Saturday, March 29, 2014

Goodbye, Mozilla

Do people have the right to make value judgements about products/services they'll use based on who is leading a big organisation or company? Apparently, it depends which side you’re on.

Brendan Eich, new CEO of Mozilla, said on his personal blog that his donation supporting California's anti-gay Proposition 8 is irrelevant. I don’t agree.

When the head of a fast-food chicken joint made strongly-worded anti-gay statements, and was found to have given large donations to organisations working full-time against the civil and human rights of LGBT people (our freedom to marry in particular), our side felt that it was best to not give the chicken joint any of our money so he couldn’t use it against us. There wasn’t really a boycott as such.

Nevertheless, our adversaries said we were “bullies”, “fascists” and “the Gaystapo”, and they launched a stunt in which they flocked to the chicken joint to “support” the head of the company. Their stunt was very successful, if measured by media attention. It should be noted, however, that those same people are now condemning the head of that chicken joint for saying he and his company will now keep out of politics.

Here’s the thing: When our side urges boycotts of companies that are actively anti-gay, the rightwing always accuses us of being vicious (ironic, considering the vicious anti-gay rhetoric they use…). However, when they urge boycotts because a group supports LGBT rights, or marriage equality in particular, that’s holy and righteous and wonderful. Hypocrisy, much?

One wingnut site maintains a list of companies to be boycotted because they supposedly support marriage equality (though they provided NO evidence in support of that assertion). They are: "Adobe, Amazon, Apple, Blue Cross Blue Shield, CBS, eBay, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, Google, Guiness [sic] Beer, Heineken Beer, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Levi Strauss, McGraw-Hill, Microsoft, Nike, Sam Addams [sic] Beer, Starbucks, Thomson Reuters, Twitter, Viacom, Walt Disney Company, Xerox and Zynga." (Because I have a long-standing policy of never linking to a wingnut site, to access the list, copy and paste this link: http://bit.ly/1pxfENp).

That list includes Sam Adams Brewery and Guinness (I corrected the wingnut site’s bad spelling) are probably on the list merely because of their recent withdrawal of their sponsorship of St. Patrick’s Day Parades in the US over their refusal to allow LGBT people to participate. Other companies not on the list that have faced boycotts by anti-gay groups include McDonald’s, Ford Motor Company, Hallmark Cards, Chilli’s, and many more.

Most notoriously, for more than three years anti-gay groups boycotted Home Depot because of the company’s support for the civil and human rights of their LGBT employees and customers. While the boycott was, of course, a spectacular failure, they blatantly lied and claimed victory.

So, what we see here is a long history of the anti-gay rightwing urging boycotts of companies that to varying degrees support LGBT people and our civil and human rights, but if our side proposes a boycott of companies that oppose us, we’re the ones being evil?

This is, at it’s core, the message that Eich is selling in his post: His support for an anti-gay political campaign is irrelevant and we should all get over it, just as we should pay no attention to the anti-gay record of companies. Eich is perfectly free to donate money to prevent our legal equality, but if we object, tough.

I fully support the right of people to boycott whoever they want for whatever reason they want—political, religious, cultural, aesthetic, their reason doesn’t matter, but their freedom to make that choice does. Let me be specific: If anti-gay activists want to boycott companies that support the civil and human rights of LGBT people, they should do so. Similarly, if an LGBT person or straight ally wants to boycott a company because of its anti-gay political activities, they should do so. And if someone wants to dump Firefox and other Mozilla products because its CEO donated money to prevent legal equality for LGBT people in California (specifically by taking away their legal right to marry), that, too, is their right.

I think boycotts are stupid because they almost never accomplish their goals, a few high-profile successes notwithstanding. Funnily enough, for anti-gay people, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for them to find major companies that don’t support the civil and human rights of LGBT people.

I wrote about boycotts last year, and said: “Personally, I prefer to ‘buycott’, that is, to go out of my way to support businesses that support the issues I care about instead of boycotting the ones that oppose those issues.” So, generally speaking, I don’t participate in boycotts as much as I try to support businesses whose values most closely align with my own.

However, no person or business is perfect: Even companies that are supportive of the civil and human rights of LGBT people could be “bad” or “wrong” (from my perspective) on any number of other issues. There are also plenty of perfectly good reasons to use a web browser other than Firefox, reasons that have nothing to do with the politics of its CEO.

Even so, all people have the right to make purchasing decisions based on their own personal values, and to choose one company or organisation over another based on those personal values. Whether Eich likes it or not, that includes the fact that people have the right to make personal decisions about use of Mozilla products based on Eich’s political views.

Staff at Mozilla have called on Eich to resign. That, too is their right.

In an open letter to Eich, Owen Thomas writes that Eich’s assertion that his political donation against the civil and human rights of LGBT people was a private matter was “[disingenuous] and beneath a leader of [his] stature.” He urges Eich to apologise and to make an equal-sized contribution to a pro-LGBT organisation.

This gets at the heart of the issue: What Eich thinks about LGBT people and our freedom to marry is irrelevant. Although this raises questions about his fairness toward LGBT employees, his opinions are mainly his business, not ours. But he gave money to stop our civil and human rights by taking away the freedom to marry, and, in so doing, he took a loud and public stand against us. He’s perfectly free to do that, of course—but he’s not exempt from the consequences. Apparently, he feels that those who disagree with him, or who were victims of the passage of Proposition 8, have no right to be upset with him, and certainly no right to “vote with their feet” rather than support a guy who took a very public stand against LGBT people, or the organisation that made him its head.


If gay people don’t stand up for ourselves, who will? We must always be firm that trying to take away the civil and human rights of LGBT people is never okay, and that means we’re under no obligation to support people—or their organisations—who have taken an anti-gay stand.

As I said, I support the right of people to make their own decisions in matters like this, but as for me, I’m dumping Firefox until and unless Eich makes this right or resigns. I really have no choice; the choice now is his alone.


rogerogreen said...

I do it all the time, not patronize a service/product for political reasons. Though boycotting Hobby Lobby, because of their meddling in women's right to contraception, would be difficult for me. I've never been to HL, don't know where the nearest one is. Ditto Chik Fil A (or however they spell it.)

coreplane said...

Wait ... what? I've heard nothing of this. Damn. I prefer libre & open source browers over closed & proprietary ones, but I *really* don't want to support that guy's success. Something webkit like Midori doesn't have the ecosystem of Firefox. Opera's pretty solid & standards compliant-- but proprietary. Chrome? --makes me nervous. I'll have to think about this.

I worked for one of the companies on that list 30 yrs ago (sort of eliminates a bunch of them that haven't existed that long, doesn't it?) & my immediate colleagues were generally a bunch of brilliant eccentric (ok, mostly Seattle & California types) who would never have tolerated a bigotted religious nut trying to impose his/her beliefs.

What to do. What to do.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

Yeah, same. There are a couple companies I avoid, and, as you (with your better memory than I have) no doubt remember, Mobil petrol stations are chief among them. Even so, I also choose to go to Z stations (the NZ-owned and operated stations that used to branded as Shell in NZ) rather than any other brand.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

I've been following this for a few days now, and waited to make up my mind, trying to get as much information as I could. For now, I've switched to Safari, which is on my iPhone and iPad, too, so it makes coordinating things among my devices really easy.