Thursday, April 3, 2014

About the Mozilla CEO resignation

There has been much news over the last week about Mozilla .
See  .
Here is my take.

Prop 8. was passed after an extremely deceitful campaign. The "Yes on 8" TV ads were blatant lies, and just horrible. Even some of my low-information, non-voting, gay friends who say them thought they should vote for prop 8 after seeing them.
Prop 8 was unlike all other state constitutional amendments against same-sex marriage, because it revoked rights that were already legally recognized.

I was deprived of the rights to marry my partner in California for many years, as many other LGBT couples were. Brendan Eich contributed $1000 towards that campaign. Unlike the 52% of the California electorate who voted for Prop 8 in 2008, this contribution was not the mere expression of an opinion, but something he actively did to influence the result of the referendum that stripped me and others of rights. While the Supreme Court declared in "Citizens United" that money is speech, I don't accept that.
I cannot simply ignore that he made that this contribution. Neither do I think the rest of the world can. I think some backlash against Brendan Eich is entirely warranted.

Whether backlash against him should translate to a Firefox boycott is much more debatable. For better or worse, a CEO represents the corporation, and his political opinions cannot be merely considered private matters. I believe CEOs should be held to a higher standard than lower-level, non-management positions. In this particular case, Brendan Eich was already in a high-level position, as a co-founder of Mozilla, and previously CTO. He was not recently hired, but merely internally promoted to CEO. His "Yes on prop 8 "donation was uncovered years ago, and did not make headlines as big then as now. The Mozilla board probably underestimated how big of an issue this would become after his promotion.

There is no evidence that he has taken discriminatory actions against Mozilla LGBT employees in the past. He has promised that he would not do so either as CEO in the future.
However, he has never publicly discussed his reasons for funding Prop 8 in the past, and there is no evidence that he has changed his mind on the subject. If he did, I believe he would have told the world already, and ended the controversy already.
In my mind, it is difficult to reconcile having funded Prop 8 and not being an anti-gay bigot. While many were deceived by their churches and very strongly encouraged to fund Prop 8, we don't know if that was the case here. I believe he would have said so as well if this was the case. That leaves with him having been and still being an anti-gay bigot as the sole explanation for the funding Prop 8. He is certainly entitled to his bigoted beliefs. But free speech under the First amendment only means it is free of repercussions from the government, not from individual citizens. A boycott certainly falls under free speech as well. Several Mozilla employees have called for him to step down from his CEO role last week.

I'm a long-time contributor to the Mozilla project, including 9 years working on the NSS security library - but never as a Mozilla employee. I certainly don't want to see the Mozilla project disappear into oblivion. I am glad the controversy ended, before the damage to Mozilla and Firefox became irreparable. Having Brendan step down from the CEO role was the best outcome.

Of course, Brendan's $1000 contribution towards Prop 8 was relatively small, considering the $40 million+ spent on each side. I incidentally also donated $1000 to "No on Prop 8" - the same amount he gave to "Yes on 8". But I'm proud of having done so.
Other CEOs have contributed to anti-gay causes, even in tech . When AOL acquired Netscape, Steve Case donated millions to anti-gay organizations, all the while paying Netscape/AOL employees to contribute to the Mozilla project .
And obviously, companies like Chik-Fil-A, Barilla, Wal-Mart, Exxon, and their CEOs have done much worse.
In that light, the recent reaction to the new Mozilla CEO may be overblown.
Ultimately, it comes down to how much intolerance we can tolerate. I think it's a good thing that the bigots are being pushed into the closet, for a change. I worry that many will still continue to promote their bigotry anonymously, however.

As someone who is in an interracial, same-sex marriage, I would certainly be just as upset if he had donated to a group that opposed interracial marriage. I suspect the rest of the world would be more upset about it than about his donation to "Yes on prop 8".

