Brendan Eich Steps Down as CEO of Mozilla Amidst LGBT Equality Controversy

Brendan Eich—tech wiz, programmer, creator of JavaScript, longtime member of the Mozilla community, and anti-gay marriage advocate. He built his reputation in technology to become CEO of Mozilla Corporation, but it was a US$1,000 donation in support of Prop 8 in California in 2008 led to his departure from that position on Thursday.

Brendan Eich

Brendan Eich
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Mitchell Baker, executive chairwoman of Mozilla, announced Thursday in a blog post that Mr. Eich was stepping down. In that post she also apologized to the Mozilla community for not acting fast enough, saying, "We didn’t act like you’d expect Mozilla to act. We didn’t move fast enough to engage with people once the controversy started. We’re sorry. We must do better."

She also said that it was Mr. Eich who made the decision "for Mozilla and our community."

The controversy was a long time in building. Mr. Eich's donation to a group sponsoring Prop 8—which enshrined anti-homosexual discrimination in the California Constitution and was struck down by a series of courts—took place in 2008. It has been known in the Mozilla community since 2012, and it built into a "furor," according to The Washington Post, in recent weeks.

Many in the community wanted Mr. Eich to step down or declare his current support for gay rights equality. He did neither, insisting that he left his politics at the door.

On Wednesday, for instance, he told The Guardian, "So I don’t want to talk about my personal beliefs because I kept them out of Mozilla all these 15 years we’ve been going. I don’t believe they’re relevant."

Concerning his donation, he added, "I agree with people who say it wasn't private, but it was personal. But the principle that I have operated by, that is formalized in our code of conduct at Mozilla, is it's really about keeping anything that's not central to our mission out of our office."

He said that the Mozilla community was made up of diverse people from around the world, including countries where LGBT rights are not considered a universal right. He pointed to Indonesia, where such rights are non-existent, but where many contributors to Mozilla live. His point was that those opinions aren't part of the work place and stop at the door, that Mozilla was about protecting the Web and building a better browser.

In the end, however, chairwoman Mitchell Baker said that Mozilla as an organization supported LGBT equality. According to Re/code, she also said, "It’s clear that Brendan cannot lead Mozilla in this setting. The ability to lead—particularly for the CEO—is fundamental to the role and that is not possible here."

Despite that, she insisted that Mr. Eich made the decision to step down on his own, and that he was not pressured into leaving by her or other board members.

This is a complex issue, but in the end I can't help but feel that Mozilla is losing a gifted individual for an issue having little to do with job performance. I abhor Prop 8 and the bigotry behind it, but demanding that people subscribe to your political beliefs or work somewhere else is a treacherously slippery slope, whether on the right or the left.

That said, this situation is a clear demonstration that the issue LGBT equality is becoming more mainstream every day, at least in the U.S.