It's cool that gay rights groups like the Human Rights Campaign and Equal Rights Washington, as well as national gay political leaders like U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Ma), all sent angry letters to Microsoft after the company bailed on the Washington State anti-discrimination bill protecting gays. ["Microsoft Caves on Gay Rights," by Sandeep Kaushik, April 21.] It was also pretty damn cool when the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center rescinded their 2001 Corporate Vision Award to Microsoft.

It sucks, however, that straight leaders aren't making noise as well. Leaving the outrage to the gays only isolates and marginalizes gays and lesbians, which is precisely what conservatives like Mullah Hutcherson are trying to do. Silence from straight leaders advances their reactionary agenda.

Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, it seems to me, have a special obligation to speak up. First of all, Microsoft's position was a blatant slap in the face to the Washington State Democratic Party--79 of the 81 Ds in Olympia voted for the state bill, with only two infamously conservative Ds from the Olympic peninsula breaking ranks.

More important, both Cantwell and Murray have strong financial ties to the Redmond-based software giant, making Microsoft's politics very much the Democratic duo's business. Microsoft employees rank as Cantwell's number one contributor at $100,100. And they rank as Murray's second biggest contributor at $145,253. In fact, Bradford Smith, Microsoft's senior vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary--the man who made the decision to pull Microsoft's support of the anti-discrimination bill--has personally contributed $1,250 to Cantwell and $3,000 to Murray.

When a high-profile Washington company like Microsoft starts signing off on the evangelical intolerance agenda, high-profile political leaders (who take that company's money) need to call bullshit.

Unfortunately, Cantwell and Murray failed the test miserably. Cantwell's tepid response to the news? "'They have a huge portfolio' of issues… and cannot be expected to push all of them at the same time," she told the Seattle Times. Cantwell's evasive stance ignores the fact that Microsoft had a huge portfolio of issues when they supported the bill last year. What changed? Gates & Co. wimped out, and so did Cantwell.

Murray is no better. "I take [Gates] at his word," she told the Seattle Times--referring to Microsoft's increasingly flimsy line that the company abandoned the gay rights bill so they could focus on a shorter list of issues.

Gay rights is one of the major issues of the day and no one, especially high-profile companies like Microsoft that contribute handsomely to lawmakers, deserves a pass. Cantwell and Murray are now far lesser public servants for giving them one.

Cantwell is facing what is shaping up to be a close re-election bid next year. She will no doubt be looking to gays and lesbians for money and votes. When she asks queers for their support in 2006, they should ask her where her support was in 2005.

josh@thestranger.com

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