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Google warns its employees that Pride protests are against the company’s code of conduct

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A leaked internal memo has Googlers concerned about whose free speech the company is protecting

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Employees are allowed to peacefully protest YouTube or Google during the Pride parade — as long as they are not marching with Google in an official capacity. According to internal memos sent to employees, anyone who chooses to walk the parade as a representative of Google and voice any protest will be considered in violation of Google’s code of conduct.

The discussion came out of a broader conversation among the Gayglers listserv, one of Google’s LGBTQ groups, about petitioning San Francisco Pride to remove the company’s float from this weekend’s parade. Some employees planned to march with Google, while also visibly demonstrating against YouTube’s recent policy decisions with signs or t-shirts. According to screenshots shared with The Verge, when one Googler asked if this would be tolerated by the company, an inclusion lead said no.

“Employees are free to make whatever statement they want personally, apart from our corporate sponsored float/contingent,” the inclusion lead told the member of Gayglers. “But they are not permitted to leverage our platform to express a message contradictory to the one Google is expressing.”

Internally, LGBTQ employees at Google have expressed anger and exhaustion over YouTube’s recent policy decisions regarding conservative YouTuber Steven Crowder and Vox journalist and video host Carlos Maza, which earlier this month became a flashpoint in the ongoing controversy over how YouTube moderates its platform and decides when and for what offense it punishes certain channel owners. In a recent letter to Google’s LGBTQ employees, CEO Sundar Pichai said that he echoes YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki’s recent apology to the community, and vowed that the company would be taking “a hard look” at its harassment policies.

The decision to stifle a would-be protest is frustrating to some employees, who see it as especially ironic given YouTube’s dedication to free speech. “YouTubers who use our platform and sometimes get significant revenue get to claim free speech to keep using our platform ... but LGBT Googlers get no free speech to say that Google doesn’t represent us,” one tells The Verge. “That’s ironic at best, but hypocritical ... specifically ironic trying to curb our speech on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall march riots.”

How exactly employees would be punished is unclear. When one employee asked for clarification, the original poster of Google’s decision said that employees would need to contact the Code of Conduct team for any further questions.

Although employees are allowed to do so outside of company groups, some employees say it’s too late for them to participate in official Pride parades in any other capacity. With Pride month drawing to a close, these cities and many others will hold their official festivities at the end of June. For employees getting ready to celebrate Pride, one tells The Verge, “this means that in practice you either protest or you march.”

Google was not immediately available for comment.