Politics & Policy

The New Pitchfork Persecutors

Eich and others who opposed same-sex marriage, even years ago, are being punished.

Let’s face it. Brendan Eich is large, white, and rich, and a computer geek — not the kind of profile that automatically elicited sympathy last week when the CEO of Mozilla was forced to step down for contributing $1,000 in support of Proposition 8, a 2008 measure stipulating that marriage in California could be only between a man and a woman.

But all of us should care about the political orthodoxy that forced out Eich and that is taking hold in our country. “I don’t believe this is a question of suppressing free speech,” Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign, a key gay-rights group, told the Associated Press. The AP quoted Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, as saying, “It seems to me when a society makes a determination that something is wrong, for example racial hatred, then somehow it’s not intolerant to insist upon that understanding.” Good-bye to tolerance for diverse opinions.

Eric Dezenhall, who heads a prominent crisis-communications firm in Washington, D.C., told Forbes magazine: “There is a very specific narrative today on certain issues, and if you step an inch out of bounds, you’re going to get fouled or worse. [Eich] stepped on one of the three great land mines: gay rights, race, and the environment. You don’t have to have made flagrantly terrible statements to get into trouble now.”

Indeed. Consider the case of Angela McCaskill, the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., a school for the deaf and hard of hearing. In 2012, she was one of 200,000 people to sign a petition in support of a referendum challenging a law that recognizes gay marriage in Maryland, where she lived. The anti-same-sex referendum made the ballot and lost 52 percent to 48 percent that November. But 54 percent of African Americans in Maryland opposed same-sex marriage, according to an exit poll conducted by the Associated Press.

Even though Maryland’s gay-marriage supporters won, some of them were not exactly magnanimous. McCaskill’s signature on the petition became public when the Washington Blade posted a database online “outing” all those who had signed it. Even though her signature indicated only that she wanted the decision on gay marriage to be made by the people and not by the legislature and the governor, her critics declared it showed “bias” on her part. She was placed on administrative leave by Gallaudet University’s president, T. Alan Hurwitz. In a statement announcing her leave, he wrote, “It recently came to my attention that Dr. McCaskill has participated in a legislative initiative that some feel is inappropriate for an individual serving as Chief Diversity Officer.” Just the year before, Hurwitz had praised McCaskill as “a longtime devoted advocate of social justice and equity causes.”

The uproar over her being punished for private political views resulted in her reinstatement three months later. But she quickly found things weren’t the same. Her pre-controversy title had been “Deputy to the President and Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer.” When she returned to her office, she came back only as Chief Diversity Officer, with reduced authority. She has since filed a lawsuit against the university alleging that it violated anti-discrimination laws.

Nor is McCaskill the only heretic to have run afoul of the PC Police. After Proposition 8’s passage in 2008 (it has since been invalidated by the courts), Scott Eckern, artistic director of the California Musical Theater, the state’s largest nonprofit performing-arts company, was forced to resign after gay-marriage activists learned that he had donated $1,000 to the Prop 8 campaign. Similarly, Los Angeles Film Festival director Richard Raddon was forced to step down after his donation of $1,500 to Prop 8 was made public.

This modern-day blacklist is not confined to computer geeks, university employees, and show-business types. Marjorie Christoffersen, manager of the famous Los Angeles restaurant El Coyote, resigned after El Coyote was subjected to a month of boycotts and demonstrations because she had contributed $100 to Prop 8. Fellow employees at El Coyote vouched for her kindness to gay employees — when one of the restaurant’s employees died of AIDS, for example, she had personally paid for his mother to fly to Los Angeles to attend his funeral. That didn’t matter either. And neither did the fact that El Coyote sent $10,000 to gay groups to “make up” for Christoffersen’s contribution. The boycott continued, and Christoffersen was forced to leave.

These purges prompted Charles Karel Bouley, a former columnist for the gay publication The Advocate, to call for calm and moderation. “Barack Obama said marriage was between a man and a woman at a time when we needed his voice on our side about equality,” Bouley wrote in the aftermath of Prop 8’s victory. “He let us down, too, remember, and many of you still gave him a job.” Indeed, Obama publicly declined to endorse gay marriage until May 2012. But Bouley’s point has obviously fallen on many deaf ears.

Perhaps it’s time to revisit the practice of publicly disseminating the names of people who donate to support ballot measures. Brendan Eich was “outed” after the names of all contributors to Prop 8 — which could be found in public records — were published in the Los Angeles Times in a searchable database. There is some precedent for privacy in this area. In a unanimous 1957 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the NAACP did not have to release lists of its donors and members lest such a disclosure be used to target and discredit the civil-rights group, thus suppressing the right of legal association.

Bruce Chapman, a former director of the U.S. Census Bureau who is now with the Discovery Institute, told me that today’s climate could similarly “chill democracy.” “We don’t make the votes of people public, we don’t make how jurors vote public, and we keep Census data private for 70 years,” he says. You would think that liberals who like to rail against the publication of anti-Communist blacklists in the 1950s would appreciate such arguments. But some of them are cheering on the pitchfork persecutors or, as happened a lot during the days of the Hollywood blacklist, simply remaining silent.

— John Fund is national-affairs columnist at National Review Online.


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