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The Fall of Brendan Eich Happened Without Us

By ARI EZRA WALDMAN

Brendan-eich-mozilla-firefox-squareBrendan Eich is no longer the CEO of Mozilla. His tenure was short. But if you believe the media swarm surrounding his quick departure, you would think he left in a blaze of burned bridges and violent protests. I must have missed all that. Mr. Eich was asked to step down because the members of his board of directors made the decision that he could no longer govern their company. That's how boards are supposed to work.

There was no mainstream gay rights organization calling for his head. No one "bullied" Mr. Eich out of Mozilla's headquarters. To say so is an insult to those of us who have been bullied in real life. And no cabal of intolerant gays proclaimed that disagreement with us merits unemployment. That seems to be a bogeyman conjured up in the prolific brain of Andrew Sullivan.

Although this was a legitimate board decision, Mr. Eich did do two things wrong: He took actions that were specifically intended to harm others and he made it worse by refusing to discuss those actions. Those who turned to demonize a straw man of intolerant "gay activists" miss these two facts.

Their argument is essentially about tolerance for evolving opinions and it goes as follows: We cannot punish people for simply disagreeing with us. If we do, we become no better than intolerant conservatives who hate us simply because of who we love. It would have been better to teach Mr. Eich, to sit down with him like mature adults and make our case, thereby showing him that he, like millions of other people, were wrong about us.

Let me say that I agree. I am a proponent of guiding our former opponents on a path toward acceptance with calm, cool rhetoric and a mature approach. I wrote about it here, with respect to Senator Rob Portman's evolution on gay marriage. But it is not clear to me how we can discuss something with someone who refuses to come to the table. Plus, this is not a matter of having differing opinions. Mr. Eich made a jump from having an opinion to taking actions to hurt another group of people. To assert the equivalence of belief and action is not only plain wrong, it is inconsistent with how free speech norms have developed in this country.

This story, then, boils down to three simple facts:

1. Mozilla's Board of Directors did exactly what boards are supposed to do;

2. Mr. Eich took actions that made him unfit to lead a unique community like Mozilla; and

3. Actions have consequences.

CONTINUED, AFTER THE JUMP...

There is no doubt that being anti-gay in your beliefs and your actions now puts you on the short end of public opinion. It also puts you behind the American business community. Financial services companies wrote amicus briefs in the DOMA and Prop 8 cases. Their leaders raise millions for marriage equality. Discriminating against folks is bad for business. So, in that sense, some could see the fall of Brendan Eich as a reminder that the business community has reached a consensus on gay rights.

But Mozilla is a unique business. It is a non-profit; it is the creator of Firefox, an open source web platform. It employs a phalanx of programmers, engineers, and techies who also believe in an open Internet. Mozilla is a community, and the board of directors of a community is charged with maintaining the values of that community, including, among many other ways, appointing an executive that shares and expresses those values. Mr. Eich, the board realized, neither shared nor could adequately represent the community he was hired to lead. No amount of programming skills and Internet vision could compensate for his central and basic inability to be a chief executive.

That is why opposition to his appointment came from Mozilla employees.

The media circus surrounding his departure is, therefore, utterly puzzling. But it drops from puzzling to disappointing when I see the entire affair being twisted into a pretext to condemn and criticize gay people, who really were pretty absent in this whole affair.

Mr. Sullivan, a man with many smart ideas and an important voice, calls it "repugnantly illiberal" to demand that a chief executive toe the progressive line on gay marriage and gay rights. He, instead, thinks we should be in the business of tolerance, that quintessentially liberal value of live-and-let-live, and maturity, not "shaming" a man simply because of his beliefs.

Let's accept, just for the moment, that these intolerant gays exist -- there is, after all, intolerance everywhere.

First, this story is not about beliefs. Lots of people believe lots of different things and norms of freedom of conscience guarantee our right to believe whatever we want. This is a story about actions that were specifically intended to discriminate, harm, and keep down a disadvantaged minority. Ensuring that actions have consequences is not just a democratic right, it also happens to be a law of physics.

