Was the gay community right to target Mozilla’s Brendan Eich?

The new CEO of Mozilla, the parent-company of the Firefox Web browser, resigned yesterday.

Brendan Eich’s recent appointment ignited a firestorm of protest when word spread that Eich had donated $1,000 to the 2008 campaign to repeal gay marriage in California, called Proposition 8.

Things didn’t get any better for Eich when it was discovered that he also donated to far-right anti-everything bigot Pat Buchanan’s presidential run.

In the end, after an uprising from Mozilla’s own employees, which included half the board of directors quitting, Eich stepped down.

Conservatives are, are usual, up in arms about the “intolerance” of it all.  No, they’re not upset about Brendan Eich’s intolerance of gays. They’re upset about the intolerance of Eich’s victims – or as I like to put it, our intolerance of their intolerance.

Conn Carroll, the editor of the conservative Web site Townhall, took to Twitter to express his chagrin:

conn-carroll-eich-mozilla

There’s always something charming about getting a lecture on tolerance from a party that routinely bashes gays, women, blacks, Latinos, Muslims and immigrants, and increasingly pays at the ballot box for its intolerance.  Sadly, conservatives only worry about “freedom” when it’s their freedom being called into question.  Townhall wasn’t nearly as concerned about the freedom of millions of gay couples in California who lost their right to wed in 2008 thanks to now-former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich.

But putting aside for a moment the Republican party’s endemic hypocrisy on issues of civil rights and bigotry, it’s important to consider whether it was right to hound Brendan Eich from his job at Mozilla.  So let’s consider just that.

Would that conservatives asked themselves these questions before bashing minorities

I remember back in 2000, when several friends and I launched the StopDrLaura.com campaign, intended to punish Paramount Studios for giving “Dr.” Laura Schlessinger a new TV show.

Schlessinger had been outspoken in her opposition to homosexuality (among other things), and called being gay a “biological error.”  Though my personal favorite was her linkage of gays and pedophiles, something the scientific organizations debunked a long time ago. Responding to a fax from a listener she just read, Schlessinger said:

“It goes on and says ‘Pedophilia and child molestation have zero to do with being gay, homosexual orientation’ and that’s not true. That is not true. How many letters have I read on the air from gay men who acknowledge that a huge portion of the male homosexual populace is predatory on young boys.”

Yeah, she was a peach.

stopdrlaura

The thing is, I worried about whether we were doing the right thing in going after her and (successfully) targeting her advertisers.  Not that I thought we were unjustified.  We told the truth, and the truth hurt.  The thing was, I could tell our campaign was working, that her show (and reputation) were suffering, and I honestly felt a bit sorry for her.  So I turned to that eternal font of wisdom, mom.

My mother, who was the parent I decidedly did not get my activist zeal from, asked me: “Do you think she’d be feeling sorry for you, if the shoe were on the other foot?”

And that answered that.

But I think it’s generally a good idea to question yourself.  If you’re going to imperil a man’s job, and in some cases his career, it ought to give you pause – or you’re not a very good human being.

But back to the matter of hand.  There are at least two questions to consider:

1. Did Brendan Eich deserve what he got?

2. Even if he did deserve it, was it wise and just to do what we did?

Did Brendan Eich deserve what he got?

You have to remember, the passage of Prop 8 was a huge deal in the gay community.  On election night in 2008, Democrats were ecstatic, gay Democrats, less so.  Prop 8 felt like a sucker punch to the gut, and we were furious.

And it’s not just the lies the religious right, Catholic, Mormon coalition put out there, it was the overall principle of actively trying to take civil rights away from a segment of society.  It’s one thing to not be in favor of gay marriage.  It’s quite another to spend $1,000 to take that right away from gay couples who had already earned it.  Marriage was legal for gay couples in California. Prop 8 quite literally took that right away.

And in fact, not only would Prop 8 repeal the right of gay couples to marry in California, there was significant concern that it would repeal the already-performed legal marriages of 18,000 gay couples in the state.  It was such a vicious proposal that its supporters weren’t simply “opposed to gay marriage,” they became “anti-gay activists,” and that’s another thing entirely.

Normally, I wouldn’t really care how a corporate CEO felt about marriage equality.  Don’t get me wrong, I care.  And I’d laud a CEO if she came out in support of it.  But I don’t think I’d launch a campaign against a company simply because its boss wasn’t quite there yet on marriage. I know lots of people who aren’t there yet – though that audience is slimming down fast.

