Discussing software, the web, politics, sexuality and the unending supply of human stupidity.

Brendan Eich, Prop 8 and homophobia

Yesterday, it was revealed that JavaScript creator and Mozilla CTO Brendan Eich gave $1,000 to the Proposition 8 campaign. Go read the Hacker News post.

My response was very simple: disappointment.

Now, as always, we have the counter-reaction.

Yes, the nasty mean gays are oppressing people who disagree with them by expressing frustration about them on the Internet. OH NOES!

What witch hunt, exactly? Call me when there are people picketing outside Eich’s home. So far, all I see is a few hundred people angry and frustrated on some social media sites.

Now, I know it’s very difficult for people to understand, but there’s a very simple and easy way to never be called a bigot or a homophobe: don’t do bigoted or homophobic shit, like, for instance, giving money to a campaign to deny people basic human rights on the basis of their sexual orientation.

I can agree with the sentiment that calls for boycotts and so on are silly: the good work that Mozilla does far outweighs the wrong that Eich has done here. And it’s hardly like a boycott on JavaScript is even really possible. Eich’s work doesn’t become tainted here: Firefox is still a good product. And I’m not ready to dismiss Eich as a bad person: as Jay Smooth has said of racism, let’s not get derailed here. What Brendan Eich has done is a homophobic action. That doesn’t make him a homophobic person, that’s a separate conversation that requires some combination of a brain scanner and a psychic.

Other people’s reactions are slightly over the top.

But, don’t you dare tell me this is equivalent. Eich deserves to be held responsible, as should others whose actions prevent legal equality for gay people. When the next gay bashing happens, on their head be it.

A few people expressing their disappointment with Brendan’s actions on Twitter and other sites is absolutely not anything like bigotry. Saying it is means you don’t understand. That’s what makes me most angry: that people don’t fucking listen to people in the LGBT community or seem to understand the reason why we are angry.

And, no, you don’t get to tell me to calm down or that I need to “tolerate” people who are oppressing people in my situation. No, sorry, that’s worse than supporting Prop 8. Homophobia? Sure. Whatever. That sucks and makes you stupid and disappointing. Telling me that I have to keep my trap shut about oppression because the oppressors are actually the oppressed… that’s just grade A bullshit.

This isn’t Fox News with all that “there are two sides and the truth is somewhere in the middle” crap.

Brendan Eich’s actions are homophobic and disappointing.

Want to know why it is disappointing? Frankly, I expect more from techie programmer types. Being bullied mercilessly for being a spotty, out-of-shape loser who prefers Star Trek to sports usually helps instill some solidarity.1 As the Jargon File2 puts it: “Hackerdom easily tolerates a much wider range of sexual and lifestyle variation than the mainstream culture.” You have to be reasonably intelligent to do well in the programming game, and usually people become pretty critical and questioning and skeptical in the process, and outgrow the bigotry (even if they do occasionally have social awkwardness and cluelessness).

It is disappointing when that doesn’t turn out to be as true as one thought.

Lack of equal rights does material harm to gay people. People are not able to live with their partners due to shitty immigration laws or access health services. Lack of equality in law permits every minor-league bigot from the schoolroom to the boardroom the feeling they have a right to tease and torment. When the suicides stop and the violence stops, maybe we’ll talk about how the homophobes are the victims too. Until then, in order to seem fair and balanced and above-the-fray, people miss the whole reason why this is an issue.

(Incidentally, when people go on about marriage privatization, that just looks like a goddamn derailing technique too.)

When people tell me that I need to temper my anger over injustice, that pisses me off more. As Greta Christina has pointed out, and it bears repeating on a daily basis, asking people who are fighting for justice to give up the weapon of anger is asking them to give up one of the most effective weapons we have.

Are there better things people could be doing? Sure. Personally, there are people in my little corner of the Interwebs that donated against Proposition 8. When I see them next, I’m buying them a goddamn drink to thank them. If you are involved in a tech community or work for a tech company, you should find the people in your organisation who stood up against homophobia and go buy them a drink when you can. It’s all too easy to do the negative reinforcement, but positive reinforcement is as important.

But, no, calling out bigotry, even if it is done in an over-the-top and selective way, is not itself bigotry. Grab the derailing bingo card, I bet we’ll get a few more before this plays itself out.

  1. Hey, try being the spotty out-of-shape loser who is perceived to be gay. It was a barrel of laughs.

  2. Others have pointed out the irony of linking to the Jargon File, which is maintained by Eric Raymond, no slouch in the crazy fucked-up shit department. The point is that this page gives a pretty accurate reflection of a certain idealized tolerance that many in the geek/hacker community believe is true of our community. I don’t dispute the ideal that the quote depicts: most of the geek/hacker community is pretty damn friendly and tolerant most of the time, which is what makes the exceptions so disconcerting.