“I Rebel”: How Wookieepedia Became a Human Rights Battleground

Patty & Agent Porg

Understanding is honoring the truth beneath the surface. -Mercy Mission 

For many years, war has been bubbling beneath the surface of a titan of our community. Wookieepedia is a bastion of Star Wars knowledge, a near one-stop shop that covers everything from the movies, to merchandise, to Legends, to the people who help make the universe we all hold dear. For many, Wookieepedia is one of the first sites that pops up when they go exploring their questions about the Galaxy Far, Far Away. The editors and administrators who keep the behemoth running work for free, bound together by their love of Star Wars and the knowledge that can be found within the galaxy and within our own. It is entirely within reason that many are not aware of the inner workings of Wookieepedia. Before this all began to unfold on the wider networks of social media, I also had little knowledge on the operating of the Wook. It just… worked? Like other wikis, the Wook is maintained and updated by a series of volunteers of various levels. Behind the screen, just like in front of it, there is a very human element. This entire story is about those humans. Behind the screen there is a very human element, just as there is in front of the screen. This story is about the humans behind and in front of those screens.

In the week of March 16th, 2021, “Amendment to naming policy for real-world transgender individuals” was proposed in the Wookieepedia Consensus Thread forums. The amendment, what led to it, its formation, and what occurred after it has been a tangled web of people, bigotry, social media, miscommunication, and Wooks who strove to encourage the improvement of the site.

Deadnaming, the very real harm it causes, and the perpetuating of it is the crux of this issue. This term might be new for some readers. Merriam-Webster defines deadnaming as “the name that a transgender person was given at birth and no longer uses upon transitioning.” This is accurate but does not convey the true nature of the issue. As with many definitions, it contains the denotation but not the connotation—it is technically correct without encapsulating the entirety of the answer. 

Names contain who we are, and are an intrinsic part of our identity within ourselves and to the world around us. Names have power, both to heal and to harm. To have a name that reflects that and feels right in the way that only your name can is an affirming, positive experience. Having that disregarded is having someone disregard your very identity and that which makes you, you. This harm, which can be active or unintentional on the behalf of the person causing harm, is a microaggression that builds up against a person. 

Microaggression: a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group -Merriam-Webster

Project Stardust, in its pursuit of the light, wanted to make sure there was a record of how everything unfolded in as accurate a picture as possible, so that we can see each success, each misstep, each hero, each villain, and those who fall between. This story is long, tangled, and we will do our best to present it to you as clearly as possible. To set our scene, we must go back to before 2021.

The Edits Policy

The search for truth begins with belief -A Distant Echo

Robin Pronovost is an artist who has entwined their skill with our beloved Galaxy Far, Far Away. Their work has been seen throughout Topps cards, articles on Hyperspace, and how-to-draw guides for the younglings (and perhaps older too) among us. With contributions throughout the galaxy, they had a Wookieepedia article about them that informed people of their work. On February 12th, 2020, Robin requested that their name be presented correctly, with their deadname removed. At the time, this request was partially respected. Robin’s page was renamed; however, the deadname remained in the text of the article. 

As with many situations in 2020, the issues that had begun before only became inflamed. Author Daniel M. Lavery had a Wookieepedia page created for him in 2018 as author of the short story “An Incident Report” in the 2017 anthology From a Certain Point of View. It was initially titled a combination of his first name, deadname, and his father’s last name. Administrator DarthRuiz30 moved the page to Lavery’s deadname, citing a naming policy. On February 20th, 2020, Editor Toqgers then moved the page back to its former name. DarthRuiz30 proceeded to deadname Lavery’s page again, sparking off an editing war between editors and administrators that would last throughout the year and into 2021.

The policy that DarthRuiz30 cited continually is that names would be presented on Wookieepedia as originally credited within Star Wars. In theory, this policy could be seen as a way to create cohesion in a world where pen names exist; for example, author Judy Blundell uses the pen name Jude Watson. In practice, it pointedly ignores the very real issue of transgender people and their identity. A deadname is not a pen name, never will be, and cannot be considered in any way or fashion the same or even similar. The policy has been updated, but the last bullet point on deadnaming at the time of the vote and prior did not exist.

