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Google Staff Petition SF Pride to Exclude Company From Event

Josh Eidelson
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Google Staff Petition SF Pride to Exclude Company From Event

(Bloomberg) -- About 100 Google employees urged the organizer of this weekend’s San Francisco Pride parade to kick the company out of the celebration, escalating pressure on the internet giant to overhaul its handling of hate speech online.“Whenever we press for change, we are told only that the company will ‘take a hard look at these policies,’” the employees wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to the board of directors of San Francisco Pride. “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. We are told to wait. 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 petition, which was also posted online, asks that Google be dropped as a sponsor of the parade as well as excluded from having a presence at the event.A Google spokeswoman said the company participates in Pride to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, and that employees in Google’s "Gaygler" community are divided on the controversy, with some circulating a counter-petition in support of Google being represented at the event. Participating in Pride is meaningful to many employees, she said.In a statement Wednesday, the San Francisco Pride Celebration Committee said Google will still participate in the parade. The non-profit said that the company "has historically been a strong ally to LGBTQ+ communities."Google has been under fire over how it responded to homophobic and racist jokes made on its YouTube video service by conservative comedian and commentator Steven Crowder. YouTube said earlier this month that Crowder’s clips did not violate its policies. After criticism from some Google workers and others online, the company suspended his channel’s ability to make money from advertising, but did not remove the videos.Google and YouTube "can and must do more to elevate and protect the voices of LGBTQ+ creators on their platforms," the San Francisco Pride Celebration Committee said. Still, the company has "acknowledged they have much work to do to promote respectful discussion and exchange of ideas," the group added.Listen to Bloomberg’s Decrypted podcast: Google Workers Rise Up: Inside the ProtestsYouTube Chief Executive Officer Susan Wojcicki said she knew the company’s actions had been “very hurtful to the LGBTQ community,” but that banning Crowder would have put it in a bind, with millions of people asking “what about this one?” for other provocative clips.That hasn’t swayed some Google employees. As long as Google’s video service “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,” the employees wrote in the letter.Some co-workers were concerned that kicking Google out of Pride could deny them the ability to march in the parade. So the employees floated a compromise: visibly protesting against YouTube while marching in Google’s parade contingent. But Google management told staff that this would violate the company’s code of conduct, according to the letter.“They claim the contingent is their official representation, and we may not use their platform to express an opinion that is not their opinion. In short, they rejected any compromise," the employees wrote.The Google spokeswoman said Wednesday that employees are welcome to protest at Pride parades, but only in a personal capacity, not while marching with Google’s contingent.Signature-gathering for the petition began late Monday, according to a person involved, after one of Google’s LGBTQ+ community inclusion leads informed an activist employee that staff would not be allowed to protest while participating in Google’s Pride contingent.That prohibition may violate federal law protecting workplace activism and California law protecting employees’ political activity, according to legal experts. That’s especially true if the employees “feel like tolerating hate speech on the platform makes them feel vulnerable or disrespected at work,” said University of California, Berkeley, law professor Catherine Fisk.Almost all of the employees’ full names were published with their letter. “We have considered the possibility that our employer will punish us for signing this letter, or that supporters of these very hatemongers will attack us personally, online or otherwise, simply for speaking out against them,” they wrote. “Despite these risks we are compelled to speak.”The petition continues a wave of activism by some staff at Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc. Read about the protests here, here and here.For more on employee activism at Google, check out the Decrypted  podcast:(Updates with SF Pride response in fifth paragraph.)To contact the reporter on this story: Josh Eidelson in Washington at jeidelson@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Tom Giles at tgiles5@bloomberg.net, Alistair Barr, Andrew PollackFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

(Bloomberg) -- About 100 Google employees urged the organizer of this weekend’s San Francisco Pride parade to kick the company out of the celebration, escalating pressure on the internet giant to overhaul its handling of hate speech online.

“Whenever we press for change, we are told only that the company will ‘take a hard look at these policies,’” the employees wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to the board of directors of San Francisco Pride. “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. We are told to wait. 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 petition, which was also posted online, asks that Google be dropped as a sponsor of the parade as well as excluded from having a presence at the event.

A Google spokeswoman said the company participates in Pride to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, and that employees in Google’s "Gaygler" community are divided on the controversy, with some circulating a counter-petition in support of Google being represented at the event. Participating in Pride is meaningful to many employees, she said.

In a statement Wednesday, the San Francisco Pride Celebration Committee said Google will still participate in the parade. The non-profit said that the company "has historically been a strong ally to LGBTQ+ communities."

Google has been under fire over how it responded to homophobic and racist jokes made on its YouTube video service by conservative comedian and commentator Steven Crowder. YouTube said earlier this month that Crowder’s clips did not violate its policies. After criticism from some Google workers and others online, the company suspended his channel’s ability to make money from advertising, but did not remove the videos.

Google and YouTube "can and must do more to elevate and protect the voices of LGBTQ+ creators on their platforms," the San Francisco Pride Celebration Committee said. Still, the company has "acknowledged they have much work to do to promote respectful discussion and exchange of ideas," the group added.

Listen to Bloomberg’s Decrypted podcast: Google Workers Rise Up: Inside the Protests

YouTube Chief Executive Officer Susan Wojcicki said she knew the company’s actions had been “very hurtful to the LGBTQ community,” but that banning Crowder would have put it in a bind, with millions of people asking “what about this one?” for other provocative clips.

That hasn’t swayed some Google employees. As long as Google’s video service “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,” the employees wrote in the letter.

Some co-workers were concerned that kicking Google out of Pride could deny them the ability to march in the parade. So the employees floated a compromise: visibly protesting against YouTube while marching in Google’s parade contingent. But Google management told staff that this would violate the company’s code of conduct, according to the letter.

“They claim the contingent is their official representation, and we may not use their platform to express an opinion that is not their opinion. In short, they rejected any compromise," the employees wrote.

The Google spokeswoman said Wednesday that employees are welcome to protest at Pride parades, but only in a personal capacity, not while marching with Google’s contingent.

Signature-gathering for the petition began late Monday, according to a person involved, after one of Google’s LGBTQ+ community inclusion leads informed an activist employee that staff would not be allowed to protest while participating in Google’s Pride contingent.

That prohibition may violate federal law protecting workplace activism and California law protecting employees’ political activity, according to legal experts. That’s especially true if the employees “feel like tolerating hate speech on the platform makes them feel vulnerable or disrespected at work,” said University of California, Berkeley, law professor Catherine Fisk.

Almost all of the employees’ full names were published with their letter. “We have considered the possibility that our employer will punish us for signing this letter, or that supporters of these very hatemongers will attack us personally, online or otherwise, simply for speaking out against them,” they wrote. “Despite these risks we are compelled to speak.”

The petition continues a wave of activism by some staff at Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc. Read about the protests here, here and here.

For more on employee activism at Google, check out the Decrypted  podcast:

(Updates with SF Pride response in fifth paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Josh Eidelson in Washington at jeidelson@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tom Giles at tgiles5@bloomberg.net, Alistair Barr, Andrew Pollack

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.