HOUSTON VOICE www.houstonvoice.com
APRIL 29, 2005
I national cover story
Religious conservatives declare victory in boycott battles
MICROSOFT, continued from Pagel
The company decided to downsize its
legislative priorities list prior to the legislative session starting earlier this year,
Exactly when Microsoft switched from
being supportive of the Washington nondiscrimination bill remains in dispute.
Begasse said the company decided
before the 2005 legislative session that it
would focus only on issues directly related
to its business, such as computer privacy,
education and competitiveness.
But on Feb. 1, two gay Microsoft
employees testified before a state House
committee in favor of the non-discrimination bill. Asked if they represented
Microsoft's official position, the employees responded by informing lawmakers
that the company issued a letter of support for a similar bill in 2004, and was
preparing to send another letter this year,
said George Cheung, executive director of
Equal Rights Washington.
"But the letter never came," Cheung
said. "It seems clear in terms of the timing that [Hutcherson] had some impact
on Microsoft's decision to withdraw its
Upon watching the testimony of the
two Microsoft employees, Hutcherson
requested a meeting with company officials to clarify whether the workers represented Microsoft's official position,
Over the course of two meetings
between the conservative pastor and
Microsoft officials, Hutcherson asked that
the two employees who testified be fired,
but Microsoft refused his demands,
"Rev. Hutcherson also urged Microsoft
to change its position [on the non-discrimination bill] from neutral to negative, and
we declined," Begasse added. "We are disappointed people are misrepresenting
But Hutcherson isn't alone in giving
himself credit for coercing Microsoft to
change its stance.
Reports in both the Stranger and New
York Times cited anonymous gay Microsoft
employees who were present during a
March 29 meeting between Microsoft
Senior Vice President Brad Smith and
GLEAM, the company's gay employee
group. During that session, Smith allegedly
cited pressure from Hutcherson as the reason behind the company's switch.
Asked if there were any gay employees
who attended the meeting who could
refute the allegations from the anonymous
sources, Begasse said there were and that
those employees were allowed to talk with
the media if they pleased.
Multiple attempts to contact GLEAM
members for interviews were unsuccessful by press time.
Cheung, from Equal Rights Washington,
said his group had also been unable to talk
with gay Microsoft employees, and added it
is possible that Hutcherson is inadvertently
benefiting from Microsoft's switch even
though he may have had nothing to do with
But that doesn't lessen the negative
impact Microsoft's decision had on the
non-discrimination bill, Cheung said.
"What's important to know is that Sen. Bill
Finbeiner, the [Republican] minority leader
who locked up all 23 members of his caucus to
vote against the bill, represents Redmond,
which is Microsoft's district," Cheung said.
"So Microsoft's decision certainly gave him
extra political coverage not to support the
Cheung also criticized Microsoft's
employment of Ralph Reed, a conservative
political consultant who rose to fame as former president of the Christian Coalition.
Reed, currently a Republican candidate
for lieutenant governor in Georgia, has
been paid by Microsoft for several years,
but his company, Century Strategies, is
limited to advising Microsoft on issues
like trade and competition, Begasse said.
"Century Strategies has never advised
Microsoft in any way on any social policy
issues, including anti-discrimination legislation," Begasse said.
In an interview with the Seattle Times
published Tuesday, Gates said the company did not expect the media firestorm over
its decision to drop its support of the nondiscrimination bill. He added that
Microsoft may consider endorsing the bill
when it is introduced in 2006.
Procter & Gamble changing?
Employing the same bravado
Hutcherson used in describing his alleged
takedown of Microsoft, the American
Family Association recently sent an e-
mail alert to its members, listing a litany
of gay-friendly positions Procter &
Gamble supposedly abandoned as a result
of AFA's boycott of the company.
"Our boycott of P&G has been successful." AFA Chair Donald Wildmon wrote in
the April 16 e-mail. "We cannot say they
are 100 percent clean ... but judging by all
that we found in our research, it appears
that our concerns have been addressed."