Resisting Policy and Casting Votes

When surrounded by war, one must eventually choose a side. -Defenders of Peace

On March 15th, 2021, Editor Toqgers moved Lavery’s page back to Lavery’s correct name a final time, removing all use of Lavery’s deadname in the title. Editor Toqgers is a trans editor and one of the LGBTQIA+ members of Wookieepedia who has been working to make Wookieepedia a more inclusive place for fans across the galaxy. After years of pushback, and a year of trying to make sure Daniel M. Lavery was referred to by the correct name, Toqgers stood up and told Wookieepedia, “This Is A Rebellion, Isn’t It? I Rebel.” 

This is what led to the vote, known as “Amendment to naming policy for real-world transgender individuals,” being proposed in the Consensus Track forum. Why it came to a vote may be confusing still, but the vote is due to the way Wookieepedia is structured when it comes to rule and policy changes. 

Wookieepedia works as an extensive bureaucracy, with three top bureaucrats who at the time all this unfolded were Darth Culator, Toprawa and Ralltiir (also referred to as Tope), and Tommy-Macaroni. Below them are 10 administrators. Other Wooks are structured beneath these tiers as editors based on activity and contributions. Page creation, edits, and other contributions to Wookieepedia are dictated by a set of policies that are in place with the intent of creating editorial cohesion and accuracy. Policy changes can come from three places: 

  • A policy interpretation made by an administrator. Under the policy of Administrative Autonomy, the only way to reverse the decision of an individual admin is a group consensus from the rest of the administrative team.
  • Fandom (the parent company and thus owners of Wookieepedia) makes a declaration.
  • A vote created on the editor level that is then put to all editors in good status (editors with 50+ edits in the past six months prior to the opening of the vote) to see what the majority dictates. 

With the first two options having not helped in the situation, thus allowing it to be a constant battle of aggression with people’s identity as the battleground, Toqgers was left with the only option available to them. On March 16th, 2021, they submitted the vote to the forums. The way Wookieepedia’s forums are structured is that pages are not laid out in a linear fashion. For those who look into the forum pages themselves, there is a history that can be sorted by date to allow people to see what the page looked like on the date in question. [Editor’s Note: The history of this page shows Robin repeatedly being deadnamed. On the current page, these instances have been replaced with “(removed per request).”] 

When the vote was first presented, support was unanimous and appeared to be headed for a “curbstomp,” or a closure after five days if it achieved 20 support votes with no opposing votes; the vote accumulated 23:0 supporting votes in less than 13 hours. Then Toprawa spoke up. As part of his opposition post, Toprawa proceeded to deadname Robin Pronovost repeatedly. The main point of Toprawa’s post was that the deadnaming was necessary in order for SEO (Search Engine Optimization). If the site did not deadname, then it would lose out on clicks; even losing one single potential reader would be a “fundamental mistake.” This argument, the idea of denying humanity to someone for the sake of the algorithm, is one that triggered the cascade that was to follow. 

Locked Pages and Editor Pushbacks

Struggles often begin and end with the truth. -The Soft War

Several hours after Toprawa’s post rallied those against the amendment and prevented a curbstomp, forcing it to stay open for additional days and achieve a 2:1 ratio of support to oppose votes in order to pass, another article edit came through. This edit restored Robin’s deadname to their article with the edit reason as “SEO Research” in a misguided effort to show that the SEO reasoning being used was erroneous and that there would be no meaningful difference in web traffic. At this point, Robin reactivated their Wookieepedia account “Artyewok,” and used that to edit their correct name back and remove the “formerly known as” reference. Toprawa, who had not made the SEO edit, reverted the page with the reasoning that Robin was engaging in censorship by correcting their own name. Robin proceeded to remove their deadname again, providing the reasoning that human rights is not equivalent to censorship. Toprawa reverted the page again.

While the back-and-forth was going on, editor Immi Thrax was working on an expansion of Robin’s article, providing additional information on their work and career. This expansion also removed the deadname. Once the expansion was posted, Toprawa edited the page again to re-add the deadname. An anonymous editor came in to remove the deadname again, supporting Robin’s reasoning and in support of Robin’s human rights. It is at this point that Toprawa locked Robin Pronovost’s page under a policy called full protection. Full protection places a page in a state where only Wooks with administrative status can edit and only the administrator that placed the protection—in this case Toprawa—is permitted to remove it due to Administrative Autonomy. The reasoning given for the lock? Excessive Vandalism.

