April 23, 2005

Microsoft caves to Christian fundamentalists on lesbian/gay rights.

The software giant is facing a much-deserved public relations nightmare as news of Microsoft's retreat from long-standing support of equal rights for lesbians and gay men continues to spread. Earlier this week, Seattle's The Stranger newspaper broke the news that Microsoft had caved into threats from a right-wing Christian church in Redmond, Washington (where Microsoft is based) and withdrawn its support for a bill to extend equal-rights protections to lesbians and gay men.

[In a February 2005 meeting, Antioch Bible Church pastor Ken] Hutcherson told the Microsoft general counsel that 700 Evangelical Microsoft employees attend his church, and all of them oppose H.B. 1515 [the House version of the bill]. He added that if Microsoft did not withdraw its support of the bill, he intended to organize a national Evangelical boycott of Microsoft. He further demanded that Smith fire McCarthy and McCurdy, the two Microsoft employees who had testified in favor of the bill. Smith did not immediately respond to Hutcherson's demands. After investigating the issue for about two weeks, Smith told Hutcherson that because Microsoft had no set policy restricting employees from testifying on political matters, he would not fire the two employees. He did, however, decide that Microsoft would change its stance on the bill by adopting an officially "neutral" position.

Microsoft did follow through on its promise to change its position and, two months after the meeting with Hutcherson, the lesbian/gay civil rights bill failed in the Washington Senate by one vote, after earlier passage by the state House.

Nationally and in Washington, leaders of lesbian and gay organizations are blaming Microsoft for the bill's defeat. The Human Rights Campaign has sent a letter to Microsoft expressing disappointment with the company:

The defeat of this bill struck a blow to fairness for all Washingtonians. No Washingtonian or American should ever be fired for who they are. Corporations in Washington, especially Microsoft, must recognize the enormous impact this bill could have had at delivering equal protection to GLBT people....

We also find it troubling that public reports allege that Microsoft made this decision not based on a business rationale, but under pressure from conservative religious-political groups. The reported rationale that Microsoft officials were afraid of offending 'Christians' is itself deeply offensive to the many Christians who believe in non-discrimination and were proud of Microsoft's previous position. Further, giving in to threats from a small group fighting to impose their own view of religion on the company and the state will only encourage more such threats.

In addition, the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center has asked Microsoft to return an award it received from the center in 2001, saying the company is no longer worthy of that honor.

It is the first time the center has asked that an award be returned, said Darrel Cummings, the center's chief of staff.

"People in our community are surprised and really shocked by the actions of Microsoft," he said. "There is no apparent reason why this corporation would have taken this action if it were not for the pressure put on them by what we consider to be very right-wing religious leaders that do not reflect the views of the people of Washington or this country."

So far, Microsoft has refused almost all comment on this issue. Big surprise.

Via Seattle Times and The Stranger.

Posted by Magpie at April 23, 2005 11:45 AM | GLBT | TrackBack(1) | Technorati links |