TAKE ACTION: Microsoft abandons gays

UPDATE: The full newspaper article on this issue is now online here.

NOTE: This post is long because it’s important. What I describe in detail below, Microsoft caving to religious right extremists, is not just outrageous and unprecedented, it’s downright dangerous for all of our civil rights considering the precedent Microsoft has just set for other businesses that follow its lead. We have a little over 24 hours for Microsoft make things right, otherwise Microsoft may have just killed a major gay rights bill out west.

If anyone out there has inside phone numbers and email addresses for the Microsoft brass, please email them to me. I have some email and phone contacts at the end of this post, PLEASE USE THEM. Thanks.
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MICROSOFT SECRETLY PULLS SUPPORT FOR GAY RIGHTS BILL IN WASHINGTON STATE TO CURRY FAVOR WITH RELIGIOUS RIGHT

Microsoft Corporation pulled its support for a gay rights bill in Washington state last month after complaints from a single radical right anti-gay leader, according to an article just published in the Seattle paper, The Stranger (the article is on the news stands already, online Thursday).

My sources in Washington state tell me that the vote on the bill, expected in two days (Friday), is SO CLOSE that Microsoft’s actions may be pivotal in KILLING THE PRO-GAY LEGISLATION.

The radical right activist reportedly told Microsoft it had better pull its support for the gays or anti-gay bigots would launch a nationwide boycott of Microsoft, and guess what – Microsoft caved. A single anti-gay jerk, and Microsoft chose to reverse over ten years of policy and bash gays.

This is outrageous. It’s also incredibly dangerous. For over a decade Microsoft, along with hundreds of other corporate leaders, has endorsed gay rights legislation in the states and nationally. And now, suddenly, because ONE ANTI-GAY ACTIVIST COMPLAINED, they’ve suddenly changed their minds ON A CIVIL RIGHTS ISSUE. A rather big “oops” after ten years of being in favor of civil rights, don’t you think?

WILL MICROSOFT NOW PULL ITS SUPPORT FOR OTHER GAY RIGHTS?

What other “oopsies” does Microsoft now have in store for America’s civil rights community?

- Does Microsoft now regret having endorsed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act at the federal level, something it did years ago?

- Does Microsoft regret having received a friggin’ gay rights award from the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Community Center back in 2001? I know I regret their receiving it.

- And does Microsoft now regret having bragged ON THEIR OWN WEB SITE that they’re such a big supporter of local and national gay rights legislation? I certainly hope THAT Web page is coming down, and soon.

Come on Microsoft, you can’t have your fags and bash them too.

Are you pro-gay or not? Do you support civil rights or not? You clearly did support gays, for over 12 years now that I’ve been involved in gay politics, yet now suddenly we give you the willies? And what’s worse, the statements your company has made about this specific issue are terrifying in terms of what they imply for how you’re going to treat civil rights issues nationwide in the future.

Let me give you a taste of what Microsoft said, per the article (an astute AMERICAblogger in Seattle got a copy of the paper and faxed me the article, not gonna transcribe the whole thing, you can read it online on Thursday).

EXCERPTS FROM “THE STRANGER” ARTICLE ON MICROSOFT

From The Stranger:

In a move that angered many of the company’s gay employees, the Microsoft Corporation, publicly perceived as the vanguard institution of the new economy, has taken a major political stand in favor of age-old discrimination.

The Stranger has learned that last month the $37-billion Redmond-based software behemoth quietly withdrew its support for House bill 1515, the anti-gay-discrimination bill currently under consideration by the Washington State legislature, after being pressured by the Evangelical Christian pastor of a suburban megachurch.

The pastor, Ken Hutcherson of Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, met with a senior Microsoft executive in February and threatened to organize a national boycott of the company’s products if it did not change its stance on the legislation, according to gay rights activists and a Microsoft employee who attended a subsequent April 4 meeting where Bradford L. Smith, Microsoft’s senior vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary, told a group of gay staffers about Hutcherson’s threat….

