SEATTLE (BP)–In response to overwhelming complaints from homosexual activists, Microsoft has again changed its position on a homosexual rights bill in Washington state — this time agreeing to support the bill because “diversity in the workplace is such an important issue” for their business.
The bill, which has been introduced in some form to the Washington legislature for 29 years, would prohibit discrimination against homosexuals in employment, housing and insurance.
Microsoft has been at the forefront of corporate homosexual activism for years, as one of the first companies to provide domestic partner benefits and to include sexual orientation in their anti-discrimination policy. In the past, they’ve supported the homosexual rights legislation when it has come before state lawmakers.
But this year, Microsoft decided to take a neutral stance on the issue, narrowing its focus on legislative priorities that directly relate to their business, such as education, transportation, computer privacy and business competitiveness, The Seattle Times reported.
That was until the software giant faced an unrelenting storm of criticism from employees and homosexual activist groups who were upset that Microsoft was not supporting the bill.
“After looking at the question from all sides, I’ve concluded that diversity in the workplace is such an important issue for our business that it should be included in our legislative agenda,” Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive officer, wrote in an e-mail to 35,000 of the company’s employees May 6.
“I respect that there will be different viewpoints,” he added. “But as C.E.O., I am doing what I believe is right for our company as a whole.”
The firestorm erupted after an alternative weekly newspaper in Seattle, The Stranger, said April 21 that Microsoft’s shift was a direct result of meetings with Ken Hutcherson, pastor of the 3,500-member Antioch Bible Church in nearby Redmond. Hutcherson, a former NFL player, has organized several rallies opposing “same-sex marriage,” including the widely publicized Mayday for Marriage in Seattle which drew 20,000 people last spring and a similar event on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., which drew tens of thousands last fall. His church is located a few blocks from Microsoft’s headquarters and many of his members work for the company.
According to an e-mail sent April 22 to Microsoft employees from Ballmer, Hutcherson met with the company’s lead attorney in February after two of Microsoft’s employees testified before a House committee in support of the bill. Hutcherson believed the men were testifying on behalf of Microsoft and asked that their employment be terminated, but the lawyer insisted the men were speaking as private citizens.
During the same meeting with the Microsoft attorney, Hutcherson asked that the company make a public statement saying the bill was not necessary and said he would organize a national boycott of Microsoft products if they did not stop supporting the homosexual rights bill, according to The Times.
Microsoft spokespersons contended the company had decided before the meeting with Hutcherson to shift their position on the bill from supportive to neutral, and Ballmer wrote in his e-mail that no one from outside Microsoft caused the change.
“I understand that many employees may disagree with the company’s decision to tighten the focus of our agenda for this year’s legislative session in Olympia,” he wrote. “But I want every employee to understand that the decision to take a neutral stance on this bill was taken before the Session began based on a desire to focus our legislative efforts, not in reaction to any outside pressure.”
He added that he wanted to respect the opinions of every Microsoft employee, though many were pitted against each other on the controversial issue.
“I don’t want the company to be in the position of appearing to dismiss the deeply-held beliefs of any employee, by picking sides on social policy issues,” Ballmer wrote.
The bill, which has been introduced each year by Rep. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, an open homosexual, passed the Washington House 61-37 in February but lost by one vote in the Senate April 21. Murray has promised he will propose the legislation again next year, and Gov. Christine Gregoire has said she will sign it into law if it reaches her desk.
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a national homosexual activist group, told The New York Times his organization is “very happy” and applauded Microsoft’s latest decision on the issue. He also said he met with Microsoft employees after the company decided to be neutral on the bill, and Microsoft officials took their complaints “very seriously.”