An open letter signed by 120 LGBTQ Google employees and counting was submitted Tuesday to SF Pride Board President Jacquelene Bishop and her colleagues, asking the organization to ban their company from Sunday's Pride parade in protest of its policies around anti-LGBTQ speech.
SF Pride has already responded by saying that Google will still be allowed to participate in the parade, as The Verge reports, but the publicity surrounding the employees' letter is nonetheless shining a light on tensions inside the company, which employs tens of thousands of people in the Bay Area.
"We have spent countless hours advocating for our company to improve policies and practices regarding the treatment of LGBTQ+ persons, the depiction of LGBTQ+ persons, and harassment and hate speech directed at LGBTQ+ persons, on YouTube and other Google products," the letter states. "Whenever we press for change, we are told only that the company will 'take a hard look at these policies.' But we are never given a commitment to improve, and when we ask when these improvements will be made, we are always told to be patient."
The letter continues, "For a large company, perhaps waiting is prudent, but for those whose very right to exist is threatened, we say there is no time to waste, and we have waited too long, already."
The dustup may have been directly triggered by a recent incident involving a conservative talk show host on YouTube who was accused of harassing and denigrating a queer political vlogger who works for Vox with repeated racist and homophobic hate speech. After considerable publicity, the host was penalized by having his videos demonetized, but they were not removed, with Google saying that the host — Steven Crowder — did not violate the platform's policies.
But there are issues within the company as well. As Wired reported, some outspoken diversity advocates at Google were targeted by coworkers and doxxed in conservative corners of social media in recent months. And The Verge reported earlier this month that some employees have quit the company citing the fact that they no longer feel safe there.
The final catalyst appears to be Google's official refusal to allow disgruntled LGBTQ employees to exhibit any form of protest from within the official SF Pride contingent at the parade, citing violation of the company's communications policy. But here's where the protest letter starts to get a bit exceptionalist and Millennial.
"[Google's executives] claim the contingent [at the parade] is their official representation, and we may not use their platform to express an opinion that is not their opinion," the employees write. "In short, they rejected any compromise."
But does anyone who works for a huge, multi-national corporation like Alphabet think that they can stage a protest in the company's name and still keep pulling a paycheck? Google is likely paying most of these employees handsomely to do the jobs they do there, and part of working for a corporation in a capitalist society is toeing the company line. It is the job of activists and journalists to point out the malfeasance of Google when it appears to be allowing harm to a minority group. But if these employees want to protest themselves, they probably will have to do so while working for someone else.
This isn't college, and Google doesn't have to act like a university in condoning protest. Also, there's a word for an organized movement of employees seeking change at a company: union. Short of actual labor organizing, everything else is going to be subject to the larger priorities of the corporation.
In their letter, the employees recognize this and say, "We have considered the possibility that our employer will punish us for signing this letter... Despite these risks, we are compelled to speak."
In response, Google issued a statement to The Verge saying, "Google has marched in the San Francisco Pride Parade for more than a decade and we are excited to continue our tradition this weekend. We are grateful for SF Pride’s partnership and leadership.”
SF Pride's statement says, "Google and YouTube can and must do more to elevate and protect the voices of LGBTQ+ creators... [We've] found that Google has been willing to listen to this criticism and is working to develop appropriate policies [in the future]... Google has been a considerate partner of SF Pride for a number of years, and has historically been a strong ally to LGBTQ+ communities."
Top image: Thomas Hawk