) engaged in name calling and/or use of profanity, or b) launched an ad hominem attack against me because you don’t agree with my position. I am more than happy to accept comments from those who disagree, and to have a discussion. But I will not give voice to those who engage in either of the above practices.

And for every disagreeing or combative comment I have received, I have received at least 4 or 5 comments in support of this letter. So that is a pretty good ratio! Though it is telling that many of those supportive commenters have reached out to me privately because they don’t feel safe voicing their support publicly. But that’s why folks like me need to speak up. Have a great day!






18 responses to “Inclusivity in Amateur Radio”

  1. Bill Carter Avatar
    Bill Carter

    What is cis-gender? I see no reason for this letter. The League is not keeping anyone out.

    1. Bud Talbot Avatar
      Bud Talbot

      Thanks for reading! Cis-gender means that my gender identity (male) is the same as the gender I was assigned at birth (also male). I think if you read the letter again, you will see that I am not claiming that the League is keeping people out. I’m arguing that they need to do more to bring people in. That’s a big difference. Have a nice day!

    2. Scott (KF0FPJ) Avatar
      Scott (KF0FPJ)

      I see no purpose in any of this. I do not want to read about people because they are different. I want to read articles and see posts about people that can explain radio theory how to actually do something that is relevant to radio not gender or what they do in their private lives. I look to promote radio and communication not identity. Quit being sorry for who you were born to be and just treat everyone with respect. I treat everyone with dignity and kindness and dare I say that I am 60 year old white male. Who would have thought? By the way I will not hire a person based on who they are or who they think they want to change into. I hire based on ABILITY. That is the way it should be. I also see plenty of articles that show numerous ethnicities and I enjoy all articles that don’t push an agenda other than radio.

      1. Bud Talbot Avatar
        Bud Talbot

        Thanks for reading, Scott! I’m glad you treat everyone with dignity and kindness. As such a person, you will know that there is no “agenda” here other than being a good human being who welcomes others into their hobby. Have a great day!

  2. David WB4ONA Avatar
    David WB4ONA

    Push your politics somewhere else. Anyone is welcome to join the amateur radio community in the U.S. at any time. 1) Learn what is required by law to operate properly, 2) prove your knowledge by taking and passing the test – that’s it, done. Notice, there is no mention of race, gender, or sexual preference. That is because all are welcome, there are no barriers, other than passing the test of-course.

    1. Bud Talbot Avatar
      Bud Talbot

      Hi David thanks for reading. My thoughts and the letter are not political. Issues of equity and fairness are basic human dignity, not politics. These things only become politicized by those who are threatened in some way. Have a good day!

  3. Paul Avatar

    If you have a good idea, I want to hear it regardless of your lifestyle. I can disagree with your lifestyle and still glean something from your creativity. Too bad there are rude, crude ops out there. They are not the majority. Most hams I know don’t tolerate that behavior. We should all be working to give voice to everyone. Individual hams with a level head will dictate the future, not ARRL proclamations.

    1. Bud Talbot Avatar
      Bud Talbot

      Hi Paul thanks for reading. I agree that the majority of hams are good people, and that’s why I think that all of us (and the League) need to stand up and give voice to the good people, while denouncing the
      “rude, crude ops.” This will make the hobby a more welcoming place for everyone with good ideas and a kind heart. Have a nice day!

  4. Onno VK6FLAB Avatar

    I’m an amateur from Australia and the topic of your post and letter is one that I’ve regularly discussed in my weekly podcast.

    I’ve fielded many responses across the spectrum, form the I’ll informed to the outright hostile at one end of the spectrum through to those who were victimised and ostracised by their amateur community.

    I’ve seen several diverse members making marvelous contributions to our hobby bow out due to the 1950’s era vitriol levelled at them across all platforms, email, postal and social media as well as online stalking and on air abuse.

    In my opinion the only way forward is to keep calling it out and highlighting the abuse each time it rears its ugly head, because hitting delete or changing the dial does nothing to educate the community and alter behaviour, if anything it embolens the bullies and weakens the victim.

    Keep it up!

    de Onno VK6FLAB

    1. Bud Talbot Avatar
      Bud Talbot

      Thanks for reading, Onno! I appreciate your perspective and experiences as a ham operator in Australia. And yes, I also feel that we need to keep calling it out and helping to educate people, lest the hateful few feel emboldened. Well said. Have a great day!

  5. Justin Avatar

    As long as I’ve been an amateur radio operator I have never came out and told anyone about my sexual preferences, my political stance, or even my skin color. Those things have zero to do with radio operations and should not be brought to the fore front and if they are it is for political reasons. The league nor any other amateur radio group should be putting people into positions to represent anything other then amateur radio and doing so is in fact being political. I love amateur radio and do not wish to see it being divided by this and it would be a major issue if people are forced to decide one way or the other or to change their beliefs.

    1. Bud Talbot Avatar
      Bud Talbot

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Justin. As I stated in response to another commenter, issues of fairness, equity and inclusion are not political unless someone makes them so, often because they feel threatened. Diverse people bring different perspectives to the hobby, and we are all richer for it. No one is asking you or anyone else to tell us your positionality, either. The issue is that not all people feel welcome or safe in our awesome hobby because they are marginalized by people who create a hostile atmosphere. You don’t have to look far or listen to very much radio to see this. And I think the ARRL could help make the hobby more inclusive if they wanted to. Have a nice day!