There is a line between political opinions and human rights. Most people nowadays recognize that racism affects human rights and is not just a mere political opinion.
Many people, but not as many, also recognize that LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage, are human rights as well.
Hopefully In 50 years, there will be as few homophobes as there are racists today, but that will still be too many.


  1. Thank you Julien. Great to get the thoughts of someone working with Mozilla.

    1. You are welcome, Michaelangelo.

      I must say I have been somewhat torn on this issue. I didn't boycott Firefox myself, but I supported the right of others to do so.

      I wish there had been a statement of evolution on the issue by Brendan, but that was not to be. 5.5 years since Prop 8 may be too short for some to evolve. And for me and others, the wounds caused by Prop 8 are still fresh, too.

      We now know that Brendan stepped down not just from the CEO post, but also left Mozilla together. I don't think that had to happen.

  2. so because of an insignificant donation you agree with ousting the one who invented JavaScript, the tool that you use to promote his ousting. What about firing Steve Jobs or Elon Musk for something that he believes (believed) that you don't, even though he didn't actively acted by imposing policy or discriminating against gays. The only thing mr Eich can be accused of is that he held a belief that it's contrary to yours, but the same with 7M californians and with Barack Obama at that time(I know... he evolved since). I guess we should hunt every one of them and get them fired or ostracized until they renounce their belief. Why? because... EQUALITY!

    1. Thanks for writing, Mr anonymous. This blog can feel a little lonely at times.

      I'll try to address the points you make.

      1) Technically, Brendan Eich resigned from Mozilla.
      The Mozilla board has said that they offered him to stay in a position other than CEO, possibly including the CTO position he held before, but he chose to leave Mozilla together.
      Had he decided to stay on as CEO, the Mozilla board might have taken action. That is not, however, what happened. Thus, to call it an "ousting" is not completely accurate.

      The 2 developers who started boycott, Hampton Catlin and Michael Lintorn Catlin, indeed, insisted on his ouster initially in their letter to Mozilla.
      Personally, I was hoping for a better statement about the previous Prop 8 donation, preferably an apology. That statement never came, as Brendan, even during numerous interviews and media appearances, simply avoided discussing it.

      The best he could manage was to talk about the "sorrow at having caused pain" in a blog post that didn't mention his "Yes on Prop 8" donation.

      Hampton Catlin also stated later on that he would have been fine with a better statement. I know many in the LGBT community, and Mozilla community, including myself, were hoping for one.

      2) I'm thankful that there is a technology such as JavaScript that permits these discussions to take place. My use - or non-use - of Javascript does not directly benefit anyone, however. There are no royalties paid to either Brendan Eich or anyone else when one uses Javascript .
      Just for the record, I also did not take part in the Firefox boycott myself. Firefox remained on my 7 physical computers and many more VMs throughout the incident. But I agreed with the rights of others to boycott it and voice their opinion, as was their right as free speech.


    2. 3) The significance of Brendan Eich's donation to "Yes on 8" was not its amount, but what Prop 8 and its campaign did.

      Prop 8 was very significant in many ways :

      a) It took away rights that already existed.
      That part was unprecedented. None of the other state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage in the US ever did that.
      Same-sex couples already had the right to get married in California before Prop 8. Taking away that right didn't affect the rights of the majority who voted for Prop 8.
      This is not matter of opinion. Prop 8 was vindictive animus. If you had your existing civil rights not only put up to a vote, but successfully taken away, how would you feel ?
      I took Prop 8 very personally.

      b) Prop 8 proponents tried to retroactively nullify existing same-sex marriages.
      18,000 same-sex couples had already gotten married in California before Prop 8 passed.
      If you had the legality of your marriage challenged in court, how would you feel ?
      That actually happened to many friends and coworkers of mine.
      The LGBT community has not tried to nullify anyone else's marriages

      c) The "Yes on 8" campaign was so deceitful, and hateful.
      You may want to refresh your memory and watch the videos at :
      These were running daily on almost every channel in the bay area. If you and your family were being publicly compared to child molesters on broadcast TV, how would you feel ?
      IMO, the California electorate was deceived by this campaign.
      Personally, I do not take kindly to those who funded this campaign. I think they deserve to be called out.

