News & Politics

Google Cancels AI Ethics Council after Employees Demand Removal of Conservative Heritage President Kay Coles James

Kay Coles James, President of The Heritage Foundation, speaking at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC on July 26, 2018 (Photo by Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

On Thursday, Google canceled its AI ethics board after 2,476 employees signed a petition urging the company to remove Heritage Foundation President Kay Coles James for opposing transgender activism. An anonymous Google employee told PJ Media the corporate culture resembles the stifling of debate on college campuses, and warned that Google’s caving to pressure on this issue will only embolden activists.

“Google employees effectively can exercise a heckler’s veto over these sorts of decisions,” the anonymous employee said. “The environment is exactly like a college campus. If you dissent from the liberal orthodoxy, people will accuse you of invalidating their existence, claiming that’s a form of violence.”

Indeed, employees immediately claimed that James’s position on transgender identity involved advocating violence against them. An employee leaked an internal discussion on the issue, and the comments proved terrifying.

“James’ inclusion on the council is either horribly negligent or outright malicious,” one employee said.

Another employee suggested that while the Heritage Foundation could provide a valuable viewpoint on many issues, “their perspective on LGBTQ peoples is one of intolerance. Having that in the discussion is not representative of tolerance, but in fact antithetical to it.”

Some employees defended James’s addition to the board in the name of including diverse perspectives. Even this suggestion was demonized.

“I think that people have been very clear that the problem with the Heritage Foundation isn’t that they ‘don’t think like I do’ but that they actively and stridently advocate for religiously based anti­LGBTQ+ policies that immiserate my friends, colleagues, and comrades and has a real and damaging impact on their lives,” one employee wrote. “This isn’t a simple disagreement over the ideal tax rate, and framing opposition to the heritage foundation [sic] as mere close­mindedness is really offensive and dishonest.”

“The fact that they don’t personally put you in any danger is probably really nice, but please don’t pretend like the organization isn’t an existential threat to other people,” this worker snidely added.

“No, it is not about ‘tolerance for those who think like I do’. It’s intolerance to those who don’t see me as human. And I am *proud* to be intolerant of such folks,” a transgender employee wrote.

“Would we even consider having a virulent anti­semite on the advisory board? How about an avowed racist or white supremacist? Would we use diversity of input as justification for including someone with those extreme views? I don’t think we would. This seems like a double standard where anti­LGTBQ positions are tolerated more than other extreme discriminatory views,” another employee argued.

“To argue that this appointment is valid because it maximises [sic] diversity, is akin to arguing that appointing a neo-­nazi is appropriate because it too maximises [sic] diversity. As with all things, diversity itself has no value without moral context,” added another.

Not only did the employees demonize Kay Coles James, they demonized any fellow Google employee who dared to defend including James’s perspective.

The Heritage Foundation has hosted many events criticizing transgender identity. It has hosted former transgender Walt Heyer, who runs the website It has hosted Julia Beck, a lesbian feminist who got kicked off of the Baltimore LGBT Commission for disagreeing with transgender identity.

Beck has warned that embracing transgender identity in civil rights law would allow biological men in women’s bathrooms and changing rooms and in women’s sports. As a lesbian, she is not sexually interested in men, but according to transgender activism, she should be interested in biological men so long as they identify as women.

These perspectives are valid. Many transgender people have later grown to reject their cross-sex identity, and lamented the permanent damage they have done to their own bodies.

Transgender inclusion activists are correct that violence against any person, including those who identify as transgender, should be unequivocally condemned. But the Heritage Foundation does not advocate violence against these people. Instead, it presents arguments that their identities are not grounds for new civil rights laws that would do more harm than good.

Even so, 2,476 Google employees signed a petition against Kay Coles James, arguing that including her on the AI ethics board is “a weaponization of the language of diversity. By appointing James to the ATEAC, Google elevates and endorses her views, implying that hers is a valid perspective worthy of inclusion in its decision making. This is unacceptable.”

The employees slammed James as “committed to trans erasure,” because she does not consider transgender identity more real than biological sex. She is not “erasing” people who identify as transgender. She is not denying their existence or advocating violence against them. She merely disagrees that their gender identity — which is not based on genetics or their root biology.

When Google canceled its ethics board, it sent the message that if employees complain loudly enough, management will cave. The anonymous employee compared this to the “heckler’s veto,” in which students at a university will complain and protest enough to scare college authorities to “disinvite” a controversial speaker.

Mike Wacker, a Google employee concerned about animus against conservatives and Christians at the company, warned that conservative employees at Google are terrified of defending Kay Coles James internally, “especially if someone reports them to HR. That fear is justified.”

He rightly noted that allegations of James being “committed to trans erasure” or thinking “some of our colleagues either do not or should not exist” are “ridiculous.”

But if a Google employee defends someone “committed to trans erasure,” then he for she “could (allegedly) threaten other Google employees’ sense of safety and belonging. And if someone reports you to HR on those grounds, there’s a very good chance that HR would take their side.”

Wacker pointed to a survey from the Lincoln Network, in which one conservative tech employee wrote, “Employees will interpret your words in the most offensive way possible, then report you to HR based on that interpretation. It’s one big offendedness sweepstakes. When people get in trouble, it’s often based not on what they said, but on how others interpreted their words, regardless of how unreasonable that interpretation is.”

“I’ve seen someone get reported to HR for sharing a National Review article,” the conservative employee wrote.

Wacker highlighted Google’s “call-out culture” in a Medium article, noting that Google employees demonized Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), blindly accepting the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) smear that ADF, a conservative Christian law firm, is a “hate group.”

The unthinking outrage against Kay Coles James is similar. Google employees seem so set on LGBT activism and transgender identity that they accuse anyone who disagrees as being committed to “trans erasure.” It does not matter to them that James would be the first black woman on such a team.

Her ideas must be demonized as violence, and she cannot be included on an ethics board. This kind of ostracism is outrageous. It suggests any American who disagrees with transgender identity is beyond the pale, committed to violence, and must be exiled from Google.

Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.