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Andrew Sullivan Slams Campaign Against Mozilla CEO

| April 4, 2014
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Brendan Eich (Mozilla)

Brendan Eich (Mozilla)

LGBT rights advocates have been on a considerable roll the last few years. Supreme Court victories, unprecedentedly favorable public opinion polls, pop cultural milestones, and perhaps the most underrated achievement in contemporary American life — the imprimatur of the United States Postal Service.

In fact, you might ask: Are we at the point where opposition to LGBT rights is so dépassé as to be unacceptable in the public sphere?

We can at least consider that possibility after the resignation of Brendan Eich, CEO of Mozilla, due to public pressure over a 2008 contribution he made to the campaign of Proposition 8 — the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, later thrown out by an appellate court. Mozilla initially defended itself by publicly declaring its “official support of equality and inclusion for LGBT people,” but the furor did not die, gaining more momentum after the dating website OkCupid called on its users to dump Mozilla’s Firefox browser because Eich was “an opponent of equal rights for gay couples.”

The controversy comes right after another Silicon Valley exec, Jacquelline Fuller of Google, resigned from the board of World Vision, a Christian aid group, after its U.S. affiliate reversed a short-lived policy of hiring Christians in legal, same-sex marriages.

After Eich’s resignation yesterday, KQED’s Charla Bear spoke to tech pundit Kara Swisher, who thought Eich’s failure to apologize for the donation or to overtly recant his position spurred people inside the company to favor his resignation.

Below are some opinions published in the aftermath of Eich’s departure. Perhaps the most interesting comes from Andrew Sullivan, a longtime supporter of same-sex rights. Sullivan was fairly scathing in two posts criticizing the pressure put on Mozilla, and which he titled “The Hounding of a Heretic.”

The guy who had the gall to express his First Amendment rights and favor Prop. 8 in California by donating $1,000 has just been scalped by some gay activists. … Will he now be forced to walk through the streets in shame? Why not the stocks? The whole episode disgusts me – as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society. If this is the gay rights movement today – hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else – then count me out. If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us.

And in another post

He did not understand that in order to be a CEO of a company, you have to renounce your heresy! There is only one permissible opinion at Mozilla, and all dissidents must be purged! Yep, that’s left-liberal tolerance in a nut-shell. No, he wasn’t a victim of government censorship or intimidation. He was a victim of the free market in which people can choose to express their opinions by boycotts, free speech and the like. He still has his full First Amendment rights. But what we’re talking about is the obvious and ugly intolerance of parts of the gay movement, who have reacted to years of being subjected to social obloquy by returning the favor.

Sullivan notes that his “in-tray is inundated with your dissents.”

Here’s one of them, from HuffPost Gay Voices Editor-at-Large Michelangelo Signorile, titled “Dear Andrew Sullivan, ‘Left-Liberal Intolerance’ Did Not Bring Down Mozilla’s CEO.

(I)t wasn’t the Prop 8 contribution, and Eich’s refusal to renounce it, that eventually did Eich in. He was being defended by company executives last week and throughout the early part of this week, even as the dating site OKCupid had urged users to boycott Firefox. Eich even gave an interview on Tuesday suggesting he was staying put. Eich only announced he was stepping down after it was revealed late Wednesday that he’d given money to Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaign in 1992, and later to Ron Paul’s campaign. Suddenly, in addition to defending a CEO who gave money to homophobic efforts, Mozilla would have to defend a CEO who supported Buchanan, a far-right extremist and isolationist who’s been accused of racist and anti-Semitic attacks, and who also was, rightly, driven off MSNBC — though that took years longer to accomplish than the few weeks it took to purge Alec Baldwin. Full article

 

More editorials from around the Web:

 

The Internet is tolerant. Don’t agree? Keep out. (Debra J. Saunders, San Francisco Chronicle)

Eich wasn’t a prominent pusher of Prop. 8. He didn’t mix his politics with business, in which case critics would have grounds to cite the nexus between Eich’s personal beliefs and corporate success. He wrote a personal check for $1,000. In tech circles, that’s snack money….