  6. Jim KX0U Avatar

    I’m firmly on both sides of this. The fact is that “the perceived dominant demographic of the ARRL” is the status quo of the US Amateur Radio community. We’re overwhelmingly old white guys, too many of whom struggle with concepts like inclusiveness or even tolerance. I’ve personally known of a number of people with much to offer who’ve avoided or left the mainstream of Amateur Radio activities because of discovering that their acceptance, let alone inclusion, is dismally absent. It’s a huge problem.

    What I’m not prepared to accept is the notion that the ARRL is the villain here. Granted, they *could* make inclusion a primary priority, and tell the members who aren’t impressed to take a hike. Or, they could simply state that inclusion is important, and conduct affairs without any hint of bias in favor of the Amateur Radio community mainstream. So far as I can tell, they’ve pretty much done the latter. I see no evidence that the ARRL is going around favoring the perceived dominant demographic, nor marginalizing others. If they decided to prefer focusing their spotlight away from the perceived dominant demographic in favor of those who are more diverse, I wouldn’t have any objection to that. On the other hand, if their decisions focus on other issues, if their focus is on the vast array of topics and challenges that we can all relate to, and if their involvement in promoting inclusiveness is simply to never be guilty of excluding anyone regardless of whatever categories might apply to them, then that doesn’t make them the problem. The ARRL has a ton of options to choose from when it comes to focusing their limited resources. There are any number of things I wouldn’t mind seeing them devote more attention to, but there is only so much to go around.

    The entire Amateur Radio community bears the burden of improving inclusiveness, and will pay the price for any failure to live up to the obligation to do so. If we create a more diverse Amateur Radio community, it will be reflected in what we see through the lens of the ARRL. If I ever perceive the ARRL to be holding us back by in even the slightest way suggesting that the Amateur Radio community is, or should be, any less diverse than it is, I’ll be more shocked, horrified, and disappointed by that atrocity than everything else the ARRL has ever disappointed me with, combined. As things stand, I’m not disappointed with anything I’ve seen from the ARRL regarding inclusiveness. This is true in spite of the fact that I’m gravely disappointed with the Amateur Radio community as a whole, because it is we, collectively, who are, on average, far from forward thinking, socially.

    1. Bud Talbot Avatar
      Bud Talbot

      Thanks for sharing these great thoughts, Jim. I do agree that it is all of our responsibility to make the hobby more inclusive. And I don’t think the ARRL has done anything to exclude anyone or keep anyone out. I hope that was clear in the letter. But I do think they could do more. I understand it is a tricky position for the League, but as our representative association and our face to the public and to many new amateur operators, they have the power to make the hobby more welcoming in a way that individual hams do not. Take for example the ARRL’s continual focus on recruiting young people into radio. Young people in America today and not the demographic they were when we were young. So focusing on youth without also addressing diversity and inclusion is a diminishing game. And really, I think that the League knows this but doesn’t have a strategy for addressing inclusion, perhaps because they are worried about it being “political.”

      Thanks again for taking time to comment and share your thoughts. Much appreciated. 73

  7. Tom Salzer Avatar

    I appreciate your willingness to speak up on DEI. I’m pasting below something I wrote to the 500 members of my statewide association (not radio) on this topic. The TL;DR is the term DEI can be divisive, so let’s use different terms that don’t have the same emotive content.

    — begin paste —

    As a term, DEI has often been divisive (ironic when you consider that the goal of DEI work is to bring people together). It is a label that means different things to different people. When we don’t share a common understanding of what something means, how can we have a productive conversation about what it is and whether it is meaningful or useful in our conservation work? If a label is hurtful and gets in the way of effective communications, perhaps we shouldn’t use it. I suggest we shift to using other terms instead of DEI.

    I like the word fairness. We can talk about whether our programs and processes are fair to other people and to us.

    I like the word engagement. That gives us license to talk about who is present and how we can help others be present and involved.

    I like the word accessibility. This word opens the door to conversation about what we can do to help all people participate in our meetings and events. Sometimes barriers are not visible or are unknown to us, but they are very real to the people living with them.

    I like the word belonging. Working on helping people know they belong demonstrates respect for each person present. It is a welcoming word that can help people feel free to speak and contribute.

    These words drive to the heart of what some people mean when they talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion. I think if we try using words that speak to deeper, more fundamental intentions, this will change not only how our conversations go, but also who chooses to participate in them.

    1. Bud Talbot Avatar
      Bud Talbot

      Thanks for sharing this, Tom. Yes, I think words and terms really matter, especially when they become weaponized or politicized by others. But you are right – it would be hard to argue against fairness, engagement, accessibility, and belonging. I am ever hopeful that there is a path forward and that we can make the hobby space more fair and welcoming for amateur operators. I’m glad you are having these conversations in another association.

  8. Mark Edwards - W0QL Avatar

    Kudos to you, Bud, for raising awareness of an issue that very much concerns the future of ham radio.

    1. Bud Talbot Avatar
      Bud Talbot

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Mark!

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