Hear Me Out
|Microsoft and God
Whether or not Microsoft changed its support for a gay rights bill because of pressure from a fundamentalist preacher is now no longer the point.
For all of those who have long held to the notion that, in the world of business, Bill Gates is God, the Rev. Ken Hutcherson is like a rebel Jesus tumbling down the walls of the temples.
Hutcherson says he has taken on the God of big business, and Hutcherson is claiming victory.
With the help of God, of course.
Hutcherson, who is known by his nickname, "Hutch," is the central figure behind the debate over what happened with Microsoft's support of a statewide nondiscrimination bill.
The bill would have outlawed discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit and insurance based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Microsoft previously supported the bill. This year, it switched its position from being in favor of the bill, to being neutral on it.
Hutcherson says the switch was made after he put pressure on Microsoft to do so, or face the wrath of a Christian boycott.
Microsoft says that's nonsense.
What is certain is that on April 21, the bill died when the Washington Senate voted 25 to 24 to reject the measure.
In the flurry of media reports surrounding pressure on Microsoft from Hutcherson, we may never really know what happened to cause Microsoft to change its stand.
But whether or not the preacher had any influence on Microsoft's position, the whole ugly scenario is a big victory for the Christian right and a loss not only for the gay rights bill in Washington state, but for gays and their relationship to businesses all around the country.
The mere perception that a business giant like Microsoft caved into pressure from a right-wing religious leader, regardless of whether or not it is true, is enough to embolden the right to take further steps to bully businesses that support gay rights and gay employees.
It is also a dangerous warning that in the post-presidential election of 2004where religious fundamentalists took credit for George Bush's re-election specifically on an anti-gay platformthe religious right is going to continue to exert its inflated sense of power in every aspect of American life possible.
Since the election, the notion of a prevailing and victorious religious right has reigned in the media and in the popular imagination.
It's possible, even likely, that the religious right isn't nearly as powerful as it has been made out to be.
But sometimes, the sense of power is all that is needed. In this case, it may be enough to both embolden the right as well as cower any opposition to it.
That's certainly the claim the religious right is making in its row with Microsoft.
For two previous years, Microsoft supported the bill and lobbied for it in the Washington state legislature.
This year, two gay Microsoft employees testified before the Washington state House in favor of the bill. When they were asked if they represented Microsoft's official position, the gay employees noted that the company had issued a letter of support for such a bill the year before, and that the company planned to issue a similar letter of support this year.
But that letter never came. Just why is a matter of contention between Microsoft and "Hutch."
When Hutcherson, a big hulk of a man who is a former linebacker with the NFL, heard the testimony of the two gay Microsoft employees, he contacted the company and asked to speak with its officials.
Two meetings took place. During them, Hutcherson asked Microsoft to fire the two gay employees who had testified, and to withdraw its support from the bill or face a national boycott from religious conservatives. Microsoft didn't fire the gay workers. But neither did it issue a letter of support to the Washington House in favor of the antidiscrimination law.
In fact, Microsoft then said its position on the bill was "neutral."
Microsoft officials vehemently deny that their meetings with Hutcherson had any influence on their lobbying efforts.
Instead, Microsoft officials say the company had earlier decided to limit its legislative lobbying efforts to bills that directly affected the company.
But the "Hutch" isn't the only one claiming that his pressure on Microsoft made them cave.
In both The New York Times and the Stranger, an alternative Seattle weekly, anonymous gay employees of Microsoft talked about a meeting held March 29 with Brad Smith, senior vice president for Microsoft, and representatives of GLEAM, Microsoft's gay employee group.
In that meeting, according to the anonymous sources, Smith cited the pressure from Hutcherson as the reason the company was switching its position from favorable to neutral on the antidiscrimination bill.
Microsoft officials have continued to deny in the strongest terms that pressure from Hutcherson had anything to do with the change in their position on the antidiscrimination bill.
Perhaps as a way to reinforce their insistence that Hutcherson and the religious right had nothing to do with their decision this year, Microsoft is already making noise that it may support the bill when and if it comes up again in the 2006 session.
In typical fashion, however, Hutcherson is saying that Microsoft's version of events is "a flat-out lie."
"If I got God on my side, what's a Microsoft? What's a Microsoft?" he recently told The Times.
"I told them I was going to give them something to be afraid of Christians about," Hutcherson said.
And whether or not Microsoft changed its stand on the antidiscrimination bill or not, it seems that Hutcherson's words couldn't have been truer.
For Microsoft, and everyone else.
Mubarak Dahir, editor of The Express, the GLBT newspaper in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, may be reached at MubarakDahir@aol.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 4 May 6, 2005