Oppressed oppressors


An oldie, but a goodie by D.C. Simpson.

So, Mozilla, the non-profit company that produces (among other things) the Firefox web browser, recently appointed a man as their new CEO who, a few years ago, donated the maximum amount allowed for individuals to the Proposition 8 campaign. And several developers, most of them gay married developers, have decided to boycott. Note, since the entire purpose of Proposition 8 was to take away the legal right to marry from an entire class of citizens, and since it won and did then remove those rights, one can understand the sentiment.

I’ve seen several people say it’s wrong to do this, because boycotts don’t accomplish much, it’s hypocritical of gay people to demand discrimination against others, and beside, a company isn’t legally allowed to make hiring decisions based on political affiliations.

Two of those statements are unequivocally false. And the third isn’t much better.

I’ll tackle the last one first: there is no federal law prohibiting private companies from hiring, firing, or promoting because of one’s political affiliations. There is a federal law against the government doing so, but no such federal law applying to corporations, non-profits, et cetera. Only a limited number of states have such laws applying to private employers.

Even then, most of the legal protections for employees’ political activities are fairly narrow: in five states it’s specifically only illegal for employers to post or announce that workers will be laid off or fired if a particular candidate is elected or fails to be elected. Only two states have a more generic ban against any attempts by an employer to coerce employees to vote one way or another. Several states (I could find five) have laws prohibiting employers from retaliating against employees for off-duty political activity, but most of those have exemptions that are broad enough that even a passing reference to their political opinions in the workplace is enough to qualify as political activity on-duty, and therefore subject to being fired. And, of course, one may recall the employer in 2004 who threatened to fire all the workers who had John Kerry bumper stickers on their cars. That was totally legal.

So, no, it would not be illegal for Mozilla’s board to decide not to hire this guy because he is known to have supported (and actively took part in enacting) a law that took away civil rights from a number of their own employees, vendors, et cetera.

Second, everyone over simplifies boycotts. They say a boycott doesn’t accomplish anything if the target doesn’t immediately reverse their position, for instance. It is true that the outright and instantaneous admission of wrongdoing and a change of policy is a very rare thing. But that doesn’t mean the boycotts accomplish nothing. The boycott of Florida orange juice in the 70s because the Florida Orange Commission’s spokesmodel, former beauty queen and singer Anita Bryant, had become prominently involved in a number of campaigns to pass anti-gay laws around the country, didn’t effect the outcome of the first several votes. However, the boycott got more coverage than Bryant’s speeches. And though the Florida Orange Commission never admitted that the boycott and negative publicity was the reason they significantly reduced Bryant’s sponsorship deals, it was clearly a factor.

Bryant had a difficult time getting any sponsorships after that, and went from donating her time and semi-famous face to the anti-gay cause to charging exorbitant fees to speak at churches and religious events about various moral issues. In other words, diverting money that might have been spent on more campaigns to take away our rights to trying to pay off Bryant’s enormous debts.

When the Coors Brewing Company starting routinely giving polygraph tests as part of the hiring process, and one of the questions was whether a person was gay, a boycott was called. The company never admitted when they dropped the questions for the test and added nondiscrimination language to their employee’s handbook that that was the reason why. It was decades later, when Scott Coors, an openly gay member of the family that still controlled the company, was unable to buy a Coors beer at a gay bar in San Francisco (because the Coors family charity foundation had continued to donate huge amounts to anti-gay causes), that we learned that internally the leaders of the company had been very aware of the boycott and specifically the publicity. On the other hand, Scott’s surprise indicated that the boycott’s effectiveness had sufficiently diminished when the media stopped paying attention (which they had done as soon as the company changed its anti-gay hiring practices). The company had been well aware of it, and had been trying various ways over all that time to convince gay bar owners that the foundations activities had nothing to do with them.

A boycott’s publicity doesn’t just negatively affect a company, a boycott serves as a way to raise awareness within the community as to who some of the culprits out to hurt us are. Talking about and debating the boycott within the community and with allies gets more people talking about the situation.

