Editor's Letter: Straight People Changed Mozilla

By Matthew Breen

Originally published on Advocate.com May 01 2014 4:00 AM ET

There’s a moment before something big happens. It’s the moment just before a thunderstorm when there’s a frisson in the air; it’s the twig-snapping before an avalanche. In The Princess Bride, it’s the popping noise in the Fire Swamps before an explosive flame spurt. We’re at a pre-moment now, before the big event, one that will undoubtedly take years to fully unfold. That pre-moment is the resignation of Brendan Eich as the CEO of Mozilla.

On March 31, dating site OkCupid posted a notice to users coming to its site using the Firefox browser. The notice read, in part: “Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples. We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OkCupid.” Eich had taken the post as CEO just the week prior. The sticking point for OkCupid was the $1,000 donation to the virulently antigay (and successful) Prop 8 campaign in California.

Mozilla responded with a message of support for marriage equality and fair employment practices, but Eich, given ample opportunity in interviews, did not recant or display any regret for his donation. Grassroots groups called on Mozilla employees to express their displeasure, which they did. Eich resigned.

This resignation presages the time when it will no longer be possible to be openly antigay and keep your job as the head of a large company, in the way that it’s impossible to be an openly racist or anti-Semitic CEO. That’s still some time off, for most companies. Yet Mozilla, as a singular organization with an equality ethos baked right into its open-source technology, seems to be a company for which an antigay CEO is anathema.

Right-winger Sean Hannity, but also lefty Bill Maher, pounced on Eich’s resignation, decrying the gay thugs who have taken this all too far. The National Review called it a “lynch mob” (a confounding term with regard to the expression of civil rights).

The conservatives uniformly ignored the fact that this was a market-driven decision, one in which a company appears to have determined that it had made a misstep choosing a CEO who refused to distance himself from a donation to a discriminatory law and its despicable campaign that claimed gays and lesbians were coming for the children of America. (It was discovered Eich had also donated to campaigns for the overtly racist and antigay Pat Buchanan in 1991 and 1992.) Cannot companies decide, as conservatives so often insist they should, who they want as CEO? Mozilla listened to the market and its employees and board (several of whom resigned when Eich was named CEO), and acted in its best interests. That’s the free market at work.

Plenty of LGBT people, including many with whom I corresponded, as well as the generally sensible conservative Andrew Sullivan on The Dish, said the moment was a setback for the LGBT equality movement. While possible, that notion seems to skip over the fact that this wasn’t an action undertaken by LGBT people.

Nevertheless, if conservatives are totally honest with themselves, they should be able to see a way out of this hypocrisy: the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. If Eich shouldn’t have been forced out over his views, why should we ever be forced out over our very identities?