When Andreas asked me if I was interested in writing for 24 Days in December, I took a few days to get back to him because I was caught up in organising a slightly different community event: the first ever Swiss Trans*Code hackday. Getting this up and running has been the high point of my year and I thought I would write about why.

Trans*Code Switzerland logo

What is Trans*Code?

Trans*Code is a series of hack events started in the UK in 2015, to draw attention to issues that affect the transgender and nonbinary community, and to come up with solutions and opportunities together. (Nonbinary people are those who — like me — have genders that fall outside the male/female binary.) Cisgender allies are welcome to participate, as are designers, ideators, programmers and non-programmers.

There are a few reasons why a hackday for trans people is important. First of all, the trans community suffers from much higher than average unemployment and homelessness, as well as health problems and poverty, due to discrimination. There is more information about this on the page of Trans*H4CK, the American inspiration for Trans*Code. Welcoming people in this situation into tech, and helping them develop technical skills, does something concrete to improve their prospects.

Secondly, of course, the projects people hack on during these events are things that the trans community wants and needs. Past projects include a voice-training web app, a trans clothing exchange, and a mobile app for Twilight People, a project about trans* people of faith.

For me, possibly the most important aspect of Trans*Code is the community building it aims for. As an immigrant to Switzerland, where I speak the language but not confidently, it took me a while to find friends — and it’s taken me till this year to really start making trans connections, which I’ve really missed. When you’re in a minority group, it’s a wonderful and very necessary feeling to be around people who share your experiences. (Even though my favourite thing about the trans community is that we are all so very different.)

Organising my very first event

I’d seen tweets about Trans*Code since its beginning, but there was no way I could attend one in the UK. When I met Naomi Ceder, one of the cofounders, at PyCon this year, I asked her if it would be possible to start Trans*Code Switzerland, and then immediately sort of regretted it! There was no way I could arrange an event like this myself, right? It would involve getting sponsorship, talking to vendors for food and drink, doing lots of advertising and somehow trying to drum up word of mouth. All at once I remembered how disorganised and introverted I can be.

In an amazing stroke of luck, however, Naomi had also been approached by another Z├╝rich-based programmer about holding Trans*Code events over here. She put me and Arielle Albon in touch and we quickly decided we could work together.

Setting up our website, a Twitter account and ticket booking for the event was easy. My employer, Liip, sponsored the venue (thank you!). Other tasks were harder, as I’d expected: when it was time to actually tweet and publicise the hackday, I suddenly became incredibly shy. It was a huge help to have a co-organiser. Meeting up in person every couple of weeks helped make sure that we were making progress with what needed to be done, and together we came up with ideas that neither of us had on our own.

The event itself

The week before the inaugural Trans*Code Switzerland, Arielle and I were both pretty nervous. We hadn’t managed to get a particular sponsorship that would have been useful, and the stickers I’d ordered had not arrived. We weren’t sure how many people would actually show up at 9am on a Saturday, either!

In the end there were about ten of us, which meant we could all sit around a big table together and work on several different projects. We had enough power adaptors and croissants for everyone, no one minded about the stickers, and most importantly, someone in the office had found a fancy coffee machine hidden in a cupboard for us to use.

Attendees at the Trans*Code Switzerland event
Attendees at the Trans*Code Switzerland event

Some of us worked on collecting gender-neutral toilet locations from Open Street Map to add it to Refuge Restrooms, while another group researched trans-friendly holiday destinations. A third team decided to build a tool to find — or create — non-gendered names for nonbinary people. At the end of the day we videoconferenced with Naomi and the group who’d come to the first-ever American Trans*Code, in Chicago. Excitingly, a team there took up the nonbinary name generator and worked to improve it further.

In short, our hackday was a success and we are already planning the next one!

What’s this got to do with PHP?

You might have noticed that I’m writing on a blog about the PHP community, but this story started out when I went to PyCon and met Naomi, who’s on the PSF Board. Where’s the connection?

Well, one connection is me. Like quite a few readers here, I’ll bet, I code in other languages as well as PHP, but I’m still a member of the PHPamily and proud collector of elePHPants. It was with PHP that I first discovered the friendship and opportunities for learning that can be found in a programming community, and I’ve been directly helped by diversity initiatives here: last year, PHP Women sponsored me to attend Lone Star PHP, where I learned a lot. (Yes, I’m nonbinary, but PHP Women is inclusive and here for all minority groups in PHP.) PHP Women, and especially Michelle Sanver, are a huge inspiration for me in encouraging diversity in technology.

Another link between PHP and Trans*Code is that PHP is traditionally a very accessible first language. How many of us first got our start in PHP building a website in our bedroom or altering a WordPress theme? This makes it an attractive potential first step into tech for marginalised people, including trans people. That’s why, I think, there’s an overlap in audience for Trans*Code and 24 Days in December.

Setting up and running the first Trans*Code Switzerland has been a great experience for me. Now we’ve got the momentum, I really hope we can keep it up through 2017, and I would love to get more PHP people to join in too.