Sadly, winning has made some advocates … less tolerant, not more so. It’s not enough that they won, they have to make opponents grovel in penance. No need for stockades in 2014 when you can dangle stock options and flame nonbelievers via Twitter.

It’s like political time travel. Advocates demand that public figures renounce their 2008 opposition to same-sex marriage as illegitimate. If Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton could do it, surely soulless CEOs can do it too.

Let me posit that there were some antigay bigots who supported Prop. 8. But there also were a lot of Californians who wrestled with the issue but chose to stick with a more traditional conclusion. A yes vote didn’t mean they hate their gay friends and family members. Full article

 

Just a Reminder: The Campaign for Prop 8 Was Unprecedentedly Cruel (Mark Joseph Stern, Slate)

Because Prop 8 is now dead, and because its passage was largely overshadowed by President Barack Obama’s election victory, it’s easy to forget the vicious tactics of the pro-Prop 8 campaign. Or, I should say, it’s easy to forget them if you’re not gay—because almost every gay person I know remembers the passage of Prop 8 as the most traumatic and degrading anti-gay event in recent American history.

The tactics used by pro-Prop 8 campaigners were not merely homophobic. They were laser-focused to exploit Californians’ deepest and most irrational fears about gay people, indoctrinating an entire state with cruelly anti-gay propaganda. Early on, Prop 8’s supporters decided to focus their campaign primarily on children, stoking parents’ fears about gay people brainwashing their kids with pro-gay messages or, implicitly, turning their children gay. Full article with commercials

 

Brendan Quinn, Mozilla’s former chief executive, needed to tell us more (Michelle Quinn, San Jose Mercury News)

I’m sorry to see Mozilla’s Brendan Eich go, but in this era of transparency, he didn’t do enough to save his job.

He failed to realize that these days, the CEO of a tech company is more like a politician than a business executive, operating in the glare of intense public scrutiny.

And in not explaining why he made a $1,000 donation to support Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage ballot initiative, or clarifying his views now, he let the bubbling controversy over his stance fester and reach a point in which his only option was to step down….

Some people will say a mob drummed him out of the Internet village. That intolerance and political correctness ruled the day.

But that’s not it. Like an elected official, he needed to say more about who he is, to earn credibility. He needed to do that for himself and for Mozilla. Full article

 

Purge the Bigots (William Saletan, Slate)

Some of my colleagues are celebrating. They call Eich a bigot who got what he deserved. I agree. But let’s not stop here. If we’re serious about enforcing the new standard, thousands of other employees who donated to the same anti-gay ballot measure must be punished.

More than 35,000 people gave money to the campaign for Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that declared, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” You can download the entire list, via the Los Angeles Times, as a compressed spreadsheet. (Click the link that says, “Download CSV.”) Each row lists the donor’s employer. If you organize the data by company, you can add up the total number of donors and dollars that came from people associated with that company….

Thirty-seven companies in the database are linked to more than 1,300 employees who gave nearly $1 million in combined contributions to the campaign for Prop 8. Twenty-five tech companies are linked to 435 employees who gave more than $300,000. Many of these employees gave $1,000 apiece, if not more. Some, like Eich, are probably senior executives.

Why do these bigots still have jobs? Let’s go get them….

If we’re serious about taking down corporate officers who supported Proposition 8, and boycotting employers who promote them, we’d better get cracking on the rest of the list. Otherwise, perhaps we should put down the pitchforks. Full article

OkCupid’s gay rights stunt has its limits (Josh Eidelson, Salon)

