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TECHNOLOGY FEATURE

Bill Gates, say it ain't so


Selisse Berry | May 09, 2005

Bill Gates
Unless you live in a deep dark hole in the ground, there is a Microsoft product within three feet of you. Decades after Henry Ford put our hands on a steering wheel, Bill Gates put our fingers around a mouse. Although Ford no more invented the car than Gates invented the computer, both made them universal.

It's time now for Bill Gates and Microsoft to stand up taller for something even more universal: fairness and nondiscrimination for all Americans where we work and live.

If you happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, you probably know that Microsoft not only made a home for every computer in America, but offered a genuine welcome for everyone regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. That's why we are deeply dismayed to discover what appears to be a shift in their previously welcoming stance.

Last week, news reports disclosed that Microsoft is now neutral on the passage of statewide employment nondiscrimination legislation in Washington State, where it is based. More discouraging are reports that Microsoft withdrew its long-standing support because of the threats from an anti-gay church leader. For a company that has spoken up early, confidently and truthfully to create an equal and respectful workplace all of its own, we cannot imagine why they found it necessary to change course or in such a disheartening way.

As the executive director of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, our mission is to connect within America's workplaces and to give an effective voice to LGBT employees everywhere including Microsoft. The remarkable difference we make is helping ensure that a majority of Fortune 500 companies today have employment nondiscrimination policies, and more than ever offer equal benefits to our same-sex partners. At our latest annual gathering, we welcomed over 800 business people from more than 200 corporations, including Microsoft, who believe as we do that fairness is good business too.

While we speak up passionately for equal treatment in the workplace and for fair-minded business policies, we don't lobby city councils and legislatures. We agree it's best for corporations to speak for themselves about public policy, but that doesn't mean we can remain silent when we truly feel betrayed.

Successful business leaders know what is good for business and the marketplace, and that is fairness and equity. Sexual orientation is a characteristic that simply has nothing to do with how well a person does their job. Just two years ago, a Gallup poll confirmed that 88% of all Americans say that gays and lesbians ought not be discriminated against on the job. It's that basic.

To be honest, what worries us most is the message Microsoft sends to each of us, and to the entire market. Wall Street and Main Street agree on one principle: we all respect companies most that are true to their principles, and not companies that wiggle and waver or waffle and bend. Our core beliefs are what define all of us as Americans.

I have no idea whether a solitary minister is more terrifying than Microsoft's global competitors, but somehow I doubt it. Nonetheless, some may believe mistakenly that most people of faith are opposed to LGBT people or to our equal treatment in society, which is a terrible and untrue indictment against religious people too. Many gays and lesbians worship alongside our neighbors, families and friends in churches, temples and mosques, and many faiths are welcoming and inclusive too.

In the end, this is about the business of business. Working closely with leaders in corporate America, I know that LGBT employees are optimistic, conscientious and hard-working. They have faith that far-sighted corporations envision society's fullest possibilities – and not our limits. Some argue that we ought to boycott Microsoft and turn our back now on a company that appears to have turned its back against us.

I say not so fast. Microsoft can get it right, and face its principles once again by quickly returning to squarely face its own LGBT employees, shareholders and customers - and even its competitors – and telling us what they really stand for.

Bill Gates, you lost your voice when it really mattered and when our elected leaders most needed to know where you stand. Please don't make that mistake again and appear to say two different things when one truth must do. Join with most Americans and declare your unshakeable commitment to a fair and equal workplace and marketplace.

About the author: Selisse Berry is executive director of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates
About Out & Equal Workplace Advocates Out & Equal Workplace Advocates is a national nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization headquartered in San Francisco, California. Out & Equal Workplace Advocates champions safe and equitable workplaces for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. The organization advocates building and strengthening successful organizations that value all employees, customers, and communities. – Gay Link Content


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