Almost 100 Google employees are urging 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 being 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 will also be posted online, asks that Google be dropped as a sponsor of the parade as well as excluded from having a presence at the event.
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.
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, a copy of which was viewed by Bloomberg News.
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 in their letter. A Google spokeswoman didn’t respond to requests for comment on the company’s guidance to employees about the Pride event.
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.
The employees’ full names will be 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.