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Posted by gustav at 11:01PM, Sunday, December 03rd, 2000

Bigots bigots everywhere, and not a one can think

There are days when politics piss me off. There are days when work irks me. There are days when it seems like the world's out to get you. And then there are days like this.

Let us say that I have a friend. A friend who was persecuted some years ago for his sexuality. Think of it as racial profiling, only online, and involving sex, entrapment, and charges for crimes never committed, with a justice system that acted very differently depending on whether the defendents were, or pretended to be, heterosexuals, or not.

Then, imagine what fun it is to be a young gay man in a federal prison.

Then, imagine being released, and being advised by your parole officer that it would be better for you to be religious.

Land of the free? Separation of church and state? A country that's too evolved for bigotry and prejudice? Hardly. Anyone who swallows the party line lacks the awareness to look around himself and see what's going on, or is terribly isolated. Forget for the moment that this is a country with a profound class distinction, based in large part on lines of race -- and forget that most people seem to pretend that such a distinction doesn't exist. Forget that this is a country where an astounding percentage of the population is incarcerated, and one in which the justice system is based on old-testament-style punishment rather than redemption and rehabilitation. And forget that the rights "guaranteed" by the constitution are meaningless in a justice system that disobeys its own laws.

For the last two to three years, this country has supposedly enjoyed a period of explosive economic growth centered in web businesses, and the media has endlessly hyped the critical shortage of IT-industry professionals. Large corporations lobbied congress, successfully, to increase the number of H1B visas granted each year, enabling them to employ cheap, non-American employees who wouldn't clamour for the same level of benefits and compensation as spoiled, experienced Americans, and who would have less lattitude to switch jobs. Even though I make a decent amount of money, I've never seen any evidence of this critical shortage in the time I've been working as a software or web developer -- no five-figure sign-on bonuses; in fact, no sign-on bonuses of any sort; no absurd benefits packages; no competitive salaries plus 20%. This for a fairly experienced developer with a very strong programming background and education. I was always of the opinion that the H1B thing was more or less trumped up in order to save certain large corporations money when it came to employee wages and benefits, which are among the highest expenses in the tech industry. That wouldn't be the first time such a thing happened, and with some of the major news companies in this country owned by the software corporations which would benefit, there's no shortage of conflicts-of-interest to make such a thing possible.

All this is why I take the news about the sudden cataclysmic downturn in the IT industry skeptically. Certainly, companies fail, and there are layoffs. It doesn't seem that there have been as many in this part of the country as in Silicon Valley, predictably, and it's not as though the surviving companies are doing less work. Conversations with local headhunters and other web developers indicate that development managers are as eager as ever to hire qualified people, but the VCs and executives with control of the cash are holding the reins very tightly, waiting for this whole downturn thing to subside before authorizing any more hiring. Never mind that by doing so, they can almost guarantee that their companies will fail long before then.

However, talking to colleagues and listening to the hiring process going on at my work, it seems that employers are as desperate as ever to find qualified developers, and finding it just as difficult to locate really good ones.

Which is why it's striking when my friend (remember him? Mr. victim of sexuality profiling?), laid off when a promising startup was killed by panicky VCs who wouldn't even sell it to a willing buyer, has so much difficulty finding a job. The job market is as full as ever of dotcoms with harebrained or nonexistent business plans, abominable choice of development platforms, and inept management. It's also full of bigots.

My friend has to explain his felony history to every company he applies to. So far, two have explicitly said that they could not hire him for that reason. It's impossible to say how many others lack
the balls to admit that that's the reason, rather than stand behind the tired, cliched "your skills aren't a match for the position we're trying to fill at this time" rejection line. But it's clear that these companies are actively (desperately?) searching for experienced developers like my friend. And it makes me incensed beyond words that they will not hire him, because he has a felony conviction for, in effect, being gay -- a conviction that means he cannot travel freely for work (as the "straight" people caught in the same sting operation can); and cannot, practically, move to another state.

Land of the free, indeed.

What can I do? Not much. I can write my congresspeople and ask them to support things like gay rights ordinances, law enforcement watchdogs, programs for drug treatment rather than prison time for users, and so on. I can give money to the HRC and the Lambda Defence Legal Fund. I can rant here to tell people that the world is bigoted and unfair, and they should do what they can to change it. But I can't wave a magic wand and make things better. With the justice department under the charge of blatant homophobes and racists like Ashcroft, we can't expect it to suddenly better itself. And even in the somewhat pseudo-liberal IT industry, the executives, the ones in charge of money and hiring, are still, as always, among the most conservative and reactionary people you're likely to meet; people who, when told before they make you the job offer that you're gay, are most likely to change their minds. What can you do when that happens?

What I can do is list the bigots as they come. -- bigots

Third Millennium -- bigots

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