But it is Mr. Sullivan's presumption of liberality as the best path for gay rights that is his Waterloo. Equality is not simply about tolerance. I do not have to tolerate an avowed Nazi, who donates money to a movement to deport blacks to Africa, as the president of the company I work for. I can protest, I can leave, and I can tell the board that he needs to go. The board, in fact, should know that. As a society, we have determined that taking actions that deny the inherent dignity of Jews, African Americans, and women is simply inconsistent with our values and certainly inconsistent with good business. Including gays in that list is long overdue progress.

***

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Ari Ezra Waldman is a professor of law and the Director of the Institute for Information Law and Policy at New York Law School and is concurrently getting his PhD at Columbia University in New York City. He is a 2002 graduate of Harvard College and a 2005 graduate of Harvard Law School. Ari writes weekly posts on law and various LGBT issues.

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Comments

  1. Excellent column. Thanks!

    Posted by: Jay | Apr 7, 2014 1:26:45 PM


  2. "Mr. Eich made a jump from having an opinion to taking actions to hurt another group of people."

    kind of like the 100,000's of people who were the ones who actually VOTED for the prop.

    Posted by: Homo Genius | Apr 7, 2014 1:27:47 PM


  3. Ari,

    Could you please stop being accurate and logical about what really happened?

    You're confusing Andrew Sullivan and Ben Shapiro.

    Thank you.

    Posted by: bobbyjoe | Apr 7, 2014 1:28:00 PM


  4. Sullivan's gaspingly-stupid take on the whole thing was simply yet another example of him reminding us all what a cowardly excuse for a man he is. A man who continuously plays contrarian to win back the favor of a man, and a demographic, that will only ever view him as a crushing disappointment.
    He picks the wrong battles for the wrong reasons with alarming frequency.

    He's a terrific example of what happens to a grown adult who never does the work to truly over the homophobic prejudices he was force-fed as a youth.

    there is no such thing as "liberal tolerance" - "liberal tolerance" is a derisive conservative buzz-term. Liberals do better than tolerance. Tolerance is what gay conservatives aim for, as they often know they can't get actual support, or love, or acceptance or solidarity. Tolerance is their meal. It's the best they figure they can get. I don't know any liberals who promote "tolerance" - "tolerance" is saying "nice doggy" while holding a big rock behind your back, because too many people are potential witnesses.....

    Posted by: Little Kiwi | Apr 7, 2014 1:29:10 PM


  5. Ari, as always, this is a great analysis. But I think you are misquoting Newton slightly... his third law of physics is 'Every action has an equal and opposite reaction' - not consequences. Of course, I don't expect you to be a physicist, too. And I will continue to admire your legal ...um... briefs.

    Posted by: MikeBoston | Apr 7, 2014 1:31:14 PM


  6. I wish everyone could read this--finally someone sensibly and articulately explains what happened. About time.

    Posted by: Laight | Apr 7, 2014 1:32:06 PM


  7. Thank you for this article. I don't understand Mr. Sullivan line of thinking at all. Sometimes it appears he likes it in the back of the bus.

    Posted by: ladi | Apr 7, 2014 1:32:34 PM


  8. Very well stated comment. Clears up a lot of the smoke and distraction. Unfortunately, people of AS's ilk are not open to being told they are wrong.

    Posted by: Reggie777 | Apr 7, 2014 1:35:21 PM


  9. Andrew Sullivan needs to STFU and realize that his day has past. We are not in 1988 any longer.

    But that is where Sullivan's mind set is stuck.

    He has become an annoying embarrassment to the younger generation of gays.

    More concerned with people's perception of him that his actual character.

    He's a 'smaller picture' kind of guy these days, and that isn't his fault. He's just old and unchanging now.

