BY ED SIKOV | The most fiercely contested LGBT-related media story so far this year has been the resignation of poor, unfairly-treated Brendan Eich, who voluntarily stepped down from his new-found position as CEO of Mozilla, the company that gives us the popular web browser Firefox, because he’d been outed — if you will — as a financial supporter of California’s Proposition 8. That noxious 2008 voter referendum deemed gay men and lesbians — and, for the most part, trans folks, as well, though the major media rarely talks about them — unworthy of the claim to civil marriage, which is, you should pardon the expression, a basic civil right.
The outcry from the crank right was predictable; this column will not give print space to Fox News.
But Andrew Sullivan was also outraged, as was the Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf, who wrote what he clearly thought was a stinging rebuke to those of us who applauded the demise of a purebred bigot.
Calls for Eich’s ouster, Friedersdorf asserted, “were premised on the notion that all support for Proposition 8 was hateful, and that a CEO should be judged not just by his or her conduct in the professional realm, but also by political causes he or she supports as a private citizen. If that attitude spreads, it will damage our society.
One could be forgiven for knee-jerk agreement with these platitudes. They seem reasonable enough. Free to be, you and me! But on closer examination — meaning a few seconds of reasoning — they fall entirely to pieces.
Our society is already damaged. Why should we suddenly get all teary-eyed now that a bigoted straight white guy has bitten the dust? And, for that matter, why do we pick and choose among a variety of bigoted straight white guys? Some, like Eich, get defended. Others get thrown to the wolves. Deservedly.
Friedersdorf correctly interprets the essence of the criticism aimed at Eich. Support for Proposition 8 is, in fact, unquestionably hateful. What else could it be? A simple difference of opinion among equals? Baloney. No religious organization would have been forced to perform marriages that violated precepts of that religion. End of argument. Proposition 8 was about civil rights, specifically the right of gay men and lesbians to the same advantages and benefits civil marriage affords to everyone else.
Why LGBT people have been excluded from this right in the past is a subject best left to historians. But in the 21st century, all honest proponents of civil liberties must acknowledge that civil marriage is a civil right, available to all. So yes, Conor, Proposition 8 was hateful. It singled out a class of citizens and denied them a civil right granted to everyone else. Hate. Period.
The assumption that “a CEO should be judged not just by his or her conduct in the professional realm, but also by political causes he or she supports as a private citizen” seems, on the surface, to be tougher to justify. That’s terrible, one is tempted to conclude. Everyone should be free to express his or her political views in private and should be judged professionally only by his or her skills at the job.
How reasonable. How liberal. How puke-worthy. Doesn’t the name Donald Sterling ring a bell?
In real life, nobody is judged solely by his or her abilities on the job. Certainly no one sprang to Sterling’s defense. The owner of the Los Angeles Clippers wasn’t banned for life by the National Basketball Association because he was bad at the job of owner. He was canned because he spewed racist trash in a private conversation.
And then there’s Robert Copeland, the police commissioner in charming Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, who didn’t find many friends in the media for exercising his right to free speech. Copeland, you may recall, was overheard in a diner calling President Obama “a fucking nigger” back in March. It took two months, but he’s now out on his ass, and nobody’s crying foul. Nor should anyone.
Such judgments are ingrained in American culture. They are ways in which we discriminate — if you will — about acceptable behavior, even if we don’t like to talk about it that way. Like Eich, Sterling and Copeland weren’t judged by how well they did their jobs. They were judged by what they said and did in their private lives — in Sterling’s case, even while being illegally audio-recorded. They, too, are objects of a discriminating sensibility, though nobody is calling it that. What’s at issue in all three cases is the nature of the discrimination exercised — discrimination that forms the foundation of corporate and political life in America. To which I say, “Good.”
Is the treatment of these three men morally right? Yes, of course it is. Is society damaged as a result? Of course not. A civil society must be civil, and bigotry isn’t civil. But why the outrage over an anti-gay bigot’s voluntary departure from one company while a racist is forced to sell another company against his will — to no public outcry whatsoever?