But Brendan Eich wasn’t simply “not there yet” – he played an active role in creating and enforcing discrimination against millions of gay Californians.  So his offense was pretty severe, and it went arguably beyond “speech” – he joined the ranks of anti-gay activist.

But does that mean he can’t be CEO of a company?

Well.  I think once you reach the level of CEO in a visibly-named company, there’s greater internal sensitivity to anything in your life that could harm the business.

And I have a hard time believing that Mozilla would have hired a known racist, or anti-Semite for the job.  They wouldn’t have.  And, had that anti-black or anti-Jewish bigot finally left his job under public pressure, one suspects conservatives wouldn’t be as vocal in his defense.

So if society is going to tolerate recriminations for intolerant speech, then intolerance towards gays should be dealt with the same way we deal with any other prejudice.

But what about the crazies?

Probably the strongest argument, in my mind, against the kind of campaign that ended in Brendan Eich losing his job is the “what about the crazies” argument.

The gay community has been gifted with some pretty incredible leadership over the years.  Part of the reason we’ve been so successful in achieving our civil rights, and public acceptance, (and there are many reasons) is that we never quite let the lunatics run the asylum.  Our leadership has been fairly measured, including our activist leadership.

If you look at the top gay activists, the most influential ones over the past several decades, they’ve been a remarkably sharp, and relatively sane bunch.  And it tends to lead them to make good decisions in terms of politics overall, and specifically in terms of political targets.  I’d be hard-pressed to find examples of people we targeted for intolerance over the past few decades who didn’t deserve what they got.

I can’t say the same about Suey “Whiteness will always be the enemy” Park, the Asian-American activist who created the #cancelcolbert campaign.  If Park is speaking the truth in her never-ending stream of interviews, and always-busy Twitter feed, then she has a racist’s disdain for white people in general, and white men in particular, that casts serious doubt on her ability to accurately determine who is deserving of her righteous wrath.

Don’t get me wrong, I suspect Suey Park is eminently capable of harming the reputation of anyone she chooses.  I’m just not convinced that she’s intellectually or emotionally capable of choosing a legitimate target.  (If you have any lingering respect for Park, read her latest interview with Salon.)

And there’s the rub.  Gays, and gay activists in particular, have been awfully lucky that our leaders haven’t been, and aren’t to this day, freaking nuts. And while I have no problem trusting Dan Savage or Pam Spaulding with choosing an appropriate target for our righteous indignation, I wouldn’t trust the Suey Parks of the Internet any more than I would her bff Michelle Malkin.

And the problem isn’t just limited to Park.  Anyone who works in progressive politics is familiar with the never-ending (and of-late growing) Twitter mobs accusing them of being racist, sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, biphobic, transphobic, ableist, and my personal favorite from just last year: that I apparently hate all animals, especially cats (which was news to me, and to my dog who I incessantly tweet about).

There is no way I would empower any of these people to make the decision as to whether the Brendan Eichs of the world merit our rather-powerful-in-the-Internet-age ire.  They don’t have the judgment necessary to effectively and justly wield real power.

While Andrew Sullivan is more outraged about Eich from a philosophical perspective, I worry about it from a practical one.  I trust myself. And I trust my community – the gay one, at least. We’ve been pretty good at keeping our crazies at bay.  (The larger “LGBT” community, less so.)  But I’m left without much of an answer when confronted with the prospect of our proven-effective in-your-face mass advocacy empowering indiscriminate-discriminators like Suey Park.

That’s not to say I think it was wrong to go after Brendan Eich

That’s not to say that I think it was wrong to go after Brendan Eich and Mozilla, because I don’t.  But I do wonder, even worry sometimes, about whether what we’re doing on these various speech-campaigns is right, and whether they will continue to be as just as they have been to date.

I’ll close with the words of blogger, and techie, Julien Pierre:

Ultimately, it comes down to how much intolerance we can tolerate. I think it’s a good thing that the bigots are being pushed into the closet, for a change. I worry that many will still continue to promote their bigotry anonymously, however.

As someone who is in an interracial, same-sex marriage, I would certainly be just as upset if he had donated to a group that opposed interracial marriage. I suspect the rest of the world would be more upset about it than about his donation to “Yes on prop 8”.

There is a line between political opinions and human rights. Most people nowadays recognize that racism affects human rights and is not just a mere political opinion.

Many people, but not as many, also recognize that LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage, are human rights as well.


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Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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