At the April 4 meeting, Smith told members of GLEAM, the gay and lesbian employees group at Microsoft, that the company had switched its official stance to “neutral” on the bill, and took personal responsibility for the decision. He characterized the shift as part of a broader general review of company policy designed to more precisely formulate criteria for determining when Microsoft should involve itself in “social issues,” but also disclosed the pressure that had been brought to bear on him by Hutcherson….

MICROSOFT SAYS ANTI-GAY POLICY SHIFT IS NOT ISOLATED INCIDENT

What you just read in the quote above is important for two reasons. First, later on you’ll see that Microsoft tries to lie about why it dropped its support for gay civil rights in Washington state.

But more importantly, read what Microsoft is really saying. This isn’t just an isolated incident. Microsoft having chucked the gays in Washington is part of a “broader general review of company policy” – i.e., they didn’t do this in a vacuum, but rather, this is a sign of a bigger shift in Microsoft’s policies, policies that have clearly now moved away from their past support of the civil rights of their gay and lesbian employees.

More from The Stranger:

That one of the world’s best-known corporations, synonymous with cutting-edge workplace innovation, would reverse its stance on such a basic piece of legislation because of threats from one minister seems to be yet another sign of the ongoing reverberations of last November’s presidential election, when “moral values” voters were widely – if probably erroneously – perceived to have played the role of kingmaker in ensuring the reelection of President Bush.

“The pastor of a megachurch gets a meeting in two weeks with one of the top executives at one of the world’s most powerful corporations. He makes these idle threats and he gets everything he wants,” the GLEAM member who reported Smith’s comments says. “Microsoft just got taken to the cleaners on this issue.”

WHAT THE BILL DOES & OTHER COMPANIES WHO ENDORSE IT

From the Stranger:

House Bill 1515 would protect gays and lesbians from discrimination in employment, housing, banking, insurance, and other matters by adding sexual orientation to a state law which already bars discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, gender, marital status, and mental or physical handicap. More than a dozen states currently have similar laws on the books….

The list of high-profile companies that endorsed
the bill this year reads like a who’s who of the Pacific Northwest corporate world. It includes the Boeing Company, Nike, Coors Brewing, Qwest Communications, Washington Mutual, Hewlett-Packard, Corbis, Battelle Memorial Institute, Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc., and others. And as late as February 1, Microsoft, which issued a letter in support of the bill last year, appeared poised to do so again….

MICROSOFT BRAGS “NO ONE WILL KNOW” IF COMPANY’S ACTIONS KILL PRO-GAY BILL

From the Stranger:

DeLee Shoemaker, an aide to former Governor Gary Locke who now handles state-level government relations for Microsoft, had issued a letter in support of the bill. “We are going to be providing copies of that letter to the committee,” he said. McCurdy spoke too soon. Murray says that beginning on February 7 he began receiving calls from company employees informing him that Hutcherson was pressuring the company to change its position on the bill. Murray eventually contacted Shoemaker. She admitted to him that Microsoft was planning to change its position on the bill. “I told her, ‘This is a crisis. It will kill the bill,’” he says. “She said no one will know.”….

SEE MICROSOFT LIE. LIE, MICROSOFT, LIE.

From the Stranger:

[A]ccording to Microsoft corporate communications spokesperson Tami Begasse… “Microsoft’s position on the bill this year was not the result of “any external factors… In this case there was some apparent confusion surrounding some employees who testified as individual citizens in Olympia in February, and the company felt it was appropriate for the employees to make their roles clear as they were not representing or speaking for the company.”

Excuse me, but the “apparent confusion” wasn’t over Microsoft’s employees testifying and saying that Microsoft supported the legislation. That’s all true and incontrovertible. According to the Stranger article, Microsoft supported the legislation last year:

“Microsoft, which issued a letter in support of the bill last year…”

No confusion there. And Microsoft endorsed the bill this year too, before it changed its mind. Again from the Stranger:

At the April 4 meeting, [Microsoft's general counsel] told members of GLEAM, the gay and lesbian employees group at Microsoft, that the company had switched its official stance to “neutral” on the bill, and took personal responsibility for the decision.

