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Microsoft and Gay Rights: Linux, Anyone?

I waited two days in case I was misreading the situation. Hey, just because it’s on the front page of the New York Times doesn’t make it true, unless you still believe there are WMD hiding in a big ol’ cave somewhere in Iraq.

But it’s true, as Scoble’s memo shows. Microsoft, which has not been shy about underwriting candidates that support its views, failed to support a state bill that would have barred discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The bill lost by one vote.

I am offended by the spin in Microsoft’s memo. Ballmer talks about “the decision to take a neutral stance on this bill.” But there is no neutrality in government. The vote is either yes or no, up or down. As Elie Wiesel said, “Take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Some of the discussion has focused on whether Microsoft never supported the bill, or was pressured by threat of a software boycott from the kind of hate-filled religious leader who gives Christianity a bad name. This, though interesting, is almost beside the point. What matters more is that Microsoft, with its huge profit margins and its near-monopoly on a huge marketplace, had an opportunity to show what it believes. And apparently, what Microsoft believes is that nothing, not justice, not concern for their own employees, not knowing the difference between right and wrong, is as important as jeopardizing one sale of its product.

Steve Ballmer’s memo ponders, “What message does the company taking a position send to its employees who have strongly-held beliefs on the opposite side of the issue?” Exactly. What do your gay employees think of you now, after you failed to step up to the plate? I know what I think: your overweening greed has blinded you to the need to do the right thing on behalf of people who make your company a success. Microsoft, your gay and lesbian employees are not “issues.” They are people you should have the balls to stand behind, regardless of who rattles your cage.

Apple, are you ready to roll out that full-page ad underscoring the good stuff you’ve done on behalf of human rights? Hey, Red Hat, time to put out a statement about your commitment to people of all persuasions, as long as they’re for open source!

(Frank Rich, tell me, tell me you’re going to tackle this topic at least in passing. And might I compliment you on moving to the editorial pages, where you don’t have to pretend that you’re writing about the arts. Your writing is already art enough.)

Bill Gates is an honorary ALA member, too, for all he’s done for libraries. (Don’t get too upset; so is Andrew Carnegie. ALA has a long tradition of giving awards to robber barons–as long as they give money to libraries.)

But here’s a bright side to all this. The ALA Committee on Legislation recently set a great precedent by issuing Laura Bush a “citation” for her outstanding work on behalf of libraries–you know, like championing Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Clearly the mold is set. There’s no reason that some group in ALA–say, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Roundtable–couldn’t issue a special citation to Bill Gates. He could be commended for the sheer ballsy and unnecessary opportunism of turning his back on not only his own employees but every one of us out here using his software.

That probably won’t happen (ALA units, by definition, are conservative), but I hope the biblioblogosphere gives this as good a talking-up as the blogosphere at large is doing. AmericaBlog already has a parody of Microsoft’s latest commercials.

As for me, maybe it’s time for an apple and a penguin.

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