Local LGBTQ leaders back Googlers’ call to kick company out of parade

Employees critical of failure to address bigotry on YouTube

More than 100 employees of Google demanded San Francisco Pride oust Google from this weekend’s parade in an open letter Wednesday.

No sponsorship, no logos, no marching contingent.

San Francisco should reject Google over its failure to tackle homophobic bigotry on YouTube, they wrote, because Google has shown it isn’t willing to stand by the LGTBQ community.

And while the SF Pride Board has already rejected the demand, a bevy of local LGBT luminaries are now supporting the Googlers.

“If Google won’t act, the Pride committee needs to,” Cleve Jones, the founder of the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt told me Wednesday.

Jones, a prominent LGBT activist and pioneer of the movement, told me he understands the SF Pride board has a tough role. They often get “whip-sawed” between progressive activists demanding change and those in the gay community who favor corporatism, he said.

But this time Google has gone too far, he said. San Francisco must remember its activist roots.

“This has really crossed a line,” Jones said.

The employees’ demand follows the controversy over a popular YouTube-star who allegedly targeted Vox video journalist Carlos Maza with homophobic attacks. Like a high school bully, YouTuber Steven Crowder routinely mocks Maza for critiquing right-wing media, calling him a “lispy queer,” among other names meant to slur Maza for being gay, Mexican, or both.

In the last month, Maza has taken to Twitter to highlight the sea of harassment he faces after each jeering video. That hate speech has real-world consequences, prompting Crowder’s followers to increasingly, frighteningly, hound him.

Googlers have been pushing their company to kick Crowder off the platform.

“It’s terrifying going up against a huge company like this,” Maza told me in a June 8 interview.

His life has been turned upside down by alt-right trolls since he came forward, he said. He pointed out that YouTube, and by extension Google, are actively radicalizing people into the alt-right, a phenomenon the New York Times recently highlighted in their haunting piece, “The Making of a YouTube Radical.” It’s algorithmic: YouTube leads viewers from one alt-right video to another, and then another, with each “recommendation” more ideologically incensed than the last.

Basically, alt-right shock troops are getting their gospel through Google.

“I don’t even work there and I’m furious,” Maza said. “They’re empowering our abusers while rocking the rainbow colors. It’s exploitation.”

While the Google-owned YouTube did eventually de-monetize Crowder’s channel, many felt that didn’t go far enough. And to add insult to bigotry, Google told its employees they could not protest the company within its official Pride contingent.

That was the last straw for the employees behind the open letter, they wrote.

“We feel we have no choice but to urge you to reject Google’s failure to act in support of our community by revoking their sponsorship of Pride, and excluding Google from official representation in the Pride parade,” the Googlers wrote in a Medium post Wednesday. “If another official platform, YouTube, allows abuse and hate and discrimination against LGBTQ+ persons, then Pride must not provide the company a platform that paints it in a rainbow veneer of support for those very persons.”

Google, for its part, argued to reporters that “Gayglers” (Gay Googlers) within its community are divided on the company’s policies. Google also worried resistance from some of its employees would impact the enjoyment of the march of employees there with their families.

“Google has marched in the San Francisco Pride Parade for more than a decade and we are excited to continue the tradition this weekend,” a Google spokesperson wrote, in a statement. “We are grateful for SF Pride’s partnership and leadership.”

In a move that came as no surprise to any local who’s followed the Pride Board the last few years, SF Pride was quick to reaffirm Google — one of its largest donors — would still march in the parade, while also paying some lip-service to change.

“Google and YouTube can and must do more to elevate and protect the voices of LGBTQ+ creators on their platforms, and we’ve found that Google has been willing to listen to this criticism and is working to develop appropriate policies,” SF Pride wrote in a statement. “In the spirit of community and growth, we confirm Google as a continued participant in the 2019 SF Pride Parade.”

You can read SF Pride’s full response here, and the Googlers’ open letter here.

Jones, the LGBT activist, reminded me that making sure Google acts to stamp-out hate isn’t just about political preferences, it’s about survival.

He told me Maza’s experience echoes a horrific experience of Jones’ own: In 1985, after Jones appeared on an edition of 60 Minutes, neo-nazis tracked him down to his Sacramento home, beat him, then stabbed him.

“They harassed me, stalked me, beat me and nearly killed me,” Jones said. He doesn’t want to see that happen to Maza or anyone else. For that reason, he said “I applaud the Google employees” for coming forward.

Other prominent LGBTQ community members I spoke to felt SF Pride missed their opportunity to make an impact.

“If you give a no, it cannot be a simple no,” Tom Ammiano, a trailblazing gay former California Assemblymember, told me.

Instead, SF Pride could have made a more savvy move and demanded concrete action from Google in order to allow them to march in the parade, he said.

“With Google, wasn’t there a thousand people last year? It slowed the parade down! But you don’t get a pass just for being in the gay parade, for supporting, ignoring or neglecting something so homophobic,” Ammiano told me. “I stand with the Gayglers. They have a great point.”

SF Pride has repeatedly chosen timidity over courage in recent years, even as the more progressive factions of the LGBTQ community highlight dangers to their very lives.

In 2015 drag queens were being summarily kicked off Facebook for their now much-lambasted “real name” policy. Across the country, LGBTQ people who used nom-de-plumes to shield their identities, now using their real names, were targeted by homophobic harassers. Sister Roma of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the radical queer nuns, came to SF Pride shortly after, asking them to kick Facebook to the curb.

Fat chance — the Pride Board whiffed it.

“Here we go again!” Sister Roma told me, Wednesday in a statement. “Hey Google, Hate Speech and Freedom of Speech are NOT THE SAME THINGS. I support the LGBTQ Google employees and allies for bravely taking a stand.”

It was also the same old song when noted musical performer and drag king Alex U. Inn challenged SF Pride to rebrand the parade as resistance against President Donald Trump in 2017. They declined, opting to feature a small “resistance contingent” instead, ostensibly to protect their sponsors.

They refused. To rise. Against. Trump.

I mean really — that’s just a softball, folks. Who defends Trump in San Francisco?

U. Inn told me SF Pride’s Wednesday decision to back up Google definitely carries echoes of that 2017 fight.

“They should have stood behind the 100 Googlers who put their jobs on the line to say ‘This is really important and something that needs to be recognized,’” U. Inn said. “Pride started as a revolution. A rebellion. A riot.”

Particularly this year, the 50th anniversary of the iconic Stonewall riots, if the Pride Board doesn’t remember its roots, U. Inn said, their next step should be as clear as the angelic voices of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.

“They should step down,” U. Inn said.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

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