When the AFA launched its boycott
against Procter & Gamble products —
most notably Tide detergent and Crest
toothpaste — it cited the Cincinnati-based
company's support for the campaign to
repeal Article 12, a section of Cincinnati's
charter that prohibited laws based on sexual orientation, including non-discrimination and domestic partner benefit policies.
Procter & Gamble's efforts included
donating $10,000 to Citizens to Restore
Fairness, an ad-hoc group created to
remove the measure.
In an August 2004 letter to employees,
Procter & Gamble executives said "Article
12 "prevents Cincinnati from developing a
reputation as an open and welcoming community" and "negatively impacts the city
and region's image and therefore limits
P&G's ability to attract and retain the best
talent to help build our business."
AFA responded to the letter by launching a boycott in conjunction with Focus on
the Family, and claiming that Procter &
Gamble's position equated to an endorsement of gay marriage.
Ralph Reed has been paid by Microsoft for several years, but his company, Century Strategies, is limited to
advising Microsoft on issues like trade and competition. (Photo by AP)
"To keep homosexuals from being
legally married is discrimination for a
good reason, which P&G says they will
not tolerate," the AFA's boycott literature read.
Procter & Gamble did not withdraw its
support for repealing Article 12, and
Cincinnati voters approved the repeal in
But the AFA claimed this month that
Procter & Gamble has changed its policies,
including no longer advertising its products on "TV programs promoting the
homosexual lifestyle, such as Alice and
Grace [sic]." The AFA also notes that a
Procter & Gamble executive who strongly
supported repealing Article 12 "is no
longer with the company."
But that former executive said Tuesday
that AFA officials are being disingenuous in
declaring victory, just as they were when
they initially announced the boycott last fall.
"Accuracy and integrity, of course, isn't
AFA's strong suit," said Gary Wright, who
used to work as Procter & Gamble's corporate demographer and associate director
for global trends.
Wright took a two-month leave of absence
from Procter & Gamble last year to lead
Citizens to Restore Fairness. Following the
November election, Wright resigned from
the company to immerse himself in gay
rights activism on a full-time basis, he said.
"As far as I can see, there has been no
change in Procter & Gamble's approach to
gay and lesbian issues, so I'm a little puzzled by the timing in the AFA announcement to call their boycott off," said Wright,
who continues to chair Citizens to Restore
Fairness as it transitions into a permanent
Doug Shelton, a Procter & Gamble
spokesperson, declined comment on the
specific allegations made in the AFA e-
mail, but said the company is pleased the
boycott has been suspended.
A representative from the AFA sched
uled an interview with the Blade this
week, but canceled it the next day
While Microsoft in particular received
blistering criticism from gay rights groups
for its policy reversal, some workplace
watchdogs said boycotts have become
increasingly ineffective, causing them to
doubt the claims of the conservative leaders.
"We have to be really careful and definitely get all the facts straight in these situations
before believing the words of these ministers, and improperly crediting them with
bringing about change." said Shelly Alpern,
assistant vice president and director of
social research at Trillium Asset
Management, a firm dedicated to "socially
"On the face of it. it doesn't make sense
that companies that have really been leaders on gay and lesbian issues are going to
backtrack," Alpern said.
Trillium owns Microsoft stock and is
considering writing a letter to company
executives, but first wants an in-depth
briefing by gay and lesbian Microsoft
employees, she said.
The recent developments between corporations and religious groups are surprising
considering the limited success conservatives have had when trying to derail gay-
friendly practices at the corporate level, said
Melissa Sklarz, co-chair of the Equality
Project, which advocates for workplace
equality for gays.
"I've always been so proud of corporate
America in this area, to see them take the
lead on issues of diversity, that now to
think that they are buckling under a campaign based on hate and fear would be
unfortunate," Sklarz said.
"But I don't think corporate America
will respond to this angry, small, bitter
minority and change the American dream
of being able to work hard and achieve success," she said.