Brendan Eich, Mozilla CEO

Darcy Padilla

Brendan Eich, Mozilla CEO

General


When Mozilla CTO Brendan Eich was appointed CEO last week, the response to his promotion started quietly, with three members of the board resigning without comment.

How much Eich’s $1,000 donation to support California’s 2011 Proposition 8 to ban gay marriage inspired the exodus is unclear. But as the discussion around the nonprofit’s leadership choice picked up steam yesterday, popular online dating company OkCupid took an unprecedented stand with a letter from its CEO that blocked users of Firefox, the Mozilla-produced browser — and turned the issue into a lightning rod for the tech community.

“Those who seek to deny love and instead enforce misery, shame, and frustration are our enemies,” the company’s statement read. “[W]e wish them nothing but failure.”

Things appear to be getting worse than better for Eich, who has thus far refused to explicitly apologize. In an interview with CNET on Tuesday, Eich also said that the board members left for various other reasons. In the case of at least one, a source said that was the case.

All this has left some people affiliated with Mozilla feeling betrayed, caught between their support of gay rights and their excitement about the mission-driven nonprofit that produces the Firefox browser and pushes for a more open, free and collaborative Internet.

Most gay-rights leaders within the tech community are expressing outrage, and Eich’s efforts to contain the damage don’t seem to be helping stave off the calls for him to step down.

On Monday, for example, Eich asked Hampton Catlin, a prominent developer who was until Eich’s appointment working on an app for the Firefox phone, to join him for an hour-long one-on-one coffee at Waterbar on San Francisco’s Embarcadero to try to soothe tensions. Catlin, CTO of Moovweb and CEO of Rarebit, who is gay, left the “personal” and “productive” meeting unfazed — he was still calling for Eich’s resignation.

“We’re looking for an apology,” Catlin said. “And he didn’t apologize.”

Eich, the creator of popular programming language JavaScript, whose donations were known about in 2012 when he was the CTO, might be having a hard time putting a positive spin on things, given that Mozilla’s VP of communications, Leslie Nakajima, resigned today, telling the Holmes Report, a PR industry publication, that her departure was “coincidental timing.”

Firefox users can’t access dating site OkCupid.

In his protest letter, which greeted Firefox users attempting to sign on to OkCupid, CEO Christian Rudder suggested that they access the dating site through another browser, such as Chrome.

“Prop 8 makes me angry,” Rudder said in an interview. “That there are people who support it makes me sad. OkCupid is never going to take a stand on gun control, but this issue matters to our business. We wanted to write something forceful because the situation demanded clarity.”

Leanne Pittsford, who runs Lesbians Who Tech meetups across the country, said the tech world is not as politically progressive as many would like to think.

“We think of the history of being a geek as not being status quo. We think, even if you’re not super progressive, you’re agnostic or you’re just not political, you’re definitely not conservative … especially not at Mozilla,” Pittsford said. “I think we’re seeing this isn’t always true. As technology becomes mainstream, moments like this will become more common.”

Pittsford was doubtful about whether Eich would be able to keep his personal politics separate from his business leadership.

“Writing a $1,000 check is a very specific thing,” she said. “If you’re willing to put down your own money, if you feel that strongly, I just have a hard time thinking work and private life are these separate universes.”

Gene Falk, the CEO of StartOut, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting gay entrepreneurs and leadership, said the Eich appointment was a wake-up call for many in the tech community.

“When people ask, why do you need an organization just for LGBT entrepreneurs, the Mozilla situation is the answer,” Falk said, noting that at a time when the race for engineers is so tight, gay-friendly workplaces tend to win the best talent.

“If a company does something that suggests that they don’t understand the issues, if it’s just middle-of-the-road when others are on the extreme, doing great stuff for equality, employees will jump ship and go somewhere else,” he added.

Catlin, whose iPhone app, Dictionary!, has been downloaded 50 million times, had seen his work on an app for the open-source Firefox phone as part of a movement for a better, more free device.

“When Eich was CTO, we knew he’d made this donation, but it didn’t seem like that big of a deal, because we knew he was the guy who invented JavaScript. The Internet said, ‘Oh, well, there are crazy people with opinions all over,'” Catlin said. “This was different. CEOs drive the direction, the HR, the strategy. And they are the face of the business. All of a sudden, he became the final authority.”

