Friday,
April 29, 2005

Volume 33,
Issue 17

Fri, Dec 19, 2014

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Microsoft denies being bullied, rightwing pastor calls them ‘liars’
Microsoft denies being bullied, rightwing pastor calls them ‘liars’
by Robert Raketty SGN Staff Writer



LGBT organizations and individuals locally and nationally continue to decry Microsoft’s decision to remain neutral this year on the Anderson-Murray Anti-Discrimination Bill (HB 1515).

The bill, which seeks to add the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the state’s anti-discrimination law, failed in the Senate by just one vote this year. It is the closest the bill has ever come to reaching the governor’s desk, but hopes were dashed by a solid bloc of Senate Republicans and two Democrats. The bill has never received a vote in the Senate since its introduction 30-plus years ago. Despite herculean efforts of the Gay community, politicians, business leaders and civic heads, and millions of dollars raised and spent, the bill continues to fail and folks Gay and straight are quite angry about it.

Out of this conflict have arisen two focal points for the outrage - the Microsoft Corporation and Rev. Ken Hutcherson, pastor of Antioch Bible Church in Redmond. Microsoft has always been considered a friend to our state’s Gay population and the corporation seems to do well towards the droves of Gay employees who have and continue to work there. But Microsoft is in very hot water right now with Gay Washingtonians and our allies across the nation for pulling their corporate support of the Anderson-Murray Anti-Discrimination Bill. Microsoft tells reporters and their employees that the company decided to focus more on legislation that directly effects the computer business, but the pastor from Redmond - Ken Hutcherson - says Microsoft buckled under pressure from him. Disassociate Microsoft from Gay rights, he is reported to have told CEOs, otherwise the wrath of nationwide boycotts and bad press would come down hard. Microsoft says no way - that Hutcherson did not set the company’s political agenda this year. Hutcherson calls them “liars” in a story this week in The Stranger. Hutcherson has emerged as a leader in an evangelical Christian crusade against marriage equality and equal rights. He helped to organize last year’s “May Day for Marriage” rally at Safeco Field that drew a reported 20,000 people. At last month’s Senate hearing on the Anderson-Murray Anti-Discrimination bill, he said homosexuals are out to recruit children and passing the bill would “open a can of worms.”

The Microsoft/Hutcherson saga not only begs the question of who’s telling the truth, it begs the question: “Who’s running things in this state? Reputable business leaders, fair-minded politicians and the voting workforce who live here? Or fire-and-brimstone Christian fundamentalists like Hutcherson in cahoots with arch-conservatives in the Republican Party?

The issue has “devolved” into a “he said/she said” between Microsoft and the preacher with the rights of Gay folks to hold a job or have a home left hanging in the balance.



MICROSOFT DENIES PREACHER’S INFLUENCE

According to The Stranger, a Seattle-based weekly newspaper, Hutcherson met with Microsoft company representatives in mid-February after two Microsoft employees, Business Development Manager Jean McCarthy and Attorney Gregory McCurdy, testified before the legislature in favor of the bill. The SGN this week confirmed that fact.

“We absolutely had a meeting with Rev. Hutcherson in February,” Microsoft spokesperson Tami Bagasse told the SGN. “Out of respect for confidentiality, as for the meetings we have with all parties on the matter, we are not going to get into specific detail of what was and was not asked.… In terms of our engagement with Rev. Hutcherson – while we are not going to get into specifics of what was said and who said what – the primary reason for that meeting was the clarification around the testimony of those employees. He thought they were testifying as representatives of Microsoft when, in fact, they were testifying as individuals. The primary topic of what Rev. Hutcherson was concerned about was the testimony that had been provided earlier in the month.”

The company has claimed that Hutcherson demanded that the two employees be fired and that the company issue a statement of neutrality on the legislation or issue a statement that the Anderson-Murray Anti-Discrimination Bill is unnecessary. Otherwise, Hutcherson is reported to have told the company, he would launch a nationwide campaign to boycott the company’s products. According to published reports, Hutcherson said it was during a mid-March meeting that the company finally agreed to pull support for the bill.

In a memo distributed to employees via email, the company has said it refused to fire McCarthy and McCrudy and disputes any assertion that meetings with Hutcherson had any influence on the company’s decision to not come forth and support the bill. “We developed our legislative agenda that we were going to focus on for the year. Our decision on what we would focus on began before the legislative session began,” said Bagasse. “That was to focus our energy on a limited number of issues that are directly related to our business. Examples of this would include computer privacy avocation, competitiveness and transportation. Our decision on this bill was not influenced by any external factors. It was driven by our desire to focus on a smaller number of issues that we defined before the legislative session began.”

State Rep. Ed Murray told the Seattle Gay News that DeLee Shoemakder, a state-level government affairs representative at Microsoft, told him that the company had intended to support the HB 1515, just as it had the year before. “They indicated that they would be supporting the bill again and that a letter would be forthcoming,” he said.

Bagasse would not speculate about Murray’s perceptions of events, but she said that the company “could have done a better job in communicating around this.” Further, she asserts that there had been “a lot of context lacking in a lot of articles,” and was “really disappointed that people are misunderstanding or misrepresenting meetings.”



PREACHER CALLS

MICROSOFT ‘LIARS’

Statements from Hutcherson and Microsoft employees support Murray’s claim. Hutcherson called the company’s recent denial of his influence on their decision “an outright lie,” during a segment ABC’s World News Tonight on Wednesday. According to The Stranger, Microsoft’s Senior Vice President Bradford Smith met with LGBT employees on April 4. During the meeting, Smith discussed the pressure Hutcherson applied on him.

