Donald Sterling, the billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, made headlines last month when he was caught on tape making disgustingly racist remarks to his mistress about African Americans. His team protested him, corporate sponsors dropped the Clippers like a hot potato, and everyone from Oprah Winfrey to President Obama lined up to condemn Sterling’s racist views.
And in a press conference four days later, the National Basketball Association dropped the hammer: “Effective immediately, I am banning Mr. Sterling for life,” Commissioner Adam Silver said, “from any association with the Clippers organization or the NBA.” Silver added that Sterling would be fined $2.5 million dollars — the maximum amount allowed under league rules — and that he planned to urge Sterling’s fellow owners to force the sale of the team.
It was an astonishingly swift — and completely warranted — fall from grace, and one that came on the heels of another high-profile toppling: that of Brendan Eich.
Eich, as you may recall, was appointed CEO of tech giant Mozilla at the end of March. Because of a $1,000 donation Eich made in 2008 to California’s viciously homophobic Proposition 8 campaign — a cruel and animus-driven crusade that stripped gays and lesbians in that state of their fundamental right to marry — many Mozilla staffers and developers responded to his promotion with protests and boycotts. Popular online dating site OKCupid joined the fray, posting a pop-up message asking its users to dump Mozilla’s Firefox browser.
It was soon revealed that Eich’s anti-LGBT political activities weren’t limited to Prop 8. In fact, he’d donated to a whole host of homophobic politicians, including Pat Buchanan, who infamously said that “promiscuous homosexuals appear literally hell-bent on Satanism and suicide" and claimed the AIDS epidemic was the "awful retribution" for gays' "declared war on nature.”
When the Guardian gave Eich a chance to distance himself from Buchanan’s repugnantly bigoted views — which were widely known at the time Eich supported his presidential campaign — the embattled CEO couldn’t even muster a comment. (Silence speaks volumes, doesn’t it?) He also refused to apologize for his Prop 8 donation and even implied that his, errrr, less-than-enthusiastic views about the humanity of LGBT people would help Mozilla do better business in anti-gay nations like Indonesia.
With every passing day, and every time Eich opened his mouth, the tech community’s outrage mounted. It soon became clear that he’d lost his company’s confidence and had become a liability. Just nine days after taking over as CEO, Eich voluntarily resigned as CEO.
The downfalls of Donald Sterling and Brendan Eich were both largely driven by the free market. In both cases, people and companies responded to bigotry by applying economic and social pressure, and when that pressure became too great, both bigots bit the dust. But the reactions to both men’s ousters were markedly different.
In Eich’s case, many on the right — and even some within the LGBT community — rushed to the barricades to defend him. Leading the charge was gay blogger Andrew Sullivan, who hysterically (and falsely) claimed that the pitiable Eich was “hounded” by the LGBT rights movement and “purged” like a “heretic.”
The National Review piled on, accusing equality supporters of deploying a “lynch mob.” The Daily Caller said gay-rights activists had “claimed [Eich’s] scalp,” even though not one single LGBT organization commented publicly on the controversy at all. And recently, a group of mostly gay conservatives and libertarians came out with a statement bemoaning the LGBT movement’s “worrisome turn toward intolerance and puritanism” and defending Eich’s “freedom to dissent.”
In response, I posed this question to Eich’s defenders: if he had donated to a white supremacist or neo-Nazi group, would they similarly argue for his “freedom to dissent”? If he was a racist or an anti-Semite instead of a homophobe, would they be working so hard to pretend that his views should be seriously considered and vigorously debated?
Their unqualified denunciations of Donald Sterling just days later provided the answer. As far as they’re concerned, only homophobia deserves this special form of “tolerance” — some forms of bigotry are worse than others. If that isn’t a vile and disgusting double standard, I don’t know what is.