Google's Disappointing Decision to Hide Its Support of Gay Pride

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Instead of a Doodle, Google has placed a small rainbow at the end of its search bar -- but it only shows up if you enter certain terms

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We've seen Google Doodles, the artistic designs that the search giant uses to replace its logo on special days, for just about everything. Since 1998, when the first design was drawn up for Burning Man, a week-long festival in the Black Rock Desert known for the copious amounts of drugs and alcohol consumed by attendees, there have been Doodles for Sesame Street, Veteran's Day and Vivaldi. We've seen Doodles for Pi Day and Pac-Man and even the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which, in some countries, can be more contentious than just about anything else.

Instead of boldly declaring its support of Gay and Lesbian Pride Month, Google added a tiny rainbow to the end of its search bar.

Why, then, has Google shied away from a Doodle in celebration of Gay and Lesbian Pride Month? On June 1, when the month kicked off, there wasn't a competing Doodle; Google just ran its standard blue, red, yellow and green logo -- no purple anywhere to be found. We didn't see our first June Doodle until the 5th of the month, when Google celebrated what would have been the 92nd birthday of Richard Scarry, creator of the Busytown series. The fictional Busytown was popular -- I even wrote about it in this space -- but it would be difficult to convince anyone that Nurse Nelly and Goldbug were as culturally important as the 1969 Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village that started the modern LGBT liberation movement.

President Clinton, when creating Gay and Lesbian Pride Month in 2000, chose June for those riots, which took place in the early morning hours of June 28. Across the country, GLBT groups have been celebrating the riots -- the first time when the homosexual community fought back against government-sponsored persecution -- with pride parades and other events. I know this because I haven't been able to avoid them, despite my best efforts. When I lived in Chicago, I would frequently escape to a small town along the Michigan coast, returning only after all of the feather boas had been removed from the street. As a fairly recent transplant to Washington, D.C., the parade snuck up on me. Without time to get away, I took to hiding in my apartment. Next weekend, New York City -- and many of my friends there -- will be celebrating; I will stay here.

I'm gay. I don't try to hide it. That said, I don't believe that parading through the street is going to help my cause. And that's why I was a little confused this morning by the strong feelings I had in response to Google's decision to substitute a tiny rainbow in place of what should be a full-blown Doodle. 

Instead of boldly declaring its support of Gay and Lesbian Pride Month, Google added a rainbow to the end of its search bar. But it only appears when certain queries are entered. "Gay" does the trick, as does "lesbian" and "transgender." But try even the slightest modifications to those terms -- "transgender pride," "lesbian empowerment" -- and the rainbow disappears as though it was never there. This should keep the six-color rainbow, a symbol universally associated with gay pride ever since San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker created it 33 years ago, from appearing on the pages of those who are still opposed to gay rights. And keep Google from having to deal with any backlash.

This slight modification to Google's search page is similar to the company's decision in 2009 to add a thin, rainbow-colored bar above the search results for certain terms, but the move is surprising. Things change in two years and Google, long considered one of the most gay-friendly corporations to work for, should know this. On the International Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce's most recent list of the international companies offering LGBT employees the best working environment, Google placed second after only IBM.

This criticism should be tempered. I'm disappointed in Google's decision today, but none of this is meant to demean the company's previous work in support of gay rights, which includes a 90-second contribution to the It Gets Better Project that was televised nationally last month and a 2008 announcement in opposition to California's Proposition 8. I just want the same treatment as Vivaldi, who was properly celebrated even 269 years after his death.

Image: Google.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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