After the furore – noisy, vast, righteous – came the resignation, an inversion of the storm: soft, small, bowed.
When Brendan Eich stepped down on Thursday after only 11 days as chief executive of Mozilla, the company behind the Firefox browser, following outrage over his 2008 donation to an anti-gay marriage campaign, he said nothing, leaving the announcement to his executive chairwoman, Mitchell Baker. In a blog post, she wrote: “Mozilla prides itself on being held to a different standard and, this past week, we didn’t live up to it. We know why people are hurt and angry, and they are right.”
To translate: we are scared this will ruin our business. Given that OkCupid, one of America’s largest dating websites, had asked its millions of subscribers not to access their site using Firefox, such fears were justified.
But not all those who champion gay rights are cheering. Andrew Sullivan, the prominent US-based blogger and columnist, described the ousting as illiberal attack on the First Amendment.
“Will he now be forced to walk through the streets in shame? Why not the stocks?” Sullivan asked on his blog The Dish, accusing the gay rights movement of “hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right”.
Sullivan, a gay conservative, concluded: “If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us.”
While Sullivan is entitled to his opinion, many gay rights campaigners like myself find his response hysterical and ideologically muddled.
Do those who support equal rights not have the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and freedom of protest? In which case, how are those who campaigned against Eich’s appointment “bullies”? Surely “human rights activists” is the more appropriate term.
For a gay commentator to equate our campaigners with our oppressors is the act of an Uncle Tom. Was Nelson Mandela “no better” than his white rulers because he refused to renounce violence? Were the Suffragettes every bit as immoral as their opponents for committing acts of vandalism? Unlike both of these examples, there have been no physically destructive acts against Mozilla, only the peaceful tools of pressure. For that to be deemed bullying is a grotesque slur and the real attack on freedom.
The United States of America is not the land of the free, but of the free market. In the amoral juggernaut of capitalism, the latter trounces the former again and again. Thus, if you live by the free market sword, you must die by it – or in Eich’s case, fall on it.
Companies are not blank, neutral forces, but values-strewn brands that target particular demographics, chiming with customers’ shared beliefs. To threaten that love-in, as Eich has, is to pickaxe profit, rendering one’s position untenable.
When the term “pink pound” was coined to denote the higher disposable income of child-free gay people, we should have predicted its inevitable successor, what I call the “purple pound” – the targeting of not only gay customers but our pro-equality allies. This group now forms the majority in the US and UK, a majority even larger among younger people, who also tend to be tech-savvy. The Venn diagram of Firefox users and gay rights supporters will be almost a circle. Companies such as IBM, Apple, Gap, Nike and Microsoft that support gay causes are simply making a sound business decision.
For a Reaganite like Sullivan to not see where such free marketeering ends is his fault, not Mozilla’s, not activists’, nor any of us who hoped Eich would do the right thing and exit.