Unspinning Microsoft

The mega-church minister who threatened Microsoft over its position on a gay right bill says the company is lying about the reason for its flip-flop.

Published April 28, 2005 1:18PM (EDT)

The Stranger, the Seattle weekly that broke the story of Microsoft's flip-flop on a gay rights measure, is out with a follow-up that seems to put the lie to Microsoft's spin on its change of heart.

When we talked with Microsoft spokeswoman Tami Begasse last week, she dismissed the notion that Microsoft had caved in to threats from an evangelical minister named Ken Hutcherson by claiming that Microsoft had decided to abandon a Washington state anti-discrimination bill before company officials ever met with Hutcherson.

In the new report from The Stranger, Hutcherson tells a different story. He says he met with Microsoft General Counsel Bradford Smith on Feb. 23 to complain that two Microsoft employees had testified in favor of the gay rights bill. At that meeting, Hutcherson says, Smith told him that Microsoft was supporting the anti-discrimination bill then pending in the Washington legislature as a "civil rights issue." That characterization stuck in the mind of Hutcherson, an African-American man who played professional football before becoming the minister of a Redmond, Wash., mega-church.

Hutcherson says he told Smith that he'd organize a national boycott of Microsoft's products if the company didn't change its position. Hutcherson says he told Smith: "Youre not going to like me in your world. I am going to give you something to fear Christians about." Hutcherson met with Smith a second time in March, he says, and at that point Smith said that Microsoft had decided to change its position on the bill.

Smith tells The Stranger that it didn't happen that way. He says that he told Hutcherson at their first meeting that Microsoft "hadn't taken a position on the bill." That doesn't square with Microsoft's admission that it had, in fact, taken a position on the bill before -- it supported it in the prior legislative session. Further, as AMERICAblog's John Aravosis points out, Smith's version of the story is hard to reconcile with statements from a Washington state legislator who sponsored the bill and members of a gay and lesbian Microsoft employees group. They all say that they heard about Microsoft's flip-flop on the bill only after Smith's second meeting with Hutcherson, and that when Smith told them about the change he discussed it as if it was recent news -- and not as some allocation of lobbying resources made much earlier, as Microsoft and Smith have claimed.

Now the world's largest software maker finds itself caught in the middle. Gay rights groups are outraged that a company they considered an ally has abandoned them, and Hutcherson is angry with the company for not giving him the credit he deserves for causing the switch. "The company lied, and 'the Black Man' is not going to lie down and say 'OK,'" Hutcherson tells The Stranger. "Evidently, they dont know that I wont keep my mouth shut about unrighteousness."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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