      d) This awful "Yes on 8" campaign unquestionably changed the outcome of the Prop 8 referendum. Prop 8 was only polling at 40% and headed for defeat prior to those hateful TV ads.

      e) When you consider all these facts, one can draw a straight line from those who funded "Yes on 8", to the hateful "Yes on 8" TV ads, to Prop 8 passing, to LGBT couples in California being deprived of existing civil rights.
      If 35,000 donors, including Brendan Eich, didn't fund "Yes on 8", LGBT civil rights wouldn't have regressed for 5.5 years. This isn't a matter of mere belief, but actions, their consequences, and the response to them.


    3. 4) If Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, had funded "Yes on 8", or attempted and succeeded in taking away my civil rights in some other manner, I suspect some people might also have been upset and become vocal about it, including some employees and customers.
      Mozilla however is different from Apple and Tesla in one major respect - that they rely in part on outside volunteers, not just their own employees, to develop their products. As it turns out, some of them are LGBT.

      5) 7 million Californians may have voted for Prop 8, but only 35,000 donors, many of them not even Californians, funded "Yes on 8" and in doing so, actively tried and succeeded in taking away existing LGBT civil rights. This is an important distinction.
      I don't know how many others of those 35,000 donors are CEOs of large high-profile companies. Should they be fired ? Only their boards can do that. Ostracized ? Not more or less than racists are ostracized, to the extent that they still want to inscribe their respective kinds of bigotry into law, and state and federal constitutions.

      6) Barack Obama didn't fund the "Yes on 8" campaign that led to its passage. He didn't call for anyone to vote for Prop 8. In fact, he actually opposed it and said called Prop 8 "unnecessary".
      I personally thought his rhetoric fell way short of what I expected from him at the time. I did not give him a pass on that. Neither did a lot of the LGBT community, for the matter, if you care to look.

      However, it should be noted that his opponent on the presidential ballot in 2008, John McCain, unambiguously supported Prop 8.

      On the Prop 8 issue, Barack Obama was very much the lesser of the two evils in 2008 .
      And Barack Obama didn't so much "evolve" between 2008 and 2012 in the issue of same-sex marriage, as he "devolved" between 1996 and 2008 .

      7) And, yes, equality. It's an important and meaningful word.

    4. Thank you for your detailed response, and not dismissing me for my opinion.
      My objection is not to the underlining issues with Prop 8, which is a complex subject whose merits or negative effects I'm not able or willing to debate.

      My point is simpler: if I am a very talented airplane pilot that have bigoted, even racist views which I DO NOT bring into my work, should I be able to pilot a plane? You'll say it's not executive position... then where we draw the line? Which position is executive enough to be subjected to a litmus test? What is the litmus test? Who decides it? Who decide which positions are or not susceptible to this litmus test? And how much time do you think it will take until the scope is increased to cover other jobs?

      I don't think this is the way to go in a society, we should be judged upon our actions in our work, not our actions in our private life, regardless of how that affects other people. The model you're proposing will bring a very litigious era in corporate life on topics that have nothing to do with their mission. I strongly disagree that we should target people for their beliefs as long as they do not interfere with their work. I don't agree that Henry Ford, a known fascist, should have been forced to disengage from his business because of his flawed beliefs, I do not agree with McCartyism, no matter how noble the ultimate goal is. A noble goal does not change the fact that their conscience rights and are trampled by some that have other beliefs, even if those beliefs are the right ones. These are the reasons that, no matter how detailed and well documented your anti-prop 8 arguments are, they are invalid in this matter from my perspective.

      And with being fired or ousted or he resigned, it's just parsing words... and you know it. The reason why he resigned/was fired/ousted/demoted is clear to all.

