The Shaming of Brendan Eich

There’s a lot of navel gazing going on regarding Brendan Eich’s stepping down at Mozilla due to the anti-bigotry campaign mounted against him, and whether its acceptable to use such tactics. Sam Smith at Scholars and Rouges has a good piece on this, but I wanted to make some specific comments on Conor Friedersdorf’s Atlantic piece where he says such campaigns create a chilling effect. Proposition 8 was legislation founded in hatred, and I think it’s perfectly reasonable to confront hatred and attempt to eliminate it via peaceful means, full stop. Friedersdorf makes the point that when Prop 8 was passed, a large portion of Americans, including Barack Obama, opposed gay marriage. But that doesn’t matter. Was Strom Thurmond a racist when he left the Democratic Party in 1948 because of Truman’s integration of the US military and other civil rights moves? Would it be wrong to continue to suspect his ability to protect the interests of minorities in his later years in office? How about if he had been hired CEO of a company?

Friedersdorf comments that given Eich’s public comments after being hired as CEO: “no one had any reason to worry that Eich, a longtime executive at the company, would do anything that would negatively affect gay Mozilla employees.

Why? Because he said so? Eich was on the board of Mozilla, and was the CTO of Mozilla, but up until he was hired as CEO he didn’t have direct operational control over “anything that would negatively affect gay Mozilla employees.” Note: I don’t know the circumstances of Eich’s departure from the Mozilla Foundation, but if he was forced to resign from the Foundation as well, that IMO is wrong)

Continuing on, Friedersdorf makes a claim that I think is incomplete: “Calls for his 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.

and then: “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?

Yes and no. If a company has a mission statement pushing openness and using technology and their business for good as Mozilla does, it’s certainly troubling that they hire a (IMO) bigot to be CEO. That doesn’t mean ALL leadership need to be investigated. Additionally, while there was some outrage when his Prop 8 donation came out, there wasn’t a big push for Eich to step down from the Mozilla Foundation. But yes, I think people with operational control of corporations, especially hiring and firing, need to be held to account for the things they say and do, including who they donate money to. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean you have immunity in the marketplace of ideas for what you say and do. If Eich had donated to the Hobby Lobby legal defense fund, I would be just as concerned about his behavior regarding women’s health.

Friedersdorf makes the argument that since Mozilla is a California corporation, Eich could do no wrong even if he is a bigot: “Proposition 8 was overturned. Gay marriage is legal in California. Having a CEO who opposed gay marriage now would in no way diminish equal marriage rights for gays.

Except, y’know, not all Mozilla employees live and work in California. Not all of them work in the United States. Not all gay rights issues have to do with marriage. Did you know there’s still 29 US States where you can be fired for being gay?

I don’t think the campaign against Eich was irrational or illiberal. People have every right to their opinion, and I’m sure there’s plenty of CEOs who are a little squicked out by the idea of gay marriage but nevertheless don’t fire openly gay employees or put policies in place that discriminate against them. Eich, however, donated a thousand dollars to the Prop 8 campaign, and to this day apparently hasn’t changed his mind regarding gay marriage. I don’t think this is a matter of a litmus test or getting an apology. This shouldn’t be something to get the torches and pitchforks out for. It’s a matter of trust. A CEO or anyone else with control over hiring practices shouldn’t be a bigot. I don’t think that’s a controversial position to take. I think it’s actually a happy day when a company is required to change it’s employment practices even for those at the top, making it clear that bigotry isn’t welcome.