The resignation of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich — who founded the company that makes the Firefox Web browser in 1998 — because he has anti-gay marriage views is not sitting well with everybody. He quit after a sustained campaign by his own employees, who believed his views made him not credible as a leader.
At the heart of the move is a fundamental contradiction: Eich’s foes disapproved of Eich’s intolerance for LGBT people. But in the end they could not tolerate Eich’s opinions, which for years he kept private and, by all accounts, did not bring into the workplace. The “tolerant” were not tolerant enough of a man they considered intolerant, even though he had tolerated them for about 15 years, in other words.
The issue is made more complicated by the fact that Eich’s views (a private donation to a campaign to make gay marriage illegal in California) had almost nothing to do with his job (making a Web browser that works really well).
Within an hour of his exit, a comments thread on Hacker News — a site popular with the coders and developers who care most about Mozilla — had grown to nearly 600 comments, both pro and con.
Those celebrating his departure pointed out that as Mozilla is a collaborative nonprofit, Eich’s prejudice against homosexuals might deter talent from joining the company. Those bemoaning it, however, noted that he lost his job simply because he had an unpopular opinion that had nothing to do with his work.
Here’s a selection of those comments, which were posted under anonymous screen names:
- The most damning aspect of this was their a) inability to predict this would be an issue and b) their inability to deal with it once it did.
- I don’t think ‘integrity’ in the face of an opinion that is becoming more and more unacceptable to hold in our culture is a good thing. Changing your views, and admitting you were wrong is the best thing you can do.
- … there’s no absolute right to be a public-facing CEO, and it’s not unreasonable for the public to name-and-shame companies for their stances on public issues and the people they choose as corporate leaders.
- This is exactly how opinion worked in East Germany. You didn’t have to be a communist, but if you weren’t you would never work again.
- Mozilla made a business decision that the guy was a liability for a public non-profit. That’s capitalism, not totalitarianism.
- It’s surprising how intolerant people become once their opinion becomes the socially acceptable one.
- This is exactly how oppressive mobs work.
Eich had kept his views on gay marriage quiet until last year, according to Re/code. He told the Guardian, “So I don’t want to talk about my personal beliefs because I kept them out of Mozilla all these 15 years we’ve been going. … I don’t believe they’re relevant.”
Mozilla Executive Chairwoman Mitchell Baker didn’t know about his views until last year, according to Re/code:
Baker said that she had not known about Eich’s views on gay marriage throughout most of their working relationship, until the donation came to light last year.
“That was shocking to me, because I never saw any kind of behaviour or attitude from him that was not in line with Mozilla’s values of inclusiveness,” she said.
Eich, perhaps, stated the irony best when he was talking about what would have happened if he — or other employees — had been excluded from Mozilla on the basis of their views at an earlier date:
I would have been excluded, someone else would have been excluded because of me — I wouldn’t have done that personally, they’d have just left. So imagine a world without Firefox: not good.
But the tide is turning against Eich’s kind. Being prejudiced against gay and lesbian people today is turning out to be a bit like being prejudiced against black people in the 1950s. People with those views are simply on the wrong side of history, and companies don’t want executives distracting their staff or customers with views that, increasingly, seem extreme and mean-spirited, even if they are private.
No tech company CEO could have expected to keep his or her job if they had made a quiet donation to the KKK, for instance.
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