In case you haven’t been following it, there’s been rather an ugly controversy involving Mozilla’s (now former) CEO Brendan Eich. It turns out that he made a donation back in 2008 in support of Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California. As you might imagine this sparked a passionate debate about whether or not it was appropriate for him to lead Mozilla.
Mitchell Baker, the Executive Chairwoman of Mozilla, posted about it on the Mozilla blog:
Mozilla prides itself on being held to a different standard and, this past week, we didn’t live up to it. We know why people are hurt and angry, and they are right: it’s because we haven’t stayed true to ourselves.
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.
Engaging Brendan Eich and others like him versus lashing out in anger
As a gay guy, I have mixed feelings about his resignation and I’m not sure it was a good thing for him, Mozilla or the gay community. It might have been better to engage with him, educate him about why same sex marriage matters, and help him understand why it is so important to the gay community. By forcing him to resign that opportunity has been removed or at least made less potentially valuable.
I don’t know Brendan Eich personally, but I would have been very interested in finding out exactly why he made that contribution. What motivated him? What was going through his head? Was it fear? Religious beliefs? Or something else? We will probably never know now, and I find that to be very unfortunate indeed. It’s very hard to build a bridge to someone when you don’t know why they have a particular point of view.
I understand why so many people lashed out at him and Mozilla in anger or fear. That can be a very tempting thing to do in a situation like this. But does it serve any real purpose beyond trying to make him an example by creating fear in others who might share his point of view? There is a time and place to use anger as a tool, but anger can also become a sword without a hilt if it’s not used carefully.
Image credit: Channel 4 News
Brendan Eich’s side of the story
Eich tried to address the public outcry in a post on his blog about becoming Mozilla CEO. I’ve reproduced it in full below. An important thing missing from it was his reasons why he made the donation, and it’s a shame because it would have shined a light on what was going through his head at the time. He also missed the opportunity to offer a direct apology and ask for forgiveness, and those things might have helped people understand who he is now as a person.
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.
A number of Mozillians, including LGBT individuals and allies, have stepped forward to offer guidance and assistance in this. I cannot thank you enough, and I ask for your ongoing help to make Mozilla a place of equality and welcome for all. 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.
Mozilla is a movement composed of different people around the world, working productively together on a common mission. This is important to our ability to work and grow around the world.
Many Mozillians and others know me as a colleague or a friend. They know that I take people as they come and work with anyone willing to contribute. At the same time, I don’t ask for trust free of context, or without a solid structure to support accountability. No leader or person who has a privileged position should. I want to be held accountable for what I do as CEO. I fully expect you all to do so.
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.
You will see exemplary behavior from me toward everyone in our community, no matter who they are; and the same toward all those whom we hope will join, and for those who use our products. Mozilla’s inclusive health benefits policies will not regress in any way. And I will not tolerate behavior among community members that violates our Community Participation Guidelines or (for employees) our inclusive and non-discriminatory employment policies.
You’ll also see more from Mozilla under my leadership in the way of efforts to include potential contributors, especially those who lack privilege. This entails several projects, starting with Project Ascend, which is being developed by Lukas Blakk. I intend to demonstrate with meaningful action my commitment to a Mozilla that lives up to its ideals, including that of being an open and inclusive community.
If anybody has a link to specific comments by Brendan Eich about why he made that donation, please post in the comments section below. I have not been able to track down anything in any of the searches I’ve done. The news is filled with stories about his resignation right now.
The future of Brendan Eich and Mozilla
I don’t have any hate or anger in my heart for Brendan Eich, I wish him and Mozilla well as they both try to rebuild after this mess. I just hope that the next time something like this happens people will offer the person in question the opportunity to learn and grow beyond where they were years ago before simply condemning them. Condemnation without the possibility of forgiveness precludes any hope of reconciliation between human beings, and reconciliation is absolutely necessary if we are going to have a better society.
Yes, people can change and grow if you give them a chance
I know that that perspective probably isn’t going to be popular among some who were angry about Brendan Eich being CEO of Mozilla. But I am a big believer in the idea of redemption, and I truly believe that people can change as they grow older and wiser. We’ve seen it happen many times in the past and we’ll see it again in the future.
Image credit: Izquotes
Remember Governor George Wallace back in the 60s? At one time he vowed “…segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” but over time his views changed completely and he later said “I was wrong. Those days are over, and they ought to be over.” Wallace even asked for forgiveness and went on to be reelected as governor in 1982 with strong support from black voters in Alabama.
Civil rights activist John Lewis talks about forgiving George Wallace in this article from the NY Times that appeared after the death of Wallace (the emphasis in the text is mine):
Although we had long been adversaries, I did not meet Governor Wallace until 1979. During that meeting, I could tell that he was a changed man; he was engaged in a campaign to seek forgiveness from the same African-Americans he had oppressed. He acknowledged his bigotry and assumed responsibility for the harm he had caused. He wanted to be forgiven.
I can never forget what George Wallace said and did as Governor, as a national leader and as a political opportunist. But our ability to forgive serves a higher moral purpose in our society. Through genuine repentance and forgiveness, the soul of our nation is redeemed. George Wallace deserves to be remembered for his effort to redeem his soul and in so doing to mend the fabric of American society.
If someone like George Wallace can change then I believe that others can do so too. But only if we give them the opportunity and only if they – like George Wallace – are truly open to that possibility in their hearts and minds.
What’s your take on this? Tell me in the comments below.