When I was in ninth grade, Danny O’Donnell picked on me one too many times. He was by no means the first person to call me a faggot, but he was most certainly one of the last. For whatever reason, that day I had had enough. He said it again, and I pushed him—in front of everyone, just before the beginning of class.
He fell to the floor, nearly knocking over a desk or two in the process, and the stunned look on his face made it clear that, for him, the thought of a faggot fighting back called the rules of the universe into question.
The incident had a corollary effect on me. At that moment, as Danny stumbled to his feet, I was riven by a combination of fear and shame. I was afraid of what he would do to me now, if only to save face after a very public humiliation. But I was even more afraid of what had come out of me, and disappointed that I had given in to it. I had tried diplomacy, and it had never worked—not with Danny, nor with any of my other schoolhouse tormentors. By process of elimination, violence had become my only recourse. And yet it felt disjunctive, like using a fire extinguisher on a cigarette lighter.
In those days, there was only one way to deal with a bully: give him a piece of his own medicine. These days, the process is a little subtler: you shame him on social media or threaten a boycott.
I was reminded of Danny when I heard that Brendan Eich had resigned as CEO of Mozilla in the wake of controversy surrounding his views on marriage equality. I have no sympathy for a man who declared my civil rights his personal business by donating $1,000 to the Prop 8 campaign. And his avowal that Mozilla would remain inclusive under his leadership rang hollow given his refusal to state his current opinion on the issue. But somehow I cringed a bit to think that he had been forced out of his position because of something that, on its face, had nothing to do with job performance.
After I sent him tumbling to the floor, Danny O’Donnell never bothered me again. I won’t say I earned his respect or that we became friends. But he left me alone. So you could say my outburst succeeded. I achieved my aim. I just didn’t feel too good about it.
Seeing someone get his just desserts isn’t always sweet. On one hand it’s wonderful to find that gay rights have become so mainstream that you can lose your job for opposing them. On the other hand, when it comes to his job, it’s kind of … well, irrelevant what Eich’s beliefs are unless he uses them to harm his employees. (Are you listening, Hobby Lobby?)
But CEOs aren’t like you and me, and it’s not just because they make 500 times our salary. CEO is more than a job: it’s the face of the brand. Barilla Pasta and Chick-fil-A have learned that the hard way. But it’s kind of sad that it has to come to this. It’s sad that Brendan Eich and Danny O’Donnell both have to be tossed on their asses in order to learn a lesson about respect.