Microsoft does U-turn to support anti discrimination laws

Microsoft has formally reversed its position on anti gay discrimination in its home state of Washington.

Steve Ballmer, the company’s CEO has announced that in future Microsoft would put its weight behind any legislation that came before the state’s lawmakers.

A furore broke out recently when Microsoft, which originally supported an anti discrimination bill HB1515 suddenly changed its stance to ‘neutral’. The company’s explanation was that social legislation of this kind was outside the company’s sphere of software development.

However, many feared Microsoft had caved into pressure from prominent religious fundamentalist Rev Ken Hutcherson of the Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, who threatened to organise a national boycott of Microsoft products unless the company withdrew its support. The decision caused particular dismay as the company is seen as socially progressive and was one of the first to give equal benefits to partners of gay and lesbian employees.

Microsoft vehemently denied that its withdrawal of support was due to the boycott threat. Nevertheless, the legislation fell, causing outrage among Microsoft’s gay and lesbian employees.

Bill Gates had already said that the company was reconsidering. Now Steve Ballmer has formally announced it in an email to staff, reversing its earlier decision and stating it would now back any move to introduce a ban on discrimination on the grounds of sexuality in the state of Washington.

‘Given the importance of diversity to our business, it is appropriate for the company to endorse legislation that prohibits employment discrimination,’ Ballmer told the employees. ‘Obviously, the Washington State legislative session has concluded for this year, but if legislation similar to HB 1515 is introduced in future sessions, we will support it’.

Ballmer also said that Microsoft would also support federal legislation to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, although the chances of getting such laws through the existing Republican dominated Senate and White House are slim. He did however, draw the line at providing such support outside the US.

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