Who you are privately and what you think privately make all the difference in business and politics. Anybody who proclaims otherwise is a willful idiot. That includes Conor Friedersdorf, Andrew Sullivan, and his 58 gay co-signatories of a statement published at RealClearPolitics in late April, that read, in part, “The test of our commitment to liberal principles is not our eagerness to hear ideas we share, but our willingness to consider seriously those we oppose.”
How can one argue with their statement? It’s so reasonable, so liberal, so self-righteous.
I’m definitely willing to consider seriously those ideas I oppose. In this case, I consider them to be beneath contempt. Think about the innumerable ways in which one’s private decisions and characteristics determine success in American political, corporate, professional, and athletic life — and in how many cases such discrimination is based on nothing more valid than pure bigotry. Name a Jewish president. Name a Muslim governor. Name a transwoman who’s the CEO of a major corporation.
As for not being willing to consider ideas society rejects, name a Marxist in any responsible position in America outside of academia (where the only thing that matters is currying favor with faculty committees and the administration). For that matter, name a neo-Nazi who’s been elected to public office or serves as a CEO of a corporation of any real size.
Coming up blank? There ya go. We discriminate as a matter of course.
Until a transwoman stands a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming president of the United States, the argument that private lives are — or should be — divorced from public judgment is a pernicious, purposefully ignorant lie that protects the status quo. Andrew Sullivan, Conor Friedersdorf, and the sanctimonious signatories of that repellent statement can kiss my illiberal ass.
And, speaking of sanctimony, one might conclude from recent media coverage that the academic tradition known as “commencement” — which in fact signals a blessed finale — is under grave threat from a rabid horde of student thought police.
The Roster of the Rejected is most impressive. Condoleezza Rice turned away by Rutgers. Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, smacked out of Smith. Robert J. Birgeneau, former president of the University of California, Berkeley, hammered out of town by my own alma mater, Haverford. And Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a fierce critic of Islam, booted from Brandeis. (What exactly is a “fierce critic of Islam,” anyway? Is she like a “fierce critic of Christianity?” And were any of Christianity’s most vocal detractors offered honorary degrees at major universities this year? No? Well I’ll be damned.)
The New York Times’ Timothy Egan led the charge against what he called student “censors.” “Give me a brisk, strong, witty defense of something I disagree with over a tired replay of platitudes,” Egan congratulated himself. “It matters little if the speaker is a convict or a seminarian, a statesman or a comedian.”
Nice sentiment, Tim, but I doubt you’d applaud Mark David Chapman, John Lennon’s assassin, being given an honorary degree by Notre Dame. Michael Alig at the New School?
In point of fact, students scarcely forced any of these people away from their respective podiums. Each one of them bowed out on their own. Yes, in all cases, a band of students threatened to protest these fine figures’ appearances on the platform, but the objects of their wrath all chickened out themselves.
I have a question for Egan and the many finger-waggers so upset by students’ proposed political actions: Have these four speakers never before faced an audience that included hostile people? Are their egos so easily bruised by some students — and maybe even a few faculty — standing silently with their backs to the dais? I was loudly booed while giving my commencement address in high school, and it was one of the proudest moments of my life. At 17, I was braver than a former secretary of State, who had no hesitation about taking on foes when they were halfway around the world and wildly outmatched militarily.
At issue for us is this: Since when has nonviolent protest not served the interests of the LGBT community? The Gay Activists Alliance used zaps in the early 1970s to make their points, and sometimes they weren’t even entirely nonviolent. ACT UP was scarcely polite to public officials from Ed Koch to Jesse Helms. They’re all heroes now — to us, anyway. Had these brave protestors simply listened politely to people whose ideas they despised — well, I wouldn’t be married to the man I love, there wouldn’t be a lesbian US senator, Ellen DeGeneres would still be closeted, there’d be no “Brokeback Mountain.”
The list of hard-earned freedoms is endless, and we have politically incorrect rudeness to thank for it.
Follow @edsikov on Twitter.