DeLee Shoemaker, an aide to former Governor Gary Locke who now handles state-level government relations for Microsoft, had issued a letter in support of the bill…. She admitted to him that Microsoft was planning to change its position on the bill. “I told her, ‘This is a crisis. It will kill the bill,’” he says. “She said no one will know.”

The confusion was not surrounding what the employees said. The confusion is because Microsoft was for the bill before it was against it.

Not to mention, you gotta love the last part of that Microsoft quote. Yes, that’s right, no one will know – hee hee hee – if Microsoft is secretly responsible for callously killing legislation granting gays and lesbians their share of the American dream. Pretty sneaky of you, Microsoft. Too bad you got caught.

Which begs a much larger question. Why did Microsoft, which has been so good on gay issues for at least 13 years that I know of, suddenly pull the plug and apparently change their entire corporate outlook on civil rights issues simply because one right-wing kook walked into their offices. Makes you wonder if something else isn’t going on here, some quid pro quo or something.

Could the Bush Administration have had a hand in this? Remember, Bush worked out a backroom deal with the Salvation Army a few years back to kill local gay rights laws. Did something like that happen here too? Did Microsoft’s decision to change its pro civil rights stance have anything to do with the larger issue of the feds dropping their anti-trust investigation of Microsoft? Something doesn’t smell right about Microsoft’s sudden about face on civil rights. These are questions that need to be answered.

And in the meantime, Microsoft can go to hell. If it wants to throw minorities and our civil rights to the back of the bus in order to pander to bigots, then Microsoft can now pay the full price of its prejudice. And I promise you, it will be costly.

********** TAKE ACTION **********

1. Call Microsoft’s director of Government Relations, Jack Krumholtz, at tel. 202-263-5900 and tell him:

- You know about Microsoft secretly pulling its support for the Washington state gay rights bill, and you’re not happy about Microsoft kissing up to anti-gay bigots.

- You demand that Microsoft IMMEDIATELY and PUBLICLY endorse the gay rights bill in Washington state, and demand that Microsoft publicly repudiate its new policy of backing-off of support for the civil rights of gays and lesbians and other Americans.

- Tell him that if the Washington state gay rights bill dies on Friday, Microsoft’s reputation goes down with it.

2. Contact these other contacts for Microsoft and its public relations reps and tell them the same thing:

- Jim Desler,
Microsoft US
425-703-6061
[email protected]

- Dirk Delmartino,
Microsoft Europe
+32 (0)2 550 06 21
[email protected]

- The firm handling public policy for Microsoft in DC:
The Glover Park Group
Washington, DC
202-337-0808

- The firm handling Microsoft’s “rapid response” to questions:
Waggener Edstrom Rapid Response Team
[email protected]
503-443-7070

- Media Relations for Microsoft
Global Communications & Television
(212) 339-9920
[email protected]

- Microsoft Investor Relations
Curt Anderson
(425) 706-3703

- Walt McGraw, Edelman, (206) 223-1606, [email protected]

- Shon Damron, Edelman, (323) 857-9100, [email protected]

Carlos de Leon,tel. 425-703-3824, or [email protected]

Katie Goldberg, tel. 206-268-2244, or [email protected]

2. Demand that Microsoft return the award it received from the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. We don’t give corporate bigots awards, and we don’t expect them to keep such awards under false pretenses. If Microsoft has now rethunk its position on defending civil rights, then give back the damn award:

Per Microsoft’s own Web site:

Microsoft has been honored for its pioneering work on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community with the annual Corporate Vision Award of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center.

Yeah, I don’t think so.

And finally, maybe it’s time I gave some serious thought to buying that Mac Mini, and testing the waters as to whether it’s time to go Mac and never go back.

An Apple a day keeps the bigot away?


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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