Begasse remained steadfast. “Last year we signed a letter that went to Rep. Murray. We certainly confirm that,” she said. “We did not provide a letter this year. Our decision was not based on any external factors.”

She believed the attention the company has received from its decision to pull its support for HB 1515 was unfair and cited the company’s record of support for its LGBT employees. “We believe companies should be judged on issues of civil and equal rights and by how we operate our business and treat our employees,” said Begasse. “Microsoft has a long and widely recognized record of promoting diversity, fighting discrimination and promoting equal opportunity to all of our employees… Microsoft will always be a place that values diversity; that has the strongest possible internal policies for nondiscrimination and fairness; and provides the best policies for our employees. We have not wavered there. We have a history here.”

In an e-mail sent to Microsoft employees on Friday, April 22, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer also touted the company’s record on LGBT issues. “We were one of the first companies to provide domestic partner benefits, or to include sexual orientation in our anti-discrimination policies. And just this year, we became one of the few companies to include gender identity or expression in our protection policies.”

Ballmer also wrote that he had done a “lot of thinking and soul searching,” but didn’t “want the company to be in a position of appearing to dismiss the deeply-held beliefs of any employee, by picking sides on social policy issues.”

“On this particular matter, both [Microsoft Chairman] Bill [Gates] and I actually both personally support this legislation that would outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” he said. “But that is my personal view, and I also know that many employees and shareholders would not agree with me.”

Equal Rights Washington Executive Director George Cheung says that the Ballmer’s words are hollow because the company is failing to protect employees “who live where they work.” Eastside cities such as Kirkland, Bothell and Redmond do not have anti-discrimination ordinances that include sexual orientation or gender identity. The Anderson-Murray Anti-Discrimination Bill would have changed that and put an end to the “patchwork” of places where LGBT people are protected by city or county ordinances.

Cheung wrote a letter to Microsoft this week. He states, “Your actions send a signal that you have given up your leadership position on valuing the contributions of the LGBT employees, consumers, shareholders and citizens. Frankly, we expect better from you.”



RALPH REED ON PAYROLL

Adding fuel to the debate over Microsoft’s decision is the revelation that Microsoft has been paying social conservative Ralph Reed $20,000 a month as a consultant. Reed is a former leader of the Christian Coalition and a longtime arch-enemy of the GLBT community. A consultant to President Bush’s 2004 campaign, he has long been opposed to equality for LGBT Americans and uses religion and biblical texts to denigrate Gays.

“We have worked with Century Strategies for a number of years, primarily on trade and competition issues,” said Begesse. “Century Strategies has never advised Microsoft in any way on any social policy issues, including anti-discrimination legislation.”

The Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center joined ERW in its call on Microsoft to change its position on HB 1515. If not, the LGBT advocacy group has asked for the company to return its Corporate Vision Award it gave Microsoft in 2001.

“One of the most basic civil rights is protection from discrimination,” said L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center Chief of Staff Darrel Cummings. “By withdrawing support for legislation that would protect the GLBT community from discrimination — especially in its home state — we’re very concerned about the direction Microsoft is headed. It sends a dangerous message to the rest of corporate America and to society in general and may be cause for our community to evaluate its support of Microsoft.”

National groups — both Gay and straight – have also condemned Microsoft’s action. Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese wrote a letter to Ballmer on Friday, April 22. “The Human Rights Campaign, along with your many Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender employees, would like to express our profound disappointment at Microsoft Corp.’s withdrawal of support for Washington State House Bill 1515 that would have banned discrimination against GLBT Washingtonians in housing, employment and insurance,” the letter reads. “The defeat of this bill struck a blow to fairness for all Washingtonians. No Washingtonian or American should ever be fired for who they are. Corporations in Washington, especially Microsoft, must recognize the enormous impact this bill could have had at delivering equal protection to GLBT people.”

Gates told the Seattle Times on Monday that he was surprised by the backlash and intense media scrutiny the company has received due to its decision. “Well, we didn’t expect that kind of visibility for it,” said Gates. “After all, Microsoft’s position on a political bill – has that ever caused something to pass or not pass? Is it good, is it bad? I don’t know… We didn’t realize that one would get that level of scrutiny, but there are people who care a lot. They care a lot about the issue.”

He said the company may re-evaluate its stance on the legislation. “Next time this one comes around, we’ll see,” Gates told the Times. “We certainly have a lot of employees who sent us mail. Next time it comes around that’ll be a factor for us to take into consideration.”

ERW will be hosing at Town Hall Meeting at the Seattle LGBT Community Center on May 5 from 7:00-9:00 p.m. to discuss Microsoft’s decision and the organization’s efforts to secure passage of HB 1515. The organization has publicly invited Microsoft to attend.

Hutcherson has consistently refused to return our phone calls seeking comment.



PHOTO CAPTIONS

(Photo of three men sitting at table) Bigots line up to testify against Anderson-Murray Anti-Discrimination Bill at Senate hearing in March: (L-R) Rev. Ken Hutcherson of Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, Rick Forcier of the Christian Coalition and Bob Higley of Washington Evangelicals for Responsible Government. Photo by Robert Raketty

GENERAL GAYETY
Leslie Robinson

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LESBIAN NOTIONS
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