Boycotts are also personal statements. I can decide that I don’t want to spend money supporting someone who promoted discrimination against me. Whether they are hurt by it or not isn’t always the point.

Don’t forget, every time the queer community even hints at a boycott, the right wingnuts all start screaming that boycotting is homofascist intimidation, intolerance, and bullying. They also insist that calling a boycott tramples their religious liberty and right to free speech. If boycotts didn’t accomplish anything, why do the wingnuts get so upset?

Third, we throw around the word discrimination without qualifying the difference between fair and unfair discrimination. To discriminate is to draw a distinction between things. When we decide not to hire a person because they have no experience applicable to the job, we have made a distinction between candidates, but we have done so in an area that is pertinent to the job. Everyone agrees that that’s fair. If we decide not to hire someone because of the church they belong to, most people would agree that (unless you are a church yourself hiring a pastor) that’s not pertinent to the job, and isn’t a fair distinction to draw.

A CEO is not just a manager, they serve as a spokesperson for the company. You want a CEO to represent a company’s values to current and potential customers, as well as to vendors, partners, and even the employees within a company. So what sort of value is represented by a CEO who actively worked to take away civil rights from his fellow citizens? And make no mistake: this isn’t just a privately held belief. A privately held belief means you keep it to yourself, voting in the privacy of the ballot booth, and never say anything to anyone except possibly close personal friends.

When you donate the maximum amount of money allowed under the law for an individual to donate, you have become an active participant in the political process. In the case of Proposition 8, it was an extremely focused effort. The only effect was to target a specific group of people and strip them of a right to marry that they had recently won. To strip them of the other 1000 federal rights that come with marriage and which are not available by any other means. To strip them of the right to designate their partner as the person to make medical decisions if they are incapacitated, to strip them of community property rights, to strip their children of the rights that come from having both parents legally acknowledges as guardians, et cetera, et cetera.

Supporting Proposition 8 literally and unequivocally makes him an oppressor.

And the real problem here isn’t that he supported this thing a few years ago that has since been overturned. The problem is that he has not disavowed his position. He said he didn’t want to talk about it at the press event, and then he talked about it for quite a long time before finally saying that, of course he will abide by the law. And did he mention that the company has a nondiscrimination policy?

Sure, the company has a right to hire him if they want. But all of the rest of us, especially their vendors and partners and customers who happen to be members of the community which was the victim of that attempt at oppression, has a right to tell the board of directors that selecting this man tells us that we aren’t part of their values. It tells their gay and lesbian employees that respecting their rights isn’t part of their values.

And that sure as hell is pertinent to that job.


This photo of Edith Windsor greeting the crowd of supporters after stepping out of the Supreme Court building one year ago today after the court heard arguments in her case against the Defense of Marriage Act adorned the cover of Pride Magazine.

It’s true that Prop 8 was overturned. In fact, exactly one year ago today, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on challenges to Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. And eventually the court overturned a crucial section of DOMA, and let stand the lower court ruling declaring Prop 8 unconstitutional (without actually declaring it unconstitutional themselves). It can be argued that we won. It has certainly been argued that we should be gracious winners. But we have only won the last few skirmishes, we haven’t won the war, yet. Remember: we haven’t won until every queer person has full equality before the law. Everywhere. Not just marriage rights in some states (with other people having the right to discriminate against us because of the gender of our spouse), but all rights, everywhere.

Instead of having to argue about one of the oppressors who tried to take rights away from some of us (and seems to still wish he could keep the rest of us from getting them) we ought to be hailing our heroes. Such as Edith Windsor, who went to court to defend her right to inherit property from the woman she legally married in one of the few jurisdictions that allowed it back then, and eventually fought it all the way to the Supreme Court. Which got us last summer’s ruling that is beginning to look like the tipping point that may eventually bring marriage equality to every state.

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About fontfolly

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. I write fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and nonfiction. For more than 20 years I edited and published an anthropomorphic sci-fi/space opera literary fanzine. I attend and work on the staff for several anthropormorphics, anime, and science fiction conventions. I live near Seattle with my wonderful husband, still completely amazed that he puts up with me at all.

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