Note: Edits are listed in reverse order

In addition to locking the page, Toprawa contacted Immi Thrax on Discord in regards to her edits on Robin’s page. These messages included continuing to deadname Robin as well as threatening to block Immi Thrax for “disruption” if she removed anyone’s deadname.

The days following came with people reaching out to Wookieepedia and Fandom seeking a response, an answer, anything. On the day of the edits and page lock, Robin reached out to Wookieepedia publicly on Twitter

Sources have informed Project Stardust that behind the scenes, Fandom had been reaching out to individuals in regards to the vote. While most of these conversations were private and have not been shared to Project Stardust in their entirety, Robin Pronovost shared that they contacted Fandom on March 17th with their concerns and received a response on March 18th. Robin remained in talks with Fandom but did not speak publicly on the contact due to concerns over privacy and safety. 

On March 26th, 2021, an edit was made by Toprawa on Robin’s page, removing the deadname, with the following edit reason: “By Fandom censorship mandate and against Wookieepedia encyclopedic policy, removing actual credited name in Star Wars source material.” This edit leads to the assumption that Fandom had been reaching out to Toprawa in regards to this issue, specifically on the editing and locking of Robin’s page.

Robin responded on Twitter to the edit, with Ewok related self-care.

Credit: Robin Pronovost

Public Outcry

Disobedience is a demand for change. -Tipping Points

On March 27th, 2021, Twitter user @eleventhirtyate put out a call to arms on Twitter to rally editors to the vote, which had moved away from being unanimous after Toprawa’s involvement in bringing up the argument of SEO.

Several Wook editors retweeted this, boosting the signal to inform people of the vote and suggest additional ways to reach the site’s active standard. Due to the complexity of the voting policy, those who wished to vote needed to have an active status prior to the vote. Because activity was tied to a timeframe within the last six months, this led to issues such as Wooks not being able to vote despite having a history of hundreds or thousands of prior edits but not 50 within the last six months.

After retweeting the initial tweet, Immi Thrax added additional suggestions of ways editors could contribute to the site’s LGBTQIA+ representation. Several hours after this retweet, Immi Thrax received another Discord message from Toprawa. The message was deleted before a screenshot could be taken, however Immi Thrax reached out to other members of the administrative team to inform them of Toprawa’s continued threats to her.

Within the hour, she and three additional editors who had retweeted were blocked for one month, and @eleventhirtyate’s Wook account (CooperTFN) received a permanent ban. The four retweeting editors were given one month blocks initiated by Toprawa under the Wookieepedia policy of meatpuppetry. Meatpuppetry is under the sockpuppetry policy, which is broadly outlined to prevent users from creating multiple accounts. Meatpupperty itself is found under the ballot stuffing clause, and reads: “Alternatively, users may try to recruit friends from other websites in order to help them support a particular position. This practice is commonly known as meatpuppetry and is similarly prohibited on Wookieepedia.” These blocks were issued under an interpretation of the policy that retweets on a separate platform (Twitter) count under as recruiting friends from other websites to influence Wookieepedia. Under the policy of Administrative Autonomy, this interpretation could only be overturned by a group consensus of administrators. 

To some, this interpretation had strains of retaliation. As mentioned previously, Immi Thrax had been involved in the lead-up to Toprawa locking Robin’s page. She also was involved in writing supporting arguments on the vote to encourage other Wooks to vote yes. Her inclusion in the bans due to a retweet on the vote relating to that issue does lead to some thoughts of connection. There is no public evidence currently that the Wookieepedia administrative group was proactively blocking those who were voting in support of the initiative. Those in support of the policy change were, of course, more likely to have tweeted out in support of voting yes. 

Wookieepedia is not the only wiki that is under the purview of Fandom. In fact, there are many other wikis in the community. What began on Wookieepedia quickly began to influence other wikis. The Transformers Wiki issued a statement in support of the policy amendment.

