Three Imaginary Girls

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I've lived on Capitol Hill, an über-urban Seattle hipster neighborhood, for the past seven years. Hipsters and freaks predominate, and of course, the area is extremely liberal and gay-friendly, especially compared to my suburban upbringing. Moving out here, I've always felt like now is a great time and Seattle is a great place to be gay.

I don't think that anymore. Right now is a super-sucky time to be gay in Seattle, and the actions of our state legislature and one of our top employers just confirmed it. This week, an anti-discriminatory House bill that would have protected gays and lesbians came to vote, and it was voted down – by only one vote.

And this bill simply covered the basics. From an article in the Stranger on the issue:

"House Bill 1515 would protect gays and lesbians from discrimination in employment, housing, banking, insurance, and other matters by adding sexual orientation to a state law which already bars discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, gender, marital status, and mental or physical handicap."

In other words, this bill wasn't for special rights or privileges, or even the right to marry {something else that I find a ridiculous restriction, but something to be saved for another column}. This bill simply stated that people should not be discriminated against based on their sexuality in life's basics: housing, jobs, money. It's an atrocity that this right isn't already being protected.

What makes this particular loss even more troublesome in the Pacific Northwest is that Microsoft, a long-time advocate for gay rights {pun not intended, but still funny} and anticipated supporter of the bill, reversed it's long-standing stance on anti-discrimination based on sexuality, and instead proclaimed themselves "neutral" on this bill. Even worse, they did so after receiving threats {my word, but I feel it's apt} from – guess who? – Evangelical Christians who opposed the bill, who vowed to, "organize a national Evangelical boycott of Microsoft."

From the same Stranger article:
"(Microsoft) withdrew its support for House bill 1515, the anti-gay-discrimination bill currently under consideration by the Washington State legislature, after being pressured by the Evangelical Christian pastor of a suburban megachurch. The pastor, Ken Hutcherson of Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, met with a senior Microsoft executive in February and threatened to organize a national boycott of the company's products if it did not change its stance on the legislation."

I am familiar with this Hutcherson fellow. This is a religious leader who won't allow known gays to be members of his church, and he's the same offensive jackass {again, my words, again, apt} who organized a "Mayday for Marriage" rally at Safeco Field last year in Seattle, which yellow-bused in approximately 20,000 narrow-minded bigots from around the state to convene in the downtown arena in my gay-friendly city to proclaim how threatened they were by two people in love who want to marry who happen to be of the same gender. My then fiancé and I attended the counter-rally to defend the sanctity of all people to marry the partners of their choosing, and to express our dismay with this outpouring of hatred and discrimination {two sides, one coin} toward our gay friends.

But back to Microsoft. I recognize that Microsoft is a software company, not a political organization. It's not necessarily their job to champion social or political causes. But here's what I can't fathom: some bully from a suburban parish talks to a few executives and suddenly the company shirks away from taking a long-held stand against discrimination? Microsoft did this?? This doesn't sounds like the aggressive, innovative, indominable Microsoft we've all grown to love (or hate), but to certainly acknowledge as competitive force to be reckoned with.

Microsoft never shirks from competition; it thrives on it. From what I've seen, they either acquire their competitors, or they mobilize to annihilate them. Linux? Bring it on, says Microsoft! Mozilla? Bulk up the Internet Explorer team and make security atop company priority. Lawsuits? Hire top lawyers and fight back. But now one creepy evangelical reverend in the suburbs and Microsoft negates – no, neutralizes – a stellar history as a progressive leader for the rights of all their employees? I don't like it. This might not be their battle to fight, but that doesn't make me like it one bit more.

And really – are the threats even valid ones? Are these people going to impact the overwhelming stronghold Microsoft has in the desktop and office environment? And with all due respect to Evangelical Christian bigots, is the Honorable Ken Hutcherson of Antioch Bible Church in Redmond going to start evangelizing for open source solutions with his congregation? Is he gonna buy them all G5 iMacs and force the faithful to download Mozilla? Give me a break. I bet most of these folks are lucky if they can type in 14 point Comic Sans to forward their hokey "Forward this to 10 friends or God will send gay people to teach your children about Darwin" email spams.

Microsoft has a stellar record as pioneering same-sex partner rights, and they haven't reneged on this stance internally. Microsoft continues to offer same-sex partner domestic benefits – benefits which are exemplary, especially for health insurance coverage. They haven't taken these back at all – they simply refused to take a stand on an amendment that would guarantee these same rights for all Washingtonians, and likely because of their neutrality, the West was lost.

Now is not the time to be neutral. I hope that moving forward Microsoft will choose to continue to be an innovator not just in the world of software, but also in the realm of human rights. Why should they expect their employees to do more with less?


{This article originally appeared in igDana's weekly Music for America column "A Rush and a Push." Check out the column and feel free to comment on their message boards here.}