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Mozilla CEO Backlash and Resignation Explained

OKCupid is not the reason that the CEO of Mozilla resigned. "Backlash on twitter" is not the reason that the CEO of Mozilla resigned. The reason that the CEO of Mozilla resigned is internal and contributor backlash.


What Is Prop 8?

For those people new to the Prop 8 discussion, I will explain Prop 8 and its history. If you do not understand Prop 8, you cannot understand the backlash against donors.


Years ago, the California State Constitution's equal protection clause was expanded to include LGBT equality under the law. However, in practice, one right had never been exercised, due to state law: the right to marry the person of one's choice.

Illustration for article titled Mozilla CEO Backlash and Resignation Explained

Marriage was determined to be a federal right in 1967 due to the Loving v Virginia SCOTUS decision regarding anti-miscegenation laws. In California, a state law had been passed by proposition (direct vote by the electorate) making same-sex marriage illegal. Gavin Newsom, controversial pretty boy mayor of San Francisco decided to change all of that and allow same-sex civil marriages in SF, in violation of Proposition 22. It was glorious. People lined up and waited for hours. Well-wishers brought coffee and pizza for the people standing in line. Hearts were warmed and so were bellies. Everyone sang Kumbaya.

But of course, I don't mean everyone. People in the red part of the state and even some people in SF were unhappy because [insert thinly veiled— if veiled at all— bigotry]. They filed suit to force the City of San Francisco to follow Proposition 22; the state Supreme Court denied this request, because as Newsom had predicted, they were bound by the state's equal protection clause, which explicitly protects homosexuals.


Same-sex marriage became an enforceable right in California.

To the Polls!

So to the polls they went, starting a proposition to write an exception into the state constitution. While they were working on that, county clerks in red parts of the state still refused same-sex couples on the grounds of their religion or sometimes under the guise of not having any forms that were gender-neutral. (They had been instructed to marry even without gender-neutral forms.)


Unlike Proposition 22, Prop 8 was written as an amendment to the state constitution. This is where it gets tricky. This would effectively mean that the equal protection clause would give LGBT people protection in housing equality, job equality, education equality, bathroom usage equality, and every other kind of equality except marriage equality. Propositions in California require only a 50% + 1 majority to become law, so with a 50% +1 majority, an exception could be written into the state's equal protection clause for same-sex marriage.

This is what Prop 8 is: a constitutional amendment to remove an existing right to equality under the law, passed by a majority electorate vote. So not cool. It's proof that the proposition system in California is flawed and needs to be changed.


The pro-Prop 8 campaign was led by groups outside the state and there are money-laundering allegations regarding some donations. It included extreme misinformation in campaign ads to scare people to vote for it. They did outreach to minority communities— especially that didn't speak English well— and misinformed them on what was happening and what Prop 8 did. They even had ads that without Prop 8, children in elementary schools will be given demonstrations on homosexual sex, when in reality, children in elementary schools were being told that "some kids have two dads, some kids have two moms, and some kids have a mom and a dad— and all of those are just fine, so no bullying, ok?"

So a Donation Towards Prop 8 Is

A donation to remove the existing civil right of a minority.

Ouch. And Prop 8 Passed. Then it passed muster at the state Supreme Court which effectively ruled "WTF? Seriously, California? A 50% citizen vote can overturn our decisions and our constitution to eliminate an existing right? Legislature, you need to fix this shit."


Now About Mozilla

Mozilla is one of the companies in the Bay Area that does outreach to women and LGBT people. They have programs to support women and LGBT people in programming. They even have an open lounge day where women and minorities are invited to co-work in the Mozilla offices, encouraging networking and mentoring between participants. They have public-interacting employees who do lecturing and outreach work on behalf of the company who are LGBT or LGBT allies.


If you look at Brendan Eich's initial statement, it's clear that there was already internal backlash before he issued the statement:

I know there are concerns about my commitment to fostering equality and welcome for LGBT individuals at Mozilla. I hope to lay those concerns to rest, first by making a set of commitments to you.... A number of Mozillians, including LGBT individuals and allies, have stepped forward to offer guidance and assistance in this.



  • Active commitment to equality in everything we do, from employment to events to community-building.
  • Working with LGBT communities and allies, to listen and learn what does and doesn't make Mozilla supportive and welcoming.
  • My ongoing commitment to our Community Participation Guidelines, our inclusive health benefits, our anti-discrimination policies, and the spirit that underlies all of these.
  • My personal commitment to work on new initiatives to reach out to those who feel excluded or who have been marginalized in ways that makes their contributing to Mozilla and to open source difficult. More on this last item below.

I know some will be skeptical about this, and that words alone will not change anything.


This is the key: "words alone will not change anything." His statement acknowledges that there has been internal backlash in the form of LGBT and ally employees "stepping forward to offer 'guidance.'" It's a very smart and delicate choice of words— and probably quite generous. But the translation is: employees are concerned.

ETA: Concerned enough to publicly request that he step down.


The problem is that Brendan Eich donated towards a political cause that sought to eliminate an established civil right from a minority and that donation went towards groups that literally lied to voters— including those who don't speak English very well— that second graders would be given live gay sex demos unless it was passed.


What is not in his statement is any sign of remorse for having donated towards that cause, any remorse for the way that the campaign that he donated to used their donations, just:

my sorrow at having caused pain.

I'll take non-apologies for 600, Alex.

Also, Lukas, I've only met you a few times and I certainly have no authority to speak on your behalf, but it pisses me off that he name-dropped you at the end. I apologize if that oversteps my bounds, but ugh.


Skepticism in the face of that statement is completely justified and the problem here is multifaceted:

  • Employees are complaining.
  • The company has inclusion and outreach programs for minorities who were targeted by Prop 8.
  • Many people in the Open Source community complained that they had reservations; these people contribute code to Mozilla. For free. ETA: Info about the contributor boycott.
  • He didn't apologize for his actions; he merely asked for time to prove that despite discriminating outside the workplace, he would foster non-discrimination policies in the workplace and outside of it.
  • People didn't believe him.

The OKCupid protest was a customer protest. The other protests were employee protests and protests by people who contribute to their products for no money. That carries a lot of weight.


Maybe the company underestimated the backlash. Maybe the board members who made the decision weren't aware. I don't know what happened here. What I do know is that while he may be capable as a CTO— a person who makes technical decisions while following company policy— it is a bad decision to have an unrepentant Prop 8 donor making corporate policy that could go against the inclusion and outreach programs already in place.

Photo courtesy of Davodd.

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