Microsoft Changes Stand on Gay Issues

After withdrawing its support for a pending gay rights bill in Washington
State, Microsoft has changed its mind.

In an e-mail to employees Friday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said
after thinking the issue over — such as whether it was appropriate for a
public corporation to get involved in such public policy discussions — he
decided to err on the side of diversity.

“Regardless of where people came down on the issues, everyone expressed
strong support for the company’s commitment to diversity,” Ballmer’s memo
said. “To me, that’s so critical. Our success depends on having a workforce
that is as diverse as our customers — and on working together in a way that
taps all of that diversity.”

Microsoft said it released the memo to the public in response to
widespread public interest in the company’s position about the
anti-discrimination legislation.

Although Microsoft is among the earliest
companies to extend company benefits to same-sex partners, a prior memo from
Ballmer, explaining why Microsoft decided to remain neutral on an
anti-discrimination bill in Washington State, sparked an uproar among gay
rights groups.

“I said in my April 22 e-mail that we were wrestling with the question of
how and when the company should engage on issues that go beyond the software
industry. After thinking about this for the past two weeks, I want to share
my decision with you and lay out the principles that will guide us going
forward,” Ballmer said.

“First and foremost, we will continue to focus our public policy
activities on issues that most directly affect our business, such as
Internet safety, intellectual property rights, free trade, digital inclusion
and a healthy business climate.”

But after looking at the question from all sides, Ballmer said he
concluded that diversity in the workplace is also an important issue for the

“Therefore, it’s appropriate for the company to support legislation
that will promote and protect diversity in the workplace.”

In addition, the memo said Microsoft would join other companies in
supporting federal legislation that would prohibit employment discrimination
on the basis of sexual orientation — adding sexual orientation to the
existing law that already covers race, sex, national origin, religion, age
and disability.

“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.”

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