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Donald Sterling, Brendan Eich and How Homophobia Gets a Pass

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BRENDAN EICH
Bloomberg via Getty Images

Let's get this straight. L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling was caught on tape making racist remarks, and rather than just letting the free market play out and eventually force his hand -- as was happening with sponsors pulling out of the L.A. Clippers -- it's been deemed perfectly acceptable (and I wholeheartedly agree) for the NBA to intervene and basically oust him, banning him for life and fining him $2.5 million.

A few weeks ago, Brendan Eich, the former CEO of Mozilla, was revealed to have actually worked to strip a group of its rights (financially supporting California's Proposition 8 in 2008) and tried to help elect politicians who'd made horrendously bigoted comments about that group. Rather than an intervention brought on by a call by any outside group that he be fired, Eich decided to resign for the good of his company. The dating site OKCupid, another company, used its free speech within the free market to advise its users not to use Mozilla's browser, Firefox. Mozilla developers -- many of whom donate their time -- and Mozilla employees expressed their concern about having this man as their CEO. All of that was enough for the company to see Eich as a liability, and he saw that too. The free market worked, rather than anyone intervening or any pressure group demanding he go.

And yet, gays were vilified for supposedly having destroyed Eich's career -- again, when no LGBT groups or gay pundits actually called for him to resign -- while most people, including some of those who defended Eich, seem fine with Donald Sterling's demise and the sanctions by the NBA.

Some gay activists and writers themselves, as well as some straight liberals, even gave ammunition to the attackers on the right who engaged in vilification of gays -- and of a mythical "gay mafia" --- for supposedly bringing down Eich. Clutching their pearls, these writers got all queasy about the "optics" of the whole thing. They worried that we are just about complete with our civil rights struggle (did you know that?) and this made us look ungracious, or as openly gay New York Times columnist Frank Bruni put it, it "doesn't reflect well on the victors." Last week, one group of mostly gay conservatives even launched a petition to support Eich, not letting the issue go. One of them, Jonathan Rauch, wrote a piece defending the petition, in which he claimed that gay marriage, and thus discrimination against LGBT people, isn't a "political emergency" in the way discrimination against African Americans was in the '60s, so therefore it's only right to tolerate Eich's homophobia.

All of that alone is a complete fallacy and underscores that a dangerous complacency has set in. (And I'll be dealing with that at a later date.)

But let's get something else straight: Whatever commitment Eich claimed to have to diversity at Mozilla -- and true, there were no accounts of his discriminating at the company -- he, like Donald Sterling, believed one group of people to be inferior to others, and he made it known to the public, since political contributions are now considered speech in addition to being actions. And, as the face of the company, he stood by that speech when asked to clarify it. Who could blame people who are members of the group he attacked as well as their allies for not wanting to work for someone like him and have that person representing the company?

Eich contributed to Pat Buchanan's 1992 presidential campaign after Buchanan had repeatedly and obsessively made comments such as those he made in 1983 about AIDS: "The poor homosexuals -- they have declared war upon nature, and now nature is extracting an awful retribution.'' Just a year before Eich's donation to Buchanan, the politician and pundit said, "With 80,000 dead of AIDS, 3,000 more buried each month, our promiscuous homosexuals appear literally hell-bent on Satanism and suicide." During the very campaign in '92 in which Eich cheered Buchanan on, Buchanan said, "AIDS is nature's retribution for violating the laws of nature in many ways. I think the promiscuous homosexual lifestyle is not only wrong, but it is medically ruinous. And I think it is socially destructive."

A few years later, in 1998, Eich gave a donation to Republican Washington State Senate candidate Linda Smith, a Pentacostalist who said that homosexuality is a"morally unfit inclination." And in 2008, the year he made his Prop 8 donation, Eich donated to California GOP Rep. Tom McClintock's campaign, during which McClintock, a Prop 8 supporter, said, "Lincoln asked, 'If you call a tail a leg, how many legs has a dog? The answer is four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it one.' And calling a homosexual partnership a marriage doesn't make it one."

When given an opportunity to apologize for his Prop 8 donation after it got attention earlier this month, a week after he was named CEO, Eich refused, and even implied to The Guardian that he and people like him were an asset at the company since Mozilla is global and anti-gay regimes are prevalent around the world, using the example of Indonesia. He refused to comment to The Guardian on his support of Pat Buchanan, a man who's been accused of making anti-Semitic remarks as well and engaged in diminution of the Holocaust, in addition to attacks on other groups. When you can't take back having supported Pat Buchanan and other virulently anti-gay politicians, there's only word for you: bigot.

Donald Sterling is a bigot too. He also has free speech. And that speech, as the owner of a professional sports team, has consequences that most of us agree are warranted. Brendan Eich has free speech as well. But when he faced the consequences of that speech -- brought on by the free market, not forced by any intervention -- many applied a double standard, defending him. And that reveals how, no matter how many books are written by ambitious heterosexual reporters about how we gays have supposedly won, homophobia is alive and well -- and openly tolerated -- in America.