Screenshot includes the updated statement after Fandom stepped in

In addition to other wikis, the issue was brought up by other creators within Star Wars. E.K. Johnston joined in, questioning why the vote was happening and retweeting additional ways people could edit on Wookieepedia to become active editors. This included speaking out on a separate issue within Wookieepedia—that as terms like “queer” and “LGBTQIA+” are not used in-universe in Star Wars, some users argued that a category could not be created in order to highlight relevant characters. 

With additional voices and the call to arms letting people know about the vote, a flood of users turned to Wookieepedia’s forums to engage in the vote. Twelve formerly-active editors returned for the vote, but these users did not meet the policy of an active editor (50+ edits within the last six months) which led to their votes being struck. A voter that was not registered for the site was also ineligible. While these votes were struck by admins within the rules of Wookieepedia’s voting process, these thirteen votes were in support of the policy change; it created the appearance of votes in support being struck without cause other than being in support. One editor each on both sides struck their own votes and did not re-vote, while two who had initially supported changed their votes to oppose after Toprawa’s intervention.

Those opposed to the policy change argued that those who were speaking out on social media, especially those spreading information on the vote itself, were unfairly influencing the vote. These included people using the guise of the vote being turned into a “political issue” as the reason for their dissent. Personhood, dignity, and respect are not political issues, but the lines were being drawn and anger was increasing. 

The vote was set to end on the 30th. That date, and the vote, ended up changing due to Fandom stepping in.

Fandom Makes Changes

Embrace others for their differences, for that makes you whole. -The Bad Batch

Fandom made its decision on March 29th, 2021. Prior to the announcement being made, there seems to have been no real communication about the action that Fandom would be taking, or if any action would be taken at all. After all, this vote had been up for nearly two weeks; Fandom had been publicly silent; and while there is some evidence of them reaching out to individuals, such as Toprawa’s edit note in regards to their “censorship”, none of that had made its way to statements on the vote.

The vote was nullified with an official statement from Tommy Quivy, Fandom’s Director of Community Safety. This statement declared the official policy that knowingly using the deadname in an article title is a violation of Fandom’s Terms of Use (highlighted in statement below). This is tied to an update made to Fandom’s terms of service last year to be more inclusive and supportive of the transgender community. With Fandom’s statement and the vote nullification, there was no further conversation to be had on the policy itself. 

The four editors that had received a month-long block and the editor that had received a permanent ban were reinstated by Fandom. Those blocked that Project Stardust spoke with were not contacted prior to their blocks being removed, instead learning through this statement that Fandom had overturned the previous blocks.

Emotions ran high after the statement. While Fandom had stepped in on behalf of those who were voting yes for the policy change, they had offered little public support and waited nearly two weeks to do so prior to this statement. It was support shown after people had spent weeks, months, or years fighting to have their very identities taken seriously. This led even those in support of the change to be displeased with Fandom. For those that were against the policy change, they believed that Fandom had overstepped its boundaries and was enforcing censorship (as seen in Toprawa’s edit to Robin’s page prior to the statement). Both sides were left with a feeling that Fandom was acting primarily for public relations reasons, and was not respectful of the site’s autonomy or looking to actually make right with those who had been harmed. Despite Fandom’s statement and Robin’s own many clearly expressed wishes regarding not using their deadname, Toprawa continued to resist allowing the full removal of deadnames and demanded further explanations.

Enter Wookieepedia’s Discord.

The Discord has a public channel, but other channels require being verified as having 50+ edits before being granted user rights. It is within these verified channels that Wooks on all sides of the issue began to vent their frustration with Fandom’s decision, seeming inaction, and how they went about the issue. An unidentified verified user took screenshots of these reactions and disseminated them. Without context to the screenshots, Twitter gave them a life of their own. Those that were in support of the policy but frustrated with Fandom now found themselves in the position of being accused of the very thing they had been fighting against. While Wooks took to Twitter to try and clarify, the tooka was already out of the bag and there was no catching it again. Harassment of Wookieepedia editors increased, including that of Toqgers who had taken the stance that their humanity and the humanity of others was more important than SEO or “accuracy” being used as weapons to continue hurting people knowingly or unknowingly.

