Steve Ballmer: I support gay
rights. Er, at least I support it
here at Microsoft. But the
state can do whatever the
hell it wants as far as the
subject is concerned. (credit:
I’ve read with interest Steve Ballmer’s contention that Microsoft did not, at least to Ballmer’s mind, abandon the Washington State gay rights bill and that it did it turn its back on gay rights within the company. Seems to me he’s just compounding the lies put out by MS’ communication apparatus saying that the decision to back away from the bill (HB 1515) occurred in January and was not influenced by Rev. Hutcherson’s threats to organize a nationwide Christian boycott of MS products.
For those who’d like to read the entire piece of detritus (and it’s worth a read to see what prevarication and hypocrisy look like within a corporate communications environment), click on this link. Thanks to Towelroad for providing the full text.
Let’s examine the falsehoods. First, Ballmer claims MS decided to drop support for the bill in January. The problem with this story is that two Microsoft employees testified for the bill in February. The company knew these people were going to testify. It did not tell them not to. It did not inform them that the company had dropped its support. It allowed them to say in their testimony that the company did support the bill. No one from the company contradicted this testimony. Are we to imagine that Microsoft’s corporate communications and government affairs team is so incompetent that it would let such a mistake go uncorrected? Nah.
Ballmer continues by saying that the decision to drop the bill was taken due to the company’s "desire to focus our legislative efforts." He further amplifies this statement:
It’s appropriate to invoke the company’s name on issues of public policy that directly affect our business and our shareholders, but it’s much less clear when it’s appropriate to invoke the company’s name on broader issues that go far beyond the software industry – and on which our employees and shareholders hold widely divergent opinions.
So his argument goes something like this: a state gay rights bill has nothing to do with Microsoft per se. So it’s appropriate to remain silent as a company on the bill’s fate. But isn’t it interesting that for the last number of years every time this bill was introduced Microsoft was there on its behalf. What changed all of a sudden this year?
Another myopic aspect to his argument is the notion that the social climate of Washington State has nothing to do with the company itself. This means that Ballmer doesn’t care whether or not his gay and lesbian employees feel safe, secure and respected in the state and under its laws. If Microsoft is far-thinking enough to realize that the strength and quality of public education directly impacts the quality of employees it can recruit; why would it not realize that the lives and happiness of perhaps 20% of its workforce would be dramatically enhanced by passage of this bill? Not to mention that most progressive companies embrace the notion that the locale in which they do business needs to meet standards of tolerance and openness in order to provide the company and its employees with a suitable social environment in which to live and work. Why else do you think Microsoft placed its headquarters in Seattle and the high tech industry began in the Bay Area rather than Baton Rouge, LA or Gainesville, FL?
In addition, Ballmer’s argument completely ignores the fact that many major companies supported this State legislation when MS was supporting it and continue to support it now that MS has jumped ship. Sarah Kershaw notes in her first article on this flap: "It was supported by other high-tech companies and multinational corporations including Nike, Boeing, Coors and Hewlett-Packard." These forward-thinking companies disagree with Microsoft (thank God). The bill’s passage isn’t any more directly related to their businesses than it is to Microsoft’s, yet they remain on board while MS abandoned ship.
Finally, what Ballmer is telling his gay employees is: "you’ll always feel comfortable and embraced here within the company, but once you leave our doors we have nothing to say about the environment in which you will live. If you face discrimination off campus, you’re on your own." Gosh, if I were a MS competitor I’d be pitching like crazy to MS’ gay employees. If they weren’t demoralized already, they sure will be now that Ballmer has put them on notice that the company doesn’t care about the quality of life or society in this state as far as discrimination against gays goes.
You’re welcome to read my first post on the Microsoft imbroglio.