|The good, the bad and the smelly
Sometimes the proverbial pendulum of social change functions a lot like a cuckoo clock. The sweep of the arc from progress to impediment and back to progress can be so quirky and jerky that we're often still smarting from a stinging political loss when momentum suddenly swings our way again.
What has taken place in recent weeks at Microsoft provides a striking illustration. Under pressure from a boycott-threatening evangelist named Ken Hutcherson in the company's home state of Washington, Microsoft last month dropped its longstanding support for a bill that would have prohibited discrimination against gay people in housing, employment and other areas. The company, frequently honored as a leader in fair corporate practices, announced that it was changing its stance on the bill to "neutral," saying it henceforth would endorse only legislation with a direct impact on its business. That same week, the rights law went down to defeatby one vote. And Microsoft quickly discovered just how much of an impact its choice of nonalignment was having on staff morale.
More than 1,500 staff members signed a petition demanding that the company reverse its decision, and corporate headquarters was barraged with internal emails and letters of protest. Less than two weeks later, Microsoft again reversed its position. CEO Steve Ballmer, the man who had announced the "neutral" policy, sent out a letter to all employees reinstating support for the anti-discrimination bill. The legislation will come before the state legislature for a second vote next year.
Several Microsoft executives attributed the latest reversal to widespread publicity and internal "pressure" following the company's original turnaround on the bill. "This issue got attention at the highest levels of the company in a way it didn't before," one executive told The New York Times.
Even though victory in the state legislature is delayed for at least another year, Microsoft deserves credit for listening to and being responsive to its workers. And for the rest of us who may sometimes doubt the worth of standing up for our rights and speaking out in the workplace, the success of those employees in rectifying an unfortunate corporate decision sets a memorable example of why we should.
Speaking of strange occurrences in the state of Washington, sentiment is running high for Spokane Mayor James West to receive one of the inaugural Two-Face Awards, an annual gala to honor political hypocrisy proposed in this column in the April 8 edition of Letters. (Remember, you can always catch up with past issues online at www.camprehoboth.com.) West is indeed a worthy candidate. As a state senator, he built a strong following among ultra-conservatives by campaigning for a bill that would have barred homosexuals from working in schools and day care centers, voting to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, allowing a gay employment-rights bill to die in committee, and, as mayor, threatening to veto a measure to extend benefits to domestic partners of city employees.
Now, following an investigation by the Spokesman-Review newspaper, it turns out that West has been living a double life. Caught red-handed, he acknowledged that he has "visited a gay chat line on the Internet and had relations with adult men." He did, however, deny the newspaper's detailed accounts of two men who allege that West had molested them when they were in the Boy Scouts 24 years ago. When the news story broke, His Honor resigned from the board of directors of the local scouting council, but vowed to finish his mayoral term.
Though no charges had been filed as of this writing, the Spokane newspaper also reported that one of its investigators, posing as a 17-year-old, chatted on line with the mayor in February, and that West suggested he might be able to offer the young man an internship in city government. According to the published report, West said, "Remember, I'm very closeted. No one knows I like guys. Except the few guys I've been with and highly trusted."
Added His Honor, "It's just that the openly gay guys are a little over the top for me. I don't really like the in-your-face attitude some guys have. And the massive political agenda either."
Over the top? Massive political agenda? Mr. Mayor, those are exactly the qualities that could earn you the first-ever Roy Cohn Lifetime Achievement Award at the Two-Face Awards.
Meanwhile, have a great Memorial Day weekend, and may your pheromones lead you to an adventure-filled summer. Pheromones? Yes, there's mounting evidence concerning the significance of the chemical compounds, which are known to trigger responses regarding defense and sex in many of God's creaturesand the data has particular importance in the efforts of scientists to demonstrate the natural, biological basis for human homosexuality.
One new study, by Swedish researchers and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found a difference in the way gay and straight males respond to smells.
The scientists divided subjects into three groups: heterosexual men, heterosexual women and homosexual men. When the researchers studied brain-scan responses to the sniffing of scents like cedar or lavender, all of the subjects reacted similarlyand exclusively in the region of the brain that handles odors. But when confronted by a chemical from the male hormone testosterone, portions of the brain active in sexual activity were activated in straight women and in gay men, but not in straight men. When the female hormone estrogen was used, only heterosexual men responded significantly. (A similar study involving gay women is not yet complete.)
In an unrelated study involving responses to body odors, specifically underarm sweat, researchers in Philadelphia found strong differences between gay men and straight men and women. Gay men preferred odors from gay men, while odors from gay men were the least preferred by heterosexual men and by lesbians and straight women.
While you're sniffing out some fun in the sun, we'll keep our nose to the grindstone, sniffing out the latest news updates for your stimulation.
Bill Sievert can be reached at email@example.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 5 May 20, 2005