More on Microsoft

There’s a lot of discussion going on in the blogosphere right now (see here for a start) about the reaction to Microsoft’s decision to “remain neutral” on the gay rights bill in Washington state. There are those who believe that after Microsoft has done a lot of good things for the LGBT community, a backlash over their position on a single piece of legislation is unfounded.

They are, however, wrong. And here’s why.

First, quite simply, I believe that if there were a piece of legislation proposing the rescinding of protections for people of color, or women, or people with disabilities, and Microsoft remained neutral, there would be no criticism of those who reacted with horror.

Secondly, regarding Microsoft’s assertion that they must respect the views of their religious employees and shareholders, the legislation itself was an anti-discrimination bill, which should not be controversial by any stretch of the imagination. Irrespective of one’s views on whether homosexuality is right or wrong, there’s no religious precedent for this type of discrimination. (I don’t see a national movement for adulterers, compulsive gamblers, inveterate liars, etc. to be denied equal employment, housing, or other opportunities, and I’m sure that has nothing to do with the fact that such legislation would discriminate against the majority of the members of GOP’s top echelon.) A basic understanding of the tenets of every major religion will easily confirm this contention—allegedly religious justifications for the continuation of slavery and the prohibition of interracial relationships were similarly rejected.

Thirdly, in response to those who suggest that social activism isn’t the responsibility of corporations, I would remind them that any time a corporation (or group of corporations) lobbies Congress for something like deregulation on pollutants or stricter bankruptcy laws, or against family leave or universal healthcare, that is social activism. Corporations are collectively one of the primary social activists in this country; it's just that they tend to be pro-corporate and anti-society. The redistribution of taxation is a primary example of that of which I speak. A century ago, the vast majority of federal taxes were paid by corporations; now the vast majority is paid by individuals. That is a massive societal shift. We didn't lobby for that—corporations did. And, as a matter of fact, corporations are currently engaged in a comprehensive lobbying effort against the eradication of the filibuster:
The country's leading business lobbying associations, close GOP allies in recent legislative efforts and political campaigns, have told senior Republicans that they would not back the Frist initiative to force votes on President Bush's judicial nominees.

Business leaders say they fear the move would lead to a shutdown of Senate action on long-awaited priorities…
Even as the dominionists have their panties all in a bunch with excitement over the nuclear option, which is itself social activism of the highest order, Big Business is busily trying to thwart it because they believe it will be bad for business. Corporate America is constantly engaging in social activism; whether one agrees or disagrees with their involvement in our legislative process is another issue altogether. The point remains that suggesting social activism isn’t the obligation of corporations ignores their decidedly eager participation as social activists on a regular basis.

Finally, should a community whose support Microsoft used (rather effectively) as a marketing tool not have a reasonable expectation to receive continued support in return? Of course the LGBT employees of Microsoft were given great benefits by the company, but every member of the community was used in Microsoft’s not-so-subtle marketing campaign to position itself as a progressive company, which was used in no small manner to both attract the best and the brightest from that very community as employees and the LGBT community as consumers—not a small market share when you consider their disproportionate representation in creative fields utilizing cutting edge technology. One might fairly note that the relationship between Microsoft and the LGBT community has been a mutually beneficial one—Microsoft was able to promote its progressive ideals on social issues concerning the community, and in return, members of the community were offered benefits (if employed by Microsoft) and the hope that other corporations would follow the monolithic Microsoft’s leads (if employed elsewhere).

If the LGBT community and their supporters don't vociferously stand up to those who would throw gays to the wolves for political expediency, it's likely to happen with increasing frequency. Most corporations are not as gay-friendly as Microsoft. If they see Microsoft taking the lead on abandoning gay issues without any notable backlash, what hope does the LGBT community have that the good things Microsoft has done, in terms of partner benefits, etc., will ever be extended by companies who have not already started down that road?

When Microsoft first decided to use its progressive policies as a marketing tool, they took on a responsibility to the LGBT community and an obligation to protect them against discriminatory legislation. When the richest corporation in the world takes you dinner then sticks you with the bill, you have a right to get angry.

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