    And he needs to just go away. Retire. Maybe Camille Paglia needs someone to sublet her extra bedroom.

    They could have late night parties discussing their irrelevance.

    Posted by: Bill | Apr 7, 2014 1:35:52 PM


  10. I wasn't surprised by Andrew Sullivan's extremely flawed position on the issue. In fact I would have expected it. I was very surprised by Jim Burroway and Rob Tisinai over at Box Turtle Bulletin jumping on the bogus bandwagon promoting the lies that 1) Eich was fired, 2) Eichs First Amendment rights were violated and 3) big gay was to blame even though it's clear that 1) he wasn't fired, 2) this has nothing to do with First Amendment rights and 3)not one single national gay rights organization supported, promoted or even suggested a boycott of Mozilla. In fact the ONLY national organizations that were, and continue to, call for a boycott of Mozilla are/were ANTI-GAY groups.

    Posted by: TampaZeke | Apr 7, 2014 1:36:50 PM


  11. "Mr. Sullivan, a man with many smart ideas and an important voice..."

    To say that Sullivan is intelligent and relevant is to relay a kindness he does not deserve. Still, a very good article.

    Posted by: Håkon | Apr 7, 2014 1:44:31 PM


  12. How my "community" reacted to Eich's stepping down was (and IS) appalling. We're a freaking Inquisition now. I have never hated my gay brothers and sisters more than this weekend with their bloodlust and the makings of a lynch mob. You'd think Eich was Tony Perkins from the way some of you nutjobs were doing your Apache war dance.

    This is Brenden Eich's response when the controvery starting brewing. He himself wrote:

    Here are my commitments, and here’s what you can expect:

    •Active commitment to equality in everything we do, from employment to events to community-building.
    •Working with LGBT communities and allies, to listen and learn what does and doesn’t make Mozilla supportive and welcoming.
    •My ongoing commitment to our Community Participation Guidelines, our inclusive health benefits, our anti-discrimination policies, and the spirit that underlies all of these.
    •My personal commitment to work on new initiatives to reach out to those who feel excluded or who have been marginalized in ways that makes their contributing to Mozilla and to open source difficult. More on this last item below.

    I know some will be skeptical about this, and that words alone will not change anything. I can only ask for your support to have the time to “show, not tell”; and in the meantime express my sorrow at having caused pain … I am committed to ensuring that Mozilla is, and will remain, a place that includes and supports everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, economic status, or religion.

    ----------

    This would have been a fabulous time for US, my community, this weekend, to have shown some compassion for the guy. It's in times of crisis that your true colors shine. We attacked him like vultures and acted like a gestapo.

    I don't want the quality of ANY of your mercy. You guys are squandering all the goodwill the gay community has built up in the past 10 years.

    Posted by: will | Apr 7, 2014 1:44:33 PM


  13. Ari Waldman would totally support Dharun Ravi as CEO of Mozilla.

    Posted by: Clem | Apr 7, 2014 1:49:48 PM


  14. Here is Brendan Eich writing just as the controversy started to brew. He himself wrote:

    -----

    Here are my commitments, and here’s what you can expect:

    •Active commitment to equality in everything we do, from employment to events to community-building.
    •Working with LGBT communities and allies, to listen and learn what does and doesn’t make Mozilla supportive and welcoming.
    •My ongoing commitment to our Community Participation Guidelines, our inclusive health benefits, our anti-discrimination policies, and the spirit that underlies all of these.
    •My personal commitment to work on new initiatives to reach out to those who feel excluded or who have been marginalized in ways that makes their contributing to Mozilla and to open source difficult. More on this last item below.

    I know some will be skeptical about this, and that words alone will not change anything. I can only ask for your support to have the time to “show, not tell”; and in the meantime express my sorrow at having caused pain … I am committed to ensuring that Mozilla is, and will remain, a place that includes and supports everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, economic status, or religion.