Catlin said his own work on Mozilla was driven by his belief in the nonprofit’s mission.

“We really loved that at Mozilla they believe in open-source software and the community driving technology. I thought we were fighting the good fight. But our company and our family couldn’t exist if Prop 8 still did,” he said. “How can we help further an organization that doesn’t think this is a big deal? It feels like a family member has wronged us.”



11 comments
tmgotech
tmgotech

"CEOs drive the direction, the HR, the strategy. And they are the face of the business. All of a sudden, he became the final authority.”


And exactly how has he discriminated against gays in his new job?  How many gays has he fired, refused to hire or promote?



Matt Romney
Matt Romney

I think it should be pointed out that there is no evidence whatsoever that Mr. Eich has done anything to make Mozilla a less gay-friendly workplace.  Just because he has different beliefs than you do about sexual ethics doesn't mean those beliefs would necessarily spill over into the policies of Mozilla.  This is not about Mr. Eich's policies.  This is about using political power to silence dissent.  Gay rights?  Heh...more like Gay Reich.

Usonian Chicago
Usonian Chicago

I always like to look at things from a historical perspective. What if he had given money to an organization against interracial marriage. How would you feel then?
           

Cwong5
Cwong5

The biggest problem I have with this guy is the lack of apology. He recited what the company stood for, all the while failing to admit to wrong. No Firefox until he is gone. Or worse, no Firefox because he is about to sink it like a battleship. P-8 and FIRE!

KPOM
KPOM

Gotta love those tolerant progressives in the tech industry.

Roughdraft
Roughdraft

@KPOM What does that even mean?  You don't think 'progressives in the tech industry' should have beliefs?  Or should they ignore their beliefs unless they align with your superior beliefs?

BrianZoh
BrianZoh

@ElianGonzalez I can't agree with you here. You are clearly trying to make the case for excusing support for discrimination, and even going to far as to fault the victims of said discrimination for standing up against it. I think that's rather ugly, to be completely honest.


Your gentle approach is appreciated in your comment but your end goal is still an attempt to shame a minority into silence or inaction because you disapprove.



Duane Green
Duane Green

@BrianZoh @ElianGonzalez  Your final sentence is ironic. ". . . your end goal is still and attempt to shame a minority into silence or inaction because you disapprove." How is your stance superior than the CEOs? It's not. What you call discrimination others call protecting their biblical beliefs. YOU are attempting to shame and discriminate against evangelicals and others who oppose gay marriage. There is no way around it.


BrianZoh
BrianZoh

@Matt Romney @BrianZoh@Duane Green@ElianGonzalez No, sorry Matt. You aren't voting your conscience, you are voting to codify discrimination. I'm sorry if that makes you uncomfortable to hear, but that's the fact of it. You can wrap it up in whatever justification you like, it won't change it.


What's actually sad and ironic is your statement about employment discrimination: that that right hasn't actually been won.


But while we are at it, lets also take a look at the history of what happens when religious folk get to push their ideas of how other should live through government...More irony.

Matt Romney
Matt Romney

@BrianZoh @Duane Green @ElianGonzalez  No Brian.  The logic chain makes sense if you believe we all have the right to vote our consciences about matters of public policy that touch on morality.  It does not take much familiarity with history to imagine what the future will hold if threatening the livelihoods of those who disagree with us becomes a legitimate, widely used political tactic.  It is ironic and sad that so many in a group that had to fight so long and hard for the right not to be discriminated against in employment now finds it so easy to do so to others who disagree with them.

BrianZoh
BrianZoh

@Duane Green @BrianZoh@ElianGonzalez No. Absolutely no. No one is suggesting that evangelicals can't live out their life as they see fit. I am ABSOLUTELY suggesting they have no right to push those beliefs onto others by codifying discrimination. You are basically continuing the argument that someone standing up to a bully is a bully as well.


You follow a logic chain that only makes sense if you believe that Christians have a right to legislate morality based on their chosen religion, and that right trumps every other right Americans are guaranteed, singularly and as a group, under equal protection and free speech rights. Again, I say absolutely not.


Prop 8 is not a law about religion, Christian or otherwise. It served no purpose in protecting Christianity. It only served to discriminate against gays wishing to legally marry. Again, if you equate people standing up and saying that isn't OK to those people who support the law then chances are we are never going to agree.

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