UPDATE: Mozilla has confirmed the resignation of Brendan Eich, in a blog post from Executive Chairwoman Mitchell Baker that also apologized for the controversy: "We didn’t act like you’d expect Mozilla to act. We didn’t move fast enough to engage with people once the controversy started. We’re sorry. We must do better." The column below was written on Wednesday:
How much should we judge executives according to their personal beliefs? That’s the question raised by the latest Internet firestorm; this time it is over the appointment of Brendan Eich as Mozilla’s new CEO. Why? Well, in 2008, Mr. Eich donated $1,000 in support of Proposition 8, which aimed to ban non-heterosexual marriage in California.
Allowing someone with these known beliefs to carry on – and be promoted higher – in leadership seems irresponsible, especially as this isn’t the first time Mr. Eich’s donation has ignited a firestorm for Mozilla. When it became public knowledge in 2012, there was a similar outcry but Mr. Eich stayed on and in fact, doubled-down on his beliefs. On his blog, he wrote: “I’m not going to discuss Prop 8 here or on Twitter. There is no point in talking with the people who are baiting, ranting and hurling four-letter abuse.”
Throughout the post, Mr. Eich justifies his beliefs under the banner of “diversity,” which seems to mean being able to hold whatever anti-gay beliefs one has as long as they don’t hurt anyone. (Unless of course you’re just giving money to the anti-gay folks on the frontlines. That’s just fine.)
Along with bemoaning the people being mean to him on the Internet, he says: “…the donation does not in itself constitute evidence of animosity. Those asserting this are not providing a reasoned argument, rather they are labeling dissenters to cast them out of polite society.”
It seems that a polite society – at least in Mr. Eich’s view – is one where a person can actively support an anti-gay initiative and not have to answer to the people whose lives are impacted by its actions. By financially supporting a cause that said I do not view these people as deserving of all the same rights I have, and acting appalled when people were vocally upset about it, Mr. Eich was not taking responsibility for anything.
In a new post, Mr. Eich assures readers that he will uphold Mozilla’s community guidelines and “work with LGBT communities and allies to listen and learn what does and doesn’t make Mozilla supportive and welcoming.” He makes no attempt to clarify his beliefs or why he donated, but points to Mozilla’s initiatives and asks us to trust him through “show, not tell.”
He tried again to convince Mozilla supporters that his beliefs don’t matter in yesterday’s interview with CNet, saying: “Beliefs that are protected, that include political and religious speech, are generally not something that can be held against even a CEO. I understand there are people who disagree with me on this one.”
Well, people might have been willing to let this particular belief slide if it wasn’t for the whole actively-trying-to-diminish-gay-rights-on-the-side thing. That’s something people are going to rightfully ask questions about.
Financially supporting bigoted ballot propositions aside, it’s easy to talk about separating beliefs and work when those beliefs are ideological – as it tends to be on the anti side of gay marriage debate. On the other side, those beliefs become oppressive forces that directly impact the lives of already marginalized people.
As a result, people think Mr. Eich can’t be trusted. Mozilla employees are publicly asking him to resign, and other businesses have joined the cause by targeting Mozilla products. OKCupid asked Firefox users to consider using a different browser, and the founders of Rarebit announced that they were boycotting the Firefox marketplace.
In fact, it’s their story that really highlights just how personal these issues are. “Being a binational gay couple, up until this summer when the Supreme Court overturned Proposition 8, Michael was here on a temporary visa, tied to his job,” wrote co-founder Hampton Catlin. “Luckily, he loved working there, but we were not able to do anything on our own. If you leave your job, you lose your visa. So, due to Prop 8, Michael was unable to co-found a business with me.”
Good leaders embody the values of their organizations – they don’t just pick and choose between equality and an open web. If Mozilla truly wants to be seen as a fair and progressive foundation, it should reconsider who they place at the helm.
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