Friday, April 22, 2005

Microsoft Caves

Although geekdom has historically been a safe and accepting sanctuary for gays and lesbians, Microsoft is joining the cavalcade of companies "working towards the Fuehrer" and has pulled support for a gay rights bill in its headquarters state of Washington.

Microsoft officials denied any connection between their decision not to endorse the bill and the church's opposition, although they acknowledged meeting twice with the church minister, Ken Hutcherson.

Dr. Hutcherson, pastor of the Antioch Bible Church, who has organized several rallies opposing same-sex marriage here and in Washington, D.C., said he threatened in those meetings to organize a national boycott of Microsoft products.

After that, "they backed off," the pastor said Thursday in a telephone interview. "I told them I was going to give them something to be afraid of Christians about," he said.

Microsoft's decision not to endorse the anti-discrimination bill and its meetings with Dr. Hutcherson were first reported Thursday by The Stranger, an alternative weekly newspaper in Seattle.

What's insane about this is that a "Christian" boycott of Microsoft would have been, if anything, less effective than the attempted "Christian" boycott of Disney. In the case of Disney, there are alternative amusement parks. In the case of Microsoft, while there are alternatives, they're pretty invisible and guaranteed to lead to various incompatibilities with your business and your friends' software.

Microsoft officials said that the recent meetings with the minister did not persuade them to back away from supporting the bill, because they had already decided to take a "neutral" position on it. They said they had examined their legislative priorities and decided that because they already offer extensive benefits to gay employees and that King County, where Microsoft is based, already has an anti-discrimination law broader than what the state bill proposed, they should focus on other legislative matters.

This strikes me as disingenuous at best. Sure they offer good benefits - but if this bill is defeated and the "Christians" shove in an alternative, they may find it illegal to give their gay employees certain benefits. Surely they know this.

But State Representative Ed Murray, an openly gay Democrat and a sponsor of the bill, said that in a conversation last month with Bradford L. Smith, Microsoft's senior vice president and general counsel, Mr. Smith made it clear to him that the company was under pressure from the church and the pastor and that he was also concerned about the reaction to company support of the bill among its Christian employees, the lawmaker said.

Mr. Smith would not comment for this article.

Representative Murray said that in a recent conversation with Mr. Smith, Mr. Smith said that the minister had demanded the company fire Microsoft employees who testified this year on behalf of the bill, but that Mr. Smith had refused. According to Representative Murray, Mr. Smith said "that while he did not do the many things that the minister had requested, including firing employees who had testified for the bill, he believed that Microsoft could not just respond to one group of employees, when there were other groups of employees who felt much different.

"My refrain back to him was that this is a historic moment, that I only had a few weeks, and I wanted Microsoft to do the right thing," the legislator said. "Their concern, he said, was that obviously they were hearing from fairly conservative employees who were connected to this minister. They needed to sort out how they were going to deal with those problems."

Representative Murray said the company's contention that the decision not to support the bill had nothing to do with the church was "an absolute lie."

Which indeed sounds more like it. A few loony tunes, as usual, are trying to make life miserable for anyone who doesn't follow their straight and narrow definitions of normality (most of which these "Christians" don't follow in their own lives. See the rash of kids with abstinence bracelets having anal and oral sex).

A Microsoft employee who said he attended a meeting this month with Mr. Smith and about 30 employees, most of them gay, said that Mr. Smith discussed his meetings with Dr. Hutcherson and left the impression that the company was changing its policy on the bill as a result of those meetings.

"Brad was very clear that the decision to be neutral on the bill was made subsequent to his meeting with Ken Hutcherson," said the employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retribution from the company. "My gut feeling is that the pastor and his threat of a boycott and the general sensitivity around this issue was a factor in this decision."

He added, "At the meeting, what Brad told us was that Microsoft made its decision on the bill between the first and second meetings he had with Hutcherson."

Working towards the Fuehrer. Coming to a formally socially liberal company near you.

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