Heard about the controversy surrounding the now former CEO of Mozilla, a company perhaps best known for its web browser Firefox, and how his donation to the anti-gay Proposition 8 marriage amendment in 2008 came back to haunt him? Here’s a rough timeline of events so far, and the chance to have your say on the smouldering question of whether the CEO should have stepped down at all.
1. 2008: Brendan Eich Donates $1,000 to the Yes on Prop 8 Campaign
Brendan Eich, then technology officer at Mozilla, donated $1,000 to the anti-gay marriage campaign to pass Proposition 8, the now infamous same-sex marriage ban. Due to the nature of finance disclosure laws, Eich had to declare his employer on the record when he made the donation. The LGBT media actually reported this when it emerged about two years after the donation was made, but other than some grumbling, nothing much came of it.
2. Flash Forward to March 24, 2014: Mozilla Elects Eich as CEO to Immediate Backlash
When Mozilla elected Eich to CEO, LGBT news sites started running the story of his anti-gay marriage donation. The news spread to social media, generating a lot of negativity around the Mozilla brand.
Eich, it has also emerged, has a record of donating to Republican politicians who weren’t just anti-gay but vehemently so, including Pat Buchanan, who is on record as saying gay people are satanic.
3. March 25: Mozilla Defends its Diversity Record
Due to big players in the LGBT media giving the story quite a bit of coverage, Mozilla seemed keen to defend its LGBT rights record so as to ensure that Eich’s private actions didn’t dull the brand’s shine, issuing a statement the very next day, saying in part (and also listing concrete examples):
Mozilla has always been deeply committed to honoring diversity in sexual orientation and beliefs within our staff and community, across all the project’s activities.
With thousands of people spanning many countries and cultures, diversity is core to who we are, and we’re united in our mission to keep the Web open and accessible for everyone.
4. March 26: Eich Issues a Statement Saying He is Committed to Inclusiveness
The day after that, March 26, Eich himself issued a statement making several commitments to upholding the ideals of Mozilla’s inclusive brand:
I am deeply honored and humbled by the CEO role. I’m also grateful for the messages of support. At the same time, I know there are concerns about my commitment to fostering equality and welcome for LGBT individuals at Mozilla. I hope to lay those concerns to rest, first by making a set of commitments to you. More important, I want to lay them to rest by actions and results.
At around the same time, Eich said he would not be resigning. He also never ruled out donating to other similar causes. This is something that wider media also picked up on.
5. LGBT Employees Begin Protest
Again, around this same time, and not satisfied with all the attempts to cap the controversy, reports began to emerge that a number of LGBT employees from within Mozilla had begun petitioning for Eich to resign, with some taking to social media to demand Eich step down. There was never a formal campaign, and certainly not one involving wider LGBT groups.
6. Three Mozilla Board of Directors Resign
Following Eich’s appointment John Lilly, Ellen Siminoff and Gary Kovacs stepped down from the board. The media has made much out of this, but at least two of those people were due to step down regardless of Eich’s appointment. What is certain about this news in particular is that by this point the facts didn’t matter and Mozilla appeared to be finding it hard to keep control of the situation.
7. OKCupid Delivers the KO?
In what was perhaps the biggest blow to Eich’s chances of maintaining his job, about a week ago, highly trafficked dating site OKCupid employed some tech wizardry to display the following message to people who were using Mozilla Firefox to access its site:
8. April 3: Eich Resigns and Mozilla Says Sorry
On April 3, it was announced by Mozilla that Eich had decided to step down from his position as CEO. The statement the company issued reads in part:
We didn’t act like you’d expect Mozilla to act. We didn’t move fast enough to engage with people once the controversy started. We’re sorry. We must do better.
Brendan Eich has chosen to step down from his role as CEO. He’s made this decision for Mozilla and our community.
9. The Religious Right Take up Eich’s Cause (With Death Threats to Mozilla)
Within hours of the news of Eich’s resignation, the Religious Right began foaming at the mouth, decrying the gay media and liberals for having gotten Eich fired (never mind that Eich wasn’t fired — he stepped down). To give you a level of the discourse, Glenn Beck thinks that the people who opposed Eich’s brief tenure as CEO, are, well, to use his words: “These groups are becoming nothing but a terrorist organization!”
Sadly, Beck has been one of the more cogent among dissenters. There have even been death threats posted to Mozilla’s website. Conservatives are now trying to boycott Mozilla Firefox. Their options are incredibly limited, however, as Google, Microsoft and in fact nearly every company providing an Internet browser has come out for LGBT equality.
10. Mozilla Reiterates: Eich Resigned, Was Not Pushed
Mozilla has now had to take the extraordinary step of issuing an “FAQ” about Eich’s departure, clarifying his job was never threatened but that he chose to leave. What’s more, Mozilla claims that the employees who protested were few in number, and that the board in fact wanted Eich to stay. It also clarifies that while Mozilla honors same-sex marriages and has a commitment to fairness and equality in the workplace it, as a business, is not about to start throwing money behind any political issue.
The Great Debate and Having Your Say
Where we’re at now is interesting. Prominent gay conservative Andrew Sullivan has written a scathing series of pieces in which he slams the gay rights movement for its perceived part in getting Eich to step down — though it’s worth reiterating that official gay groups like the HRC were largely silent on the entire affair. Others have bemoaned that the controversy betrays liberal values: Eich had always maintained that his private donations were just that and had never affected his work at Mozilla. There’s no evidence to the contrary. This story has even become comedy fodder for the likes of Bill Maher, who recently suggested that there is a gay mafia and those who upset said group are in danger of getting “whacked.”
However, others have fired back against Sullivan and his criticisms by defending the outcry and the pressure on Eich to resign. They say that this was again an example of the free market working its magic: Eich’s position became untenable because Mozilla’s users didn’t like the fact that Eich — who it seems may still be against gay marriage — was now at the helm, something they thought betrayed Mozilla’s equality ethos. They therefore used their power as consumers to pressure the company. In effect, the argument goes, the market outfoxed Eich and he had to go.
But what do you think? Should Eich have had to step down? Or was this private speech that had nothing to do with his job? Please, tell us what you think in the comments below.