By Ron Flynn
Alice Board, Co-Chair
Last month, Brendan Eich resigned as CEO of Mozilla following the public disclosure of his financial support in 2008 of California’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples, Prop 8. Many on the right, and some on the left, argued that his resignation showed that LGBT activists are intolerant bullies. Others argued that Mr. Eich’s First Amendment right of free speech was violated. Both arguments are wrong.
It really is difficult to say that Mr. Eich was bullied. Bullying happens when someone with power inflicts physical or psychological harm on someone without power. The non gender-conforming child who is ridiculed and sits alone – while teachers do nothing, or worse, join in – is a victim of bullying. The young woman who faces endless taunts from her male colleagues about her appearance, or who faces physical or psychological abuse from her partner, is a victim of bullying. The person-of-color who joins an all-white workforce only to be ostracized, ignored and ridiculed, is a victim of bullying. The CEO who is called to answer for his statement that some in his community – either those who work for him, or those who use his company’s product – are less worthy of respect than others, is not a victim of bullying. Mr. Eich was not powerless. He CEO of a technology company. He had a PR staff at his disposal. He was very capable of defending himself against arguments that he was a bigot. He could have met his critics head on. He was invited to do so. He chose not to. More on that later.
As to intolerance, the argument goes that the LGBT Community is intolerant of those who do not fall into line supporting our rights. Wow. I see it differently. For years, the LGBT Community, as well as other minority communities, has argued that diversity is a value in and of itself, and that intolerance stifles diversity. Valuing diversity affirms the inherent dignity of every person, and recognizes that every community – LGBT, ethnic, racial, religious (or atheist), gender, socio-economic status – adds value to our society as a whole. To ensure that diverse communities have the ability to survive, even thrive, we need majority communities to “tolerate” differences. Without such a demand, the majority would simply overwhelm minority communities. That is an entirely different thing than demanding that every idea has inherent dignity and adds value to our society. The “idea” that Mr. Eich financially supported was that the LGBT Community does not deserve the rights or the dignity that accompany marriage. He advocated taking away rights from a minority community. No theory of “tolerance” requires that we accept “ideas” whose aims are to take away our rights.
To argue that Mr. Eich’s First Amendment right of free speech was violated misses the point. The First Amendment prohibits the government from “abridging the freedom of speech.” Obviously, the employees and users of Mozilla are not the government. More to the point, they were acting exactly as the drafters of First Amendment assumed they would. Then, differing ideas went to the town square and were debated – about taxation, about representation, about slavery, about the ideas of the day. The First Amendment was not penned to protect those putting forth ideas from being criticized in the town square, but instead to allow that debate to occur. Today’s town square involves blogs, cable news, and social media. Mozilla’s target customer is not a person who desires a uniform world that favors straight people over LGBT people, but instead its mission is to create a “global community of technologists, thinkers and builders working together to keep the Internet alive and accessible, so people worldwide can be informed contributors and creators of the Web.” Its mission is to allow everyone into the town square! It is no wonder that the Mozilla community took issue with Mr. Eich’s position. He could have explained his decision to give to Prop. 8. He could have renounced it. He could have affirmed it, and argued it was right. He chose to avoid it. And the town square rejected his idea. Mr. Eich was “forced” to resign not due to “intolerant gays” but because the very community his company is trying to create – participants in a global town square – rejected his intolerance.
That is not to say that we do not need to be careful to allow respectful debate about ideas. That is what we do at Alice, we invite both sides of issues to discuss ideas, then we discuss ideas, and then we decide. But sometimes there is no real debate to be had. Advocating that the LGBT Community deserves fewer rights than others is not a debate we need to engage in. That does not make us bullies, or intolerant, or violators of the First Amendment. It makes us advocates