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Mozilla under fire for new CEO's anti-gay past

Mozilla's new CEO has a glaring black mark on his record that runs counter to the company's commitment to LGBT equality: Brendan Eich supported Prop 8.
Brendan Eich speaks in San Diego, California, on Sept. 5, 2013.
Brendan Eich speaks in San Diego, California, on Sept. 5, 2013.

It’s been a rough week for Mozilla.

Seven days after naming its new CEO, the Mountain View-based corporation best known for developing the popular web browser Firefox has yet to put out the fires it developed for placing Brendan Eich at the company’s helm.

Though Eich’s professional background could color anyone impressed (he created JavaScript, one of the most popular programming languages on the Web, and co-founded, his personal background has one, glaring, black mark for a company committed to the principle of equality: Six years ago, Eich donated $1,000 to the campaign for Proposition 8, California’s now-defunct ban on same-sex marriage.

The donation itself isn’t breaking news; it first became public in 2012 when Eich was still the company’s chief technology officer, and one year before the U.S. Supreme Court hammered the final nail in Prop 8’s coffin. But his elevation to the top job at Mozilla last Monday sparked a renewed backlash, one with public condemnations from employees and boycotts from Firefox developers.

"What we're asking for is an apology that recognizes the damage and discrimination that that law's had for gay couples like us," said Hampton Catlin, CTO of Moovweb and CEO of Rarebit, which he co-founded with his husband, Michael Catlin. The couple pulled their software company’s apps from the Firefox Marketplace in protest of Eich’s appointment.

It wasn't until after Prop 8 fell that the two were able to marry, and Michael -- a British citizen -- was able to get his green card. Once the threat of deportation disappeared, so too did barriers to starting their own company.

"We formed this business only because Prop 8 was overturned; it wouldn't have been possible otherwise," said Catlin in an interview with msnbc. "The first thing we wanted to do was build apps for the new Firefox phones. We spent two months building them together. So it's personal that the company we were investing in appointed somebody who had donated to make our company not exist, and had not said that that was a mistake."

Catlin said the boycott was still in effect, but that they're no longer calling for Eich to step down -- a simple apology would suffice.

Adding to Mozilla's PR nightmare, three of the company's six board members —  including two former CEOs — left their positions in the wake of Eich’s hiring. According to The Wall Street Journal, the board members did not step down over political views related to Prop 8, but rather because they wanted to see an outside candidate with experience in the mobile industry take over the chief executive slot.

Many Mozillians took to Twitter to voice their disapproval.

Others offered more measured support, however, and a willingness to place the company’s mission above its leader’s personal views, whatever they may currently be.

“To be clear, I’m personally disappointed about Brendan’s donation,” said Christie Koehler, a gay employee, on her blog. “However, aside from how it affected me emotionally, I have nothing to indicate that it’s materially hurt my work within the Mozilla community or as a Mozilla employee.”

Mozilla’s community participation guidelines welcome everyone regardless of “age, culture, ethnicity, gender, gender-identity, language, race, sexual orientation, geographical location and religious views.” The company also “provides the same level of benefits and advantages to domestic partners” as it does to married couples throughout the U.S.

In a blog post last week, Eich pledged his commitment to those company policies that ensure LGBT equality, but he did not address the 2008 contribution to Prop 8. In case there was any doubt about where the company itself stood on marriage equality, its blog featured a separate post over the weekend that championed Mozilla’s official support. Mitchell Baker, chair of the Mozilla Foundation, echoed that sentiment.

“Speaking as the Chairwoman,” she said, “I want to speak clearly on behalf of both the Mozilla Corporation and the Mozilla Foundation: Mozilla supports equality for all, explicitly including LGBT equality and marriage equality.”

Still, many LGBT activists remain unsatisfied. over 65,000 people have signed a petition on the activism site CredoAction calling for Eich to publicly reverse his anti-gay stance, resign, or be replaced. Rarebit’s company blog still features a post entitled, “Five Reasons Eich Should Step Down.” And on Monday, online dating site OkCupid put out a message urging visitors not to use Mozilla software. It offered links to browsers other than Firefox.

“We’ve devoted the last ten years to bringing people -- all people -- together,” reads the OkCupid message. “If individuals like Mr. Eich had their way, then roughly 8% of the relationships we’ve worked so hard to bring about would be illegal. Equality for gay relationships is personally important to many of us here at OkCupid. But it’s professionally important to the entire company. OkCupid is for creating love. Those who seek to deny love and instead enforce misery, shame, and frustration are our enemies, and we wish them nothing but failure.”