      PS: I'm anonymous for a reason... maybe one day I'll be the CEO of Mozilla and I don't want to be fired for this post :)

    5. I think if you simply ignore the merits or negative effects of Prop 8, you miss the point that the boycotters were trying to make.

      Prop 8 was not just some random political initiative about GMO labeling, term limits, high speed rail, to name a few that have been on the ballot in California over the years. It was a civil rights issue. And I think the distinction is important. For LGBT people, Prop 8 went to the core of who they are. The hateful ads, and the passage of Prop 8, were a personal assault that will never be forgotten, but can be forgiven.

      The arguments I made about Prop 8 are not invalid - I think they are relevant to the discussion, especially for someone in a leadership position such as CEO. Prop 8 directly and negatively affected many Mozilla LGBT employees, customers, outside volunteers in the community, and their families. This fact is not in dispute, and it's not something that a leader should simply dismiss.

      Unfortunately, Brendan Eich refused to address it. He simply evaded the issue. That is a choice he made, as was his right, but it was not a good one for his image. I think he would still be CEO if he had handled it better.

      You do raise good questions about a hypothetical litmus test, what positions it should apply to, and who the arbiter should be.

      And I don't have any good answers for that. I don't think there is any hard and fast rule that can be applied. We are not talking about there being any law, or anything like McCarthyism, where the power of government is involved to compel people to take or not take certain actions.

      Rather, this is about the rights of companies to hire or not hire who they wish, and whether they can consider their employees' public actions when doing so, as well as the rights of employees and customers to react in the way they want, including speech and boycotts. I think these rights exist on both sides, and they are not new.

      Hiring decisions for high profile public positions are made all the time based and take into consideration people's public actions.

      If Brendan Eich had given to more extreme causes than "Yes on Prop 8", surely you would agree that the board would have had the right not to promote him to CEO. And company boycotts have happened in history before for a variety of reasons.


    6. Your hypothetical examples are not very good analogies, because merely holding views is not the same as acting on them.

      In the case of an airline pilot, if the pilot never acts on his racist views towards coworkers, the first question would be how the company becomes aware of those views in the first place. Let's say that he acts on them and donates to a campaign to repeal the right to interracial marriage, and that initiative passed. The donation is publicly disclosed, and the company learns about it. His regular co-pilot was in an interracial marriage before, and the initiative proponents try to annul it. The co-pilot also learns of his pilots' donation.

      Does the co-pilot have the right to voice his concerns, and ask to be reassigned with another pilot ?
      Does the company have the right to pair the pilot with another co-pilot ?
      Does the company have the right to offer the the pilot another job, if they can't find any co-pilots willing to be in the cockpit with him ?
      Does the pilot have the right to decline the other job and resign ?
      Do the customers who become aware of this pilot, and dislike him, have a right to take their business to another airline ?
      Do the customers who feel very strongly about this pilot have a right to call for others to boycott the airline ?
      Do outside pilots and co-pilots have the right to avoid applying for jobs at the airline after the bad publicity ?
      Does the co-pilot have the right to resign in protest, and go to work for another airline ?
      I am not a lawyer, but I think the answer is yes to all these.
      You may then ask :
      Does the company have the right to terminate the pilot ?
      Does the company have the right to terminate the co-pilot ?
      Does the company have the right to terminate them both ?
      That's less clear. I think in many states, the answer is also already yes. There may be costs depending on their contracts and unions.
      Should the company exercise those rights ? That's at their discretion. There could be some valid business reasons for them to do so, for example if they are a small fledgling airline, and can't afford to lose any more business due to a boycott.
      Would the situation get this far out of control, for something about a non-executive employee ? I think most likely not. That boycott would not be news all over the world.

      I don't know enough about what Henry Ford's actions were, it's late, and I don't think it really matters. If he publicly acted on his fascist beliefs, certainly his customers and employees would have the right to react in any legal way they chose.