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ICANN 53 launches with risky Caitlyn Jenner joke

Kevin Murphy, June 22, 2015, 12:29:42 (UTC), Domain Policy

ICANN has risked the ire of community members by kicking off ICANN 53 today with a joke referencing transgender celebrity Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner.
Just moments into his opening address this hour, ICANN chair Steve Crocker worked a joke around before/after photos of the former athlete.
[UPDATE: Crocker has issued an apology. See the bottom of this post.]
This is what Crocker said:

What are we really talking about here? What is this thing we call “the transition”? And why has it captivated the attention of so many?
[Jenner photo appears]
Ahhh, no. That’s not quite the transition that I’m referring to. I’m only referring to the IANA stewardship transition.

Reaction from attendees was mixed.
The joke got laughter from the room.
On Twitter, some were less amused.

I’ll be the first to leap to the defense of the joke.
I laughed. I don’t think it was offensive or insulting to Jenner or to trans people in general — it was more a joke about celebrity culture — and I don’t think any offense was intended.
If I had seen it on TV, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. I even made a joke about Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover, on Twitter, a couple weeks back.
But a lot of ICANN regulars are more sensitive about this kind of thing. I’ve had conversations with people who believe it was highly inappropriate for CEO Fadi Chehade to congratulate a participant, from the stage during a previous meeting, on her visible pregnancy.
For ICANN’s chairman to make a joke about a transgender person’s transition at the opening ceremony of a major meeting? That’s a misjudgment, in my view.
ICANN, recall, has recently been bombarded with letters from equal rights groups over the decision by the Economist Intelligence Unit to reject a .gay gTLD applicant’s Community Priority Evaluation.
EIU based its decision in large part on the fact that the proposed .gay community included transgender and intersex people, which the EIU said were not encapsulated by the string “gay”.
ICANN has expected standards of behavior for its meetings that cover such things as sexism and homophobia.
UPDATE: Crocker issued the following statement on ICANN’s Facebook account:

I understand that I may have inadvertently offended some during my speech at this morning’s welcome session with a reference to Caitlyn Jenner, which was intended as a salute. It opened up an important dialog that is consistent with our principles.
Please know that I view Caitlyn’s decision to be heroic and brave. I made this reference solely because of the world attention on a transition and it was not intended in any way, shape or form to be a criticism of her heroic decision. I was in no way making light or poking fun at her transition, but rather playing on the world attention on a “transition.” I apologize if my comments were perceived in a different manner than I intended them.
Dr. Stephen Crocker
ICANN Board Chair

Photo credit: James Bladel.

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Comments (4)

  1. Acro says:

    Wouldn’t that be ‘risque’ vs. risky?

  2. Jake says:

    For a global organization that now supports nTLDs of every type of topic including gay and lgbt the joke is in poor taste.
    Not to say the guy needs to be canned over it or anything, but still a pretty poor move on part of an organization that should know better.

  3. Acro says:

    While a person’s decision to ‘transition’ is their rightful choice, the choice of a celebrity to bring endless attention to their personal decision surely can’t be described as ‘heroic’. Let’s not use words that should be reserved for heroes, such as fire-fighters, the military or anyone whose acts of selflessness helped others without seeking retribution. Therefore, double faux pas by Dr. Crocker.

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