Eich was an understandable target; consumer pressure on a CEO over a political donation is infinitely more defensible than termination of a lower-level employee over a bumper sticker. But Eich was also an easy target, one who exemplifies the way boycott talk gets focused on whether a CEO shares our personal convictions, rather than on how a company wields its power (it also illustrates the special status of gay marriage in the media). Firing a mom for staying home with her son during the polar vortex is a better reason to boycott Whole Foods than its CEO’s anti-Obamacare Op-Ed; Chick-fil-A’s alleged effortsto impose Christian conservatism on its employees should alarm us more than its CEO’s comments to the press. While Eich’s 2008 donation is a legitimate cause for consternation – and a worthier one than, say, a quote to a reporter – it’s a worse basis on which to choose a browser than how the company currently stacks up in its treatment of LGBT employees. The best potential effect of scrutiny over an old donation would be extracting concessions on a company’s current policies and politics.CEOs aren’t gods who earn our fealty or identification based on admiration. Rather, they – and more important, the corporations they represent – are economic and political actors who should be pressured to redirect – or, better, redistribute – their power toward progressive ends. Full article

If You’re Against Gay Marriage, You’re a Bad CEO (Will Oremus, Slate)

The notion that your political views shouldn’t affect your employment is a persuasive one. Where would we be as a democracy if Republicans were barred from jobs at Democrat-led companies, or vice versa?

But this is different. Opposing gay marriage in America today is not akin to opposing tax hikes or even the war in Afghanistan. It’s more akin to opposing interracial marriage: It bespeaks a conviction that some people do not deserve the same basic rights as others. An organization like Mozilla might tolerate that in an underling, and it might even tolerate it in a CTO. But in a CEO—the ultimate decision-maker and public face of an organization—it sends an awful message. That’s doubly so for an organization devoted to openness and freedom on the Web—not to mention one with numerous gay employees…

It’s an even bigger problem for a tech company in Silicon Valley, where competition for top engineers is fierce. Mozilla’s edge over goliaths like Google and Facebook is that it offers employees a chance to work for an organization whose values they can truly believe in. A bigoted boss, no matter how well-meaning, undermines that appeal. Full article

 

Mozilla’s Gay-Marriage Litmus Test Violates Liberal Values (Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic)

Calls for (Eich’s) ouster were premised on the notion that all support for Proposition 8 was hateful, and that a CEO should be judged not just by his or her conduct in the professional realm, but also by political causes he or she supports as a private citizen.

If that attitude spreads, it will damage our society.

Consider an issue like abortion, which divides the country in a particularly intense way, with opponents earnestly regarding it as the murder of an innocent baby and many abortion-rights supporters earnestly believing that a fetus is not a human life, and that outlawing it is a horrific assault on a woman’s bodily autonomy. The political debate over abortion is likely to continue long past all of our deaths. Would American society be better off if stakeholders in various corporations began to investigate leadership’s political activities on abortion and to lobby for the termination of anyone who took what they regard to be the immoral, damaging position?

It isn’t difficult to see the wisdom in inculcating the norm that the political and the professional are separate realms, for following it makes so many people and institutions better off in a diverse, pluralistic society. The contrary approach would certainly have a chilling effect on political speech and civic participation, as does Mozilla’s behavior toward Eich.

Its implications are particularly worrisome because whatever you think of gay marriage, the general practice of punishing people in business for bygone political donations is most likely to entrench powerful interests and weaken the ability of the powerless to challenge the status quo. There is very likely hypocrisy at work too. Does anyone doubt that had a business fired a CEO six years ago for making a political donation against Prop 8, liberals silent during this controversy (or supportive of the resignation) would’ve argued that contributions have nothing to do with a CEO’s ability to do his job? They’d have called that firing an illiberal outrage, but today they’re averse to vocally disagreeing with allies. Full article

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  • Dan

    I don’t know what the First Amendment has to do with anything. No one is saying he shouldn’t have been allowed to make the contributions or to say what he wanted. He had the right to say what he wanted, and I have the right to not like it, and to say that I don’t like it. Moreover, I have the right to not support any business that hires him. I am not the government. The Constitution does not prohibit me from punishing someone who says thing I don’t like. I don’t watch Fox News. I don’t listen to KQED during pledge drive. I don’t watch football either.