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microsoft to heal rift
« Reply #1 on: Mon, Apr 25, 2005, 03:48 »

Microsoft Rushes To Heal Gay Rift
by The Associated Press

Posted: April 24, 2005 4:00 pm ET

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(Olympia, Washington) In a hastily prepared internal memo e-mailed to employees, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is attempting to shoot down suggestions that pressure from a local pastor triggered the company's decision not to publicly support a gay-rights bill before the state Legislature this year.

Reiterating statements made by company spokespeople in recent days, Ballmer said the decision to take a neutral position on legislation Microsoft had supported previously was made before the session started in January.

The intent was to enable the software company to focus on computer privacy, education and other issues more directly related to its business, he said.

"I understand that many employees may disagree with the company's decision to tighten the focus of our agenda for this year's legislative session in Olympia," Ballmer wrote.

"But I want every employee to understand that the decision to take a neutral stance on this bill was taken before the Session began based on a desire to focus our legislative efforts, not in reaction to any outside pressure," Ballmer wrote in the Friday evening e-mail. 

A bill that would have banned discrimination against gays and lesbians in housing, employment and insurance failed by one vote Thursday in the state Senate. The House passed the bill on a 61-37 vote two months ago.

Rev. Ken Hutcherson, pastor at Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, met with Microsoft in February, threatening to launch a national boycott of Microsoft products if the company didn't take a stand against the bill. 

Ballmer said the meeting was held to clarify that two Microsoft employees who testified in favor of the bill were speaking as individuals, not for the company.

Nevertheless, gay-rights activists have accused Microsoft of caving to the religious right and abandoning its long-standing support for the rights of gays and other minorities. (story)

No way, Ballmer said.

"As long as I am CEO, Microsoft is going to be a company that is hard-core about diversity, a company that is absolutely rigorous about having a non-discriminatory environment, and a company that treats every employee fairly," he wrote.

Microsoft has offered domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples since the early 1990s. It also has long barred discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Ballmer said that personally, both be and Chairman Bill Gates supported the gay-rights bill.

"But that is my personal view, and I also know that many employees and shareholders would not agree with me." he wrote.

"We are thinking hard about what is the right balance to strike — when should a public company take a position on a broader social issue, and when should it not? What message does the company taking a position send to its employees who have strongly held beliefs on the opposite side of the issue?"

On Friday, The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center asked Microsoft to return a civil-rights award the organization gave the company four years ago.

The same day, the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington, D.C.-based gay rights group with nearly 600,000 members, sent an open letter to Ballmer expressing "profound disappointment" that the company did not back the gay-rights bill.

©Associated Press 2005
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