With the vote having been nullified and policy unilaterally updated, Wooks were able to take a step back and evaluate what had happened, why this issue had perpetuated, and what had been the very human cost of these actions. Make no mistake, while this is a saga about policy, Twitter, votes, and Terms of Service, at its heart are very real people who have been put through very real pain. To ignore that is to ignore the entirety of the issue. This is not a problem of technicalities or pedantry. This is a problem of people not being treated as people, but instead as ideas detached from their very humanity. Misinformation spread and that meant misinformation about the very people fighting and trying to uphold that they too mattered.

Cleaning House

The challenge of hope is to overcome corruption. -Corruption

A resolution on one issue meant time for organizational introspection. This vote did not come out of nowhere. As we have explored, this particular issue had been brewing for a while. Causes ranged from simply not understanding to actual malevolence. Wooks were now left looking at one another and figuring out what to learn, how to move forward, and if there was a way to become better than they were. 

For some Wooks, the answer was simple. DarthRuiz30, the administrator who had gone back and forth on the edits of Daniel M. Lavery’s page, is one of those Wooks. DarthRuiz30 reached out to others in the community to educate themselves and put in the work to understand their community and why this issue had happened and upset so many people. Even Han Solo once worked for the Empire before becoming a general within the Rebellion. Learning to be better is a constant process and one that should always be commended.

For others, the answer was systemic. Due to Wookieepedia’s administrative structure, bureaucrats wield a large amount of power, and there were three at the time. Wooks began comparing experiences and found that two of those bureaucrats continued to come up: Darth Culator and Toprawa and Ralltiir. Project Stardust has reviewed some of the threats, bullying, and intimidation ranging from 2006 to 2021 that are a part of public record on Wookieepedia. Current and former editors and administrators were reaching out to each other and to Fandom with their own examples, sharing their concerns about not just this most recent vote and the issues leading up to it, but an entire culture being fostered within Wookieepedia.

On April 2nd, 2021, those concerns were given voice by Fandom. Darth Culator and Toprawa were both removed from the administrative team and permanently banned from Wookieepedia, along with receiving Fandom-wide global bans. Both bureaucrats were removed from power and the community, with Fandom taking action due to the outcry of Wookieepedians who had experienced or witnessed their misdeeds. Fandom did not unilaterally come to this conclusion, helping ease the feeling among some Wooks that Fandom was disregarding Wookieepedia’s autonomy. In addition to the outcry among the editors, the majority of the remaining administrators supported this. They released a separate statement to apologize to Robin Pronovost and the transgender community and commited to change and growth with guidance from the wider Star Wars community. 

Moving Forward

Choose what is right, not what is easy. -The Zillo Beast

With two bureaucrats gone, Wookieepedia now has to find its way forward as a website and a community. Two openings means two possibilities for Wooks to join the top spots in the structure, to be able to have a hand in policy that was previously prevented by the two who were removed. Wookieepedia will need to decide as a community who will take these places and will help guide the site into a new age. 

And that new age is already beginning. WookieProject: Pride is a new project that Wooks can sign up for. This project is open to all Wooks as long as they already support and have knowledge regarding LGBTQIA+ rights and representation.

WookieeProject: Pride is a WookieeProject dedicated to improving our in-universe articles about Canon and Legends characters who are LGBTQIA+, and out-of-universe articles about LGBTQIA+ Star Wars contributors, such as artists and actors.

The project’s founder? Immi Thrax. Led by Wookieepedian of the Month Immi Thrax and Administrator Supreme Emperor, their current main focus is on Robin Pronovost’s page.

Join in with the official song of the project, Ewok Celebration (Yub Nub!). Dance and sing for the future of Wookieepedia. Together we can rise above the darkness to all be defenders of the Light, even if the path is treacherous. 

For further resources, here are links to assist with your research.

https://www.propublica.org/article/deadnamed-transgender-black-women-murders-jacksonville-police-investigation/amp?__Twitter_impression=true

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2018/08/14/laverne-cox-lambastes-deadnaming-what-is-it-and-why-is-it-a-problem/

https://lgbtqia.ucdavis.edu/educated/ally-tips

https://transequality.org/

https://srlp.org/

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