2014-04-03

Co.Exist

LGBT Programmers Speak Out On Mozilla's Anti-Gay-Marriage CEO

The maker of the popular Firefox web browser took so much criticism over hiring Brendan Eich, who donated to California's Prop 8, as its new CEO that he was forced to resign today.

Almost as soon as popular web browser organization Mozilla (the company behind Firefox) named Brendan Eich its new CEO this week, Mozilla employees publicly and unequivocally asked him to step down because of his donations to the campaign to end gay marriage in California. Today, he did.

The letter that appeared on OKCupid. Click to enlarge

A petition demanding Eich resign quickly gained nearly 75,000 signatures and OKCupid welcomed users of Firefox to its site by asking them to boycott the browser and switch to a competitor. (Both the petition and OKCupid's letter have been taken down in the last 24 hours.)

After the initial outpouring of criticism from the developer community, a lot more attention has been paid to Eich's words and vague apologies than what LGBT programmers themselves have to say. And now the defenses of Eich have started to appear. In focusing on what Eich is saying, the media have portrayed Eich's Prop 8 donation as an isolated mistake, rather than part of a pattern of political donations. In fact, as far back as the '90s, Eich has made donations to Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul, among other right-wing politicians.

Tim Chevalier is a queer man who from 2011 until late 2013 worked for Mozilla on developing its Rust programming language. Speaking to Co.Exist, he says:

"I think Mozilla's decision reflects shortsightedness and the reaction to the public reaction shows inability to handle criticism effectively.

"Mozilla positions itself as an organization that is more than just another for-profit tech company. You can't put up billboards that say 'Doing good is part of your code' and then expect people to look the other way when you appoint a leader who has gone on record as opposing fundamental rights for a portion of the population.

"Ultimately, [Eich's donation to Prop 8] didn't have an effect on marriage. What his money did pay for was advertising to encourage people to fear and hate people like me."

Jacob Cook, a gay programmer from Montreal and lead developer of open-source privacy tool arkOS, tells Co.Exist that "it's great that people are aware of the problem, willing to fight for it, and are raising the issue of how putting this person in a position of power in a diverse organization like Mozilla is very problematic."

However, Cook is not in favor of a boycott of Mozilla, the topic of a post on his blog. In it he writes:

Mozilla is a non-profit organization. While they do have an economic incentive in people using Firefox, this is only used to continue the work they are doing, and not enrich a set of shareholders or grafters. There's no sense in trying to 'punish' them through a boycott. Mozilla isn't Chick-Fil-A.

Elaborating to Co.Exist he added that "a boycott of Firefox would directly profit a company product like Google Chrome, which is more directly involved in oppressing marginal groups and the underprivileged through its economic influence. One good example is the current issue of property values in San Francisco, which Google has been a driving—though not sole—force behind."

Furthermore, as the leading browser not put out by a corporation, Firefox plays an important role in movements in support of privacy and the open web.

Current Mozilla employee Andrea Wood, in a blog post titled "Caught Between Two Movements," writes:

I find myself in the bizarre position of defending a company led by a man who donated to support a campaign that hurt me and my family. ... Thanks to Snowden’s release of NSA documents, people are angry, and now it’s time to get organized. Mozilla is the right organization to lead this movement because we are a nonprofit with a mission to build the web the world needs, not the web that will make Mozilla the most money. Our products give users choices and protect privacy. ... That is why it’s painful to watch Brendan Eich’s actions against same-sex marriage define who Mozilla is.

Chevalier, who is also a moderator for geekfeminism.org and the Geek Feminism Wiki, tells Co.Exist that he is "neutral on whether boycotting is a good thing. This isn't like boycotting Coors beer; the economic relationship between a Firefox user and Mozilla is a little more complex."

As far as solutions go, Chevalier says: "In an ideal world I'd like to see Brendan explain the reasons for his past actions in detail and say—honestly—that he's learned from what happened, that he's gotten over some of his fears, and is not going to be making decisions based on that kind of hate and fear anymore.

"I'd also like to see him make amends for what he's done, perhaps by donating to an organization that helps LGBT youth. In reality, I don't think that's going to happen, because I don't really think he has changed his mind and I don't want him to make an insincere apology. So, in a more realistic vein, I'd like him to resign from Mozilla."

[Painting by Paul Corio]

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