The blogosphere is bursting with critiques of Mozilla’s ouster of tech pioneer Brendan Eich as CEO. Customers, employees, and members of the public objected to his $1000 donation to California’s Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between two opposite-sex people, in 2008. Gay and straight writers have attacked the move with a variety of imagery. It’s:
- a modern-day blacklist;
- leftist McCarthyism;
- totalitarian discourse;
- the new fascism; or
- the gay Gestapo.
But I’d like to propose a different metaphor, one that LGBT people are intimately familiar with: the closet.
I have some experience with the closet. Though I began coming out soon after I began college, it was several years before I was comfortable informing everyone I knew that I was gay. Being closeted involved indignity (having to listen as oblivious people degrade you), fear (furtively glancing at a particular magazine), and lies (feigning unfamiliarity with an organization one actually belongs to).
Research shows that the closet causes negative health effects, lower self-esteem, and higher rates of suicide.
The experiences of Eich, as well as the boycotts faced by businesses such as Chick-Fil-A for having owners who support man-woman marriage, and by individuals such as Ender’s Game author Orson Scott Card for serving on the board of the National Organization for Marriage threaten a new kind of American closet – that of hiding one’s political, religious, and cultural views about men, women, fathers, mothers, grooms, and brides.
The successful public shaming of dissenters about homosexuality has roots in the “Stop Dr. Laura” campaign of 2000, in which gay activists angered by some of the rhetoric of the eponymous radio advice-giver mobilized to torpedo her syndicated television show.
All these campaigns boil down to this demand: embrace our political agenda or we will demolish you. Much less publicized, but more important, than the famous houndings of Eich and Card has been smaller-scale oppression of supporters of traditional marriage in workplaces, families, and communities all over the country. Those who think marriage is between a man and a woman are beginning to realize that their businesses, livelihoods, and relationships are at risk unless they self-censor what for many of them is a fundamental component of their worldview.
Hiding something essential about oneself has destructive consequences. At any time, one fears exposure and thus must maintain the façade of conformity through careful choices in word and deed. Someone in the closet must be very discreet when disclosing private aspects of identity to anyone, because there’s always the risk of an “outing” that may ruin established friendship networks, job prospects, and community ties.
The Mozilla controversy was first sparked when the popular online dating site OKCupid urged visitors who accessed using Mozilla’s Firefox to use a different browser, because, the company said, people who “enforce misery, shame, and frustration are our enemies and we wish them nothing but failure.”
Hogwash. Proposition 8 made exactly one change to state law. Instead of same-sex couples having all the state rights associated with the institution of marriage, they had the same rights in domestic partnerships. That semantic change caused such distress that those who preferred the earlier category deserve failure in everything they do?