Issue:  Vol. 44 / No. 38 / 18 September 2014
 
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New Mozilla CEO in hot water
over Prop 8 donation

NEWS


Rarebit's Michael Lintorn Catlin, left, and his husband, Rarebit CEO and co-founder Hampton Lintorn Catlin, were dismayed to learn that the new Mozilla CEO donated to the Proposition 8 campaign against same-sex marriage.
Photo: Khaled Sayed
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The newly appointed CEO of Mozilla, Brendan Eich, is gaining a lot of attention in the blogosphere and on Twitter, and not because he is the creator of the JavaScript language. What everyone is talking about is that the new leader of the company behind Firefox, the most popular open source browser, donated $1,000 in 2008 to support Proposition 8 when it was on the ballot in California.

Proposition 8 was the initiative to ban same-sex marriage in the Golden State, which won a majority of the vote six years ago before being overturned on a technicality by the U.S. Supreme Court last year. The secretary of state's list of donors to both sides of the campaign is public and it shows Eich donating $1,000 in support of the same-sex marriage ban.

The fallout has been swift and widespread. Just this week, OkCupid, a dating site for straights and gays, started interrupting its Firefox users and asking them to use a different browser to access the site.

Firefox visitors to OkCupid see a message that says in part, "Mozilla's new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples. We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OkCupid ... 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."

One of the people who was first to respond to the Mozilla decision about its new CEO was Hampton Lintorn Catlin, a well known programmer and creator of the Sass language, another very popular front-end web technology. Catlin is the CEO and co-founder of Rarebit, which he runs with his husband, Michael. When they learned of Eich's appointment, the company decided to withdraw its Mozilla mobile platform apps and stop development on products that support the Mozilla ecosystem.

"When we heard the news, it was very personal, because Brendan Eich donated to the thing that had prevented us from working together as closely as we wanted," Catlin said. "The very formation of our company happened because Proposition 8 was struck down. When the Supreme Court changed the ruling, we were able to get married, and we were able to get Michael a green card which allowed us to start this business."

Rarebit had invested several months of development into apps specifically targeted at the Mozilla mobile platform, and was supposed to launch in three or four months. The Catlins rushed the launch in order to explain to their followers why they had decided to withdraw their support for Mozilla's mobile platform.

"For us, it was a business decision about what we want to support with the money and time we are investing in our company," Catlin said. "We realized that we were investing our whole business into this platform where the appointed leader is a person who worked actively against the creation of our company and our partnership. That is something we couldn't stomach."

He added, "We couldn't imagine supporting an organization that was headed by somebody who thought that our relationship shouldn't exist."

The news of Eich becoming CEO was also disturbing to Catlin because that meant that Eich would be the leader for many LGBTQ people who work for Mozilla.

"Eich's new position will allow him to manage contracts from day-to-day around the world, HR policies, the product roadmap, their communication; basically everything," Catlin said.

Eich's new role puts him in charge of Mozilla Corporation, which is the for-profit arm for the Mozilla project. About two years ago, when Eich was named chief technology officer of the company, people discovered that Eich had donated to Prop 8, and there was a public appeal against him. But Mozilla weathered the storm. Catlin conjectured that the response was sufficient at that time, "because Eich was just a CTO, and people assumed after the scandal that he would be less involved in the day-to-day operations."

Catlin and his husband believe that this is a fundamental civil rights issue.

"We can disagree on trickle down economics, or be in a different political party, but to me saying to somebody, 'I don't believe that you should have legal protection under the law' is much more serious than a small disagreement," Catlin said. "Giving a donation is an action, and it has consequences. His donation helped fund the passing of a law that took away our rights."

One of the moments Catlin and his husband will never forget was buying their first home in San Francisco's Dogpatch neighborhood. For young couples that is a big deal. However, they weren't allowed to be married at the time because of Prop 8. Therefore they had to list their marital status as "single bachelors," although they were buying the house together.

"On the title paperwork it said, 'Hampton Catlin a single male,' and 'Michael Catlin a single male,'" Catlin, 30, said. "It was written that way because that was what you had to say. It was so odd. At a time that should have been joyful, it was a painful reminder of our status as second-class citizens."

A number of Mozilla employees have taken to Twitter to ask that Eich step down. Those included Mozilla festival curator Chloe Vareldi, who tweeted, "I have waited too long to say this. I'm an employee of @mozilla and I'm asking @brendaneich to step down as CEO."

Partnerships lead John Bevan also tweeted a similar message for Mozilla, and engagement team member Sydney Moyer tweeted, "I'm an employee of @mozilla and cannot reconcile having @BrendanEich as CEO with our org's culture & mission. Brendan, please step down."

So far, however, it looks like Eich remains in his position.

The Bay Area Reporter reached out to Mozilla and to Eich directly for comment, but received no reply. In response to the controversy, Eich has issued a statement on Mozilla's blog saying, "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. I can only ask for your support to have the time to 'show, not tell'; and in the meantime express my sorrow at having caused pain."

Mozilla has affirmed its commitment to the rights of its LGBTQ employees. The company has supported same-sex partner benefits and progressive community participation guidelines for years.






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