View Full Version : Religious Freaks To Boycott Microsoft Over Support For Gay Rights

05-15-2005, 10:00 AM
Religious Right to boycott Microsoft over support for gay rights


(Gold9472: I REALLY hate the Religious Right)

By Philip Sherwell in Washington

Microsoft is being threatened with organised boycotts by the religious Right after twice reversing its policy on homosexual rights legislation in recent weeks.

Buckling under pressure from rival powerful interest groups, the software giant - which offers generous domestic partner rights for gay employees - performed an embarrassing U-turn over a bill in its home state of Washington that would outlaw discrimination against homosexuals at work.

Last month, shortly before a vote in Olympia, the state capital, it withdrew its backing for the bill after intense lobbying by an evangelical preacher, Ken Hutcherson, a former American football professional who runs one of Washington State's biggest churches. "I told them I was going to give them something to be afraid of Christians about," the Rev Hutcherson said.

Yet Microsoft's change of heart prompted outrage from gay and liberal activists, and criticism from its staff and other big businesses, including Nike and Boeing, who backed the legislation.

Finally Microsoft's chairman, Bill Gates, was forced to backtrack again, admitting in a rare interview that he was surprised by the vehemence of the reaction.

In a message to staff a week ago, Steven Ballmer, the Microsoft chief executive, declared that "diversity in the work place is such an important issue for our business that it should be included in our legislative agenda".

Corporate America has become a battleground in increasingly bitter "culture wars", with well-organised conservative and liberal interest groups bringing pressure to bear over social and political issues that have no direct connection to their core business.

Last year, conservative Christian groups flexed their commercial muscle to organise a boycott of Procter & Gamble after it supported a statute opposing discrimination against homosexuals and advertised in the gay press and on gay-themed television shows. Disney has also been the target of religious protesters over the annual Gay Day at its theme park in Orlando, Florida.

The bill in Washington State outlawing discrimination against homosexuals at work was defeated by a single vote - Microsoft's liberal critics blamed its withdrawal of support for the loss, but the company plans to campaign for the legislation when it is re-submitted. If Mr Hutcherson, who played for the Dallas Cowboys, San Diego Chargers and Seattle Seahawks, presses ahead with plans for a boycott of Microsoft products, he can expect support from conservative groups.

According to the American Family Association and Focus on the Family, almost 365,000 families signed petitions last year urging Procter & Gamble to change its policy. They also launched a boycott of three of its best-selling products: Tide detergent, Crest toothpaste and Pampers nappies.

The AFA ended its boycott last month, claiming Procter & Gamble had changed its policy. It has turned its sights instead on Kraft Foods in protest at its sponsorship of next year's Gay Olympics in Chicago. Randy Sharp, the AFA's director of special projects, told The Sunday Telegraph: "What a company does in its work place is its own business. But if they start supporting a radical homosexual agenda beyond their doors, that is a different matter."

Jack Krumholtz, the director of legislative affairs for Microsoft, said that it had not caved into bullying. Mr Ballmer had outlined the company's latest position to support the bill after seeking advice inside Microsoft. "This was an internal process, but we went through it under the glare of the spotlight because of the company's profile,'' he said.

Asked about Mr Hutcherson's threat of a boycott, Mr Krumholtz said: "Outside groups are going to do what they are going to do. We live and die in the marketplace so it's incumbent on us to keep innovating and keep attracting customers, whatever their political persuasions or perspectives."