    Posted by: will | Apr 7, 2014 1:49:51 PM


  15. Inane opinion pieces like this, all dressed up in seemingly-intelligent garb, are what robs this great nation of ours of its greatness. We are a people not only of ideas, but of the right and leeway to express them in our political process. Yes, even of unpopular views.

    The hypocrisy here is deadening. And no amount of opinion pieces can mask the reality that too many in the gay rights movement have become the very political fascists they have always claimed their opponents of being.

    We also need to remember that Mr. Eich co-founded this company. Perish the thought that he actually be given the opportunity to be the CEO of the very company he helped to found. "Strip him of leadership and a job!!!" This all just makes me sick.

    Posted by: Jon | Apr 7, 2014 1:50:49 PM


  16. (sorry for my double post)

    Posted by: will | Apr 7, 2014 1:50:50 PM


  17. Don't be silly. Of course people were calling for his scalp. The whole dating website protest was premised on his removal and there were countless comments on blogs like TR calling for his removal. It was pure mob animus.

    Posted by: anon | Apr 7, 2014 1:50:53 PM


  18. One cannot tolerate intolerance. One does not have to respect someone's avowed racism or ant-Semitism or homophobia. We should not tolerate intolerance especially if someone's intolerance threatens someone's else rights or liberties.

    "Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them... We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant." - Karl Popper

    Posted by: David Comfort | Apr 7, 2014 1:59:31 PM


  19. Congratulations on an excellent and concise analysis of the facts, citing irrefutable truth.

    It is not the least bit surprising that the trolls are ignoring all of it in favor of their usual hysteria.

    Trollroad's trolls continue to make this the number one comment section on the Internet for utter weirdness and reliable stupidity.

    Posted by: oncemorewithfeeling | Apr 7, 2014 2:01:35 PM


  20. I'm in full agreement with Mr Waldman.

    Posted by: mike | Apr 7, 2014 2:04:50 PM


  21. Sullivan should just stick to his BB parties and leave journalism alone.

    At least Ari is eloquent and enjoy his articles.

    Posted by: Sam | Apr 7, 2014 2:07:58 PM


  22. This analysis misses a hugely important point that others can learn from. Having served on both for-profit and non-profit boards, I have to say that the Mozilla board failed in managing Eich's appointment. It knew of Eich's donation--as did many other people--and had to have been aware of the controversy it would cause in today's super-political atmosphere (otherwise one wonders whether the Board members should be the ones resigning). The board had the responsibility to have an open conversation with Eich about this, and if it wanted to move forward with the nomination, engage the LGBT and Allied stakeholders in an open and honest conversation. It should have then managed the communications around the appointment much more forthrightly, dealing specifically with the donation question and informing everyone that it had been throughly addressed to the Board's satisfaction (which includes their assessment of stakeholder views). The steps taken and not taken by the Mozillza Board offer some important lessons for others to digest when it comes their turn.

    Posted by: John Tedstrom | Apr 7, 2014 2:12:21 PM


  23. I don't understand. If someone here is willing to look at Towleroad as "Trollroad", why are they sticking around? Aren't they, then, trolls as well? Or are they the only one not a troll? Please respect the host. My parents taught me not to spit on the floor if I'm a guest in someone's home. How about some civility, and common decency?

    Posted by: Reggie777 | Apr 7, 2014 2:12:45 PM


  24. @Ari - Thank you! You hit the nail on the head. Thank goodness people are actually standing up to bigots and expressing their displeasure. Would Sullivan and others be beating the "we must be tolerant of intolerance" drum if Eich were a racist and was donating funds to the KKK? I think not. This is some kind of bizarre double standard on their part... racism is bad, but anti-gay behavior, not so much. It is really appalling.

    Posted by: Gerry | Apr 7, 2014 2:13:36 PM


  25. Just a perfect example that "money" is, and can not be considered as 'free speech'.

    Posted by: Peter | Apr 7, 2014 2:17:29 PM


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