software giant Microsoft is under attack from angry gay
employees, politicians, and activists after downgrading its
supportive stance on the statewide gay rights bill to "neutral."
Seattle's alternative newspaper, The
Stranger, first reported that Microsoft caved into
pressure from the leader of a large Evangelical church.
Pastor Ken Hutcherson said he threatened a nationwide
Christian boycott of Microsoft products if the company
continued to support gay rights legislation in Washington.
The Stranger article relied heavily on an
unidentified source who participated in a meeting between
Microsoft and its gay employee group. The employee said the
decision not to support Rep. Ed Murray's legislation came
after meeting with Hutcherson.
Microsoft spokeswoman Tami Begasse insisted that
the policy team decided well before the abbreviated
legislative session began to support bills more closely
aligned with the company's goals like computer privacy,
transportation, education, and competitiveness.
But the openly gay Murray told The New York
Times that Microsoft is lying when it says its decision
not to support his bill had nothing to do with Hutcherson's threats.
Begasse admitted that the company did meet with
Hutcherson in February but said the meeting was merely to
explain that the two employees who testified in favor of a
gay civil rights bill spoke as individuals, not as
representatives of the company. She added, "Reverend
Hutcherson asked us to go a step further by coming out
against the bill, and we declined his request."
Begasse said, "We are committed to gay, lesbian,
bisexual, and transgender employees. Microsoft has long been
a leader in the business community when it comes to gay
rights." It recently added gender identity as a
characteristic protected by the company's nondiscrimination policy.
The civil rights bill was defeated in a 25-24 senate
vote on April 20, but it's unclear whether Microsoft's
actions had anything to do with it. Regardless, the gay
community will be watching the company carefully for any
other signs of eroding support. (Michael Bradbury,