Guest Blogger

Marching alongside the pink elephant

Filed By Guest Blogger | October 07, 2009 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, The Movement
Tags: Faith In America, Mitchell Gold, National Equality March, religion-based bigotry, Washington D.C.

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Mitchell Gold is the co-founder of the successful and innovative furniture design and manufacturing company Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams. The Advocate magazine recognized Mitchell as a Person of the Year in 2006, calling him a Bridge Builder for the work of his non-profit, Faith in America.

As thousands converge on the nation's capital this weekend for the National Equality March, our demand is simple: We want full equality. Now. Although there has been great progress in the last 50 years, the equality movement for gay, lesbian, bisexual and mitchell_headshot.jpgtransgender Americans has not moved forward as quickly as we should and could have. In the final analysis, it is because we have not effectively addressed the biggest barrier between us and our equality: religion-based bigotry and prejudice.

For years, I was involved with organizations whose goals included achieving equal treatment under the law for all. It seemed obvious to me that the anti-gay messages coming from diverse denominations was the greatest obstacle to achieving that goal, but there was reluctance on the part of many within those organizations to address religion-based bigotry and prejudice toward LGBT Americans. I was confused. Was it because they didn't feel religion-based bigotry and prejudice was really the No. 1 problem?

Expensive studies have shown that "religion" is the No. 1 hurdle.  Perhaps religion wasn't their thing so they felt incapable of discussing it.  Most often I find that people are simply not comfortable challenging someone's religious beliefs. I've come to the conclusion that if an organization's leader cannot do this, then it is really time to step aside. I was uncomfortable, but when I realized religious teachings were the greatest hurdle, I set out to learn how to talk about it effectively, one person at a time.

Religion-based bigotry is a giant pink elephant in the room. It is the cause of incredible harm to millions of people and especially vulnerable adolescents and teens To be clear, I am not anti-religion. I am anti-religion based bigotry. I feel truly blessed to have former Rev. Jimmy Creech, Bishop Gene Robinson, Revs. Welton Gaddy, Reggie Longcrier, Benny Colclough, and Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum in my life.

But moving from New York to North Carolina in the 1980s, I discovered just how pervasive and deep anti-gay sentiment is beyond our urban centers. As I traveled to many areas across our country, it became apparent that the condemning and hateful attitudes and actions could be traced to one source: church teachings.

I spoke to many people who have been victimized by rejection and condemnation. I was burdened most by the young people I had met who had been discarded by their families, churches, communities and lost their own self worth from the onslaught of anti-gay religious language and actions they experienced. I met mothers and fathers who had lost a son or daughter to suicide -- young people who believed they'd be better off dead than growing up gay in America.

That burden was more than I could bear and in 2005 I founded Faith in America to educate those who misuse church teaching to justify bigotry, prejudice, discrimination and violence against our community.

IT IS FROM our experience in talking to communities across America during the previous four years that I am convinced we as a movement have truly failed in addressing the root cause of the prejudice and discrimination we face.

I have met hundreds of people of faith who adhere to their faith principles while not looking upon my sexual orientation as a sin or a sinful lifestyle. And I have met many people of faith who have been taught that my sexual orientation justifies looking upon me as undeserving and unequal. I have observed that love, compassion and respect are the core faith principles of most of the people I meet -- whether they accept me for who I am or whether they believe same-sex relations are sinful.

It doesn't take a theologian or well-studied religious person to understand a very simple history lesson. When we look at this country's history, we see many examples of church teachings misused to justify looking down upon others. Native Americans. Women. African Americans. Interracial couples. Even various religions that did not conform to certain church teachings.

In every case, these examples of religion-based bigotry and prejudice have been judged by history as immoral and wrong.

We, as the LGBT community, do not have to put ourselves before America as some moral or religious arbiter. History and common sense in the hearts and minds of good, decent Americans serve as that arbiter for us.

For those who do not realize the significance of religion and the impact religion-based bigotry has on our struggle for equality, they will continue to wander about aimlessly, dragging the pink elephant in the room behind them, holding them back.

That is not the path on which we plan to march. Come join us.

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I agree with this for the most part, but I also believe we are where we are today not only because of religious teachings, which have certainly played a major role, but also because of what many call "the ick factor".

Straight men and boys clearly often feel their sense of masculinity threatened by gay men and transwomen and act on it aggressively, physically, politically, in the workplace, in school, and in many other areas in our daily lives(Try being a transwoman in this economy and looking for a job that doesn't require a graduate degree or specialized technical schooling of some sort. It won't be easy, even in jurisdictions with anti-discrimination laws already on the books).

It isn't about religion for these kinds of men, it's about hate and fear. Religion may offer some permission in their minds to do what they do, but if you think most LGBT's are victims of violent hate crimes because of the religious fervor of their attackers, I think you're kidding yourself.

In addition, our own community must accept its share of the blame. Because of the blatant double-dealing, hypocrisy, and lies on the part of some of those who seem themselves as leaders of our movement, people like Joe Solmonese and organizations like the Human Rights Campaign have lost most of their credibility with average lower and middle-class LGBT Americans, and therefore with many politicians in Congress and local jurisdictions as well.

Yet, inexplicably these activists and organizations (and yes, mainly I mean Joe and HRC, though not exclusively) have made little or no effort to mend those still open wounds nor to attempt to talk things out publicly and create a better working relationship with those who have opposed them in the past.

You would think that those whose misbehavior and selfishness created this schism in the first place would be highly motivated to make things right and do their best to unite our community for the good of all of us. But we've seen little or no effort made in this regard, so after what is now almost a full two years later, I'm forced to conclude that most of these folks simply have no interest in working with anyone outside their own monied circles nor with even considering sharing the leadership of our movement with the majority of those within it and with those most directly affected by the success or failure of that agenda.

So, Mr. Gold, you're one of HRC's biggest donors. You're on their Executive Board (I believe). Please, tell me, tell everyone:

When is HRC going to step up and stop acting like LGBT activism begins and ends on their own doorstep?

When is HRC going to open its decision-making process to the lower and middle classes, those of us in the vast majority of the LGBT community who aren't rich or connected enough raise or donate fifty grand a year?

When is HRC going to exhibit the kind of aggressiveness and devote the level of resources to passing bills like HCPA and ENDA as they do to causes directly related to marriage equality?

I ask these questions of you Mr. Gold, because it seems no one else from the HRC hierarchy is willing to come down from their ivory tower and talk with us, instead of just at us. I'm hoping that perhaps you care enough about these issues to address them from your perspective as a major donor and Board member.

We've been asking these questions a long time and I think they deserve answers. They're probably not exactly the questions I'd ask if someone from HRC were actually willing to come on my radio show (3 invites so far, no takers) and discuss these issues, and Joe Solmonese always pulls what we call here a "post and run", posting the occasional piece on the site but then never bothering to respond to the comments made afterward.

I'm hoping you'll break the classic HRC mold and offer us real some answers here, Mr. Gold. Personally, I think we've been waiting more than long enough.

If you feel that the organizations, specifically HRC, are not properly addressing the needs that you see, then start your own organization, and raise money for it.

Lots of people do believe in HRC, give money to it, and lots of people are jealous of this success. Obviously, most of the contributors are satisfied with the agenda that HRC pursues. I can tell you as one who lives in Washington, D.C. that it has reached a level of high visibility for LGBTQ issues that no other organization ever has reached. In politics, there is a need to properly play the game, and to know what you are doing, and do it right. Bill Clinton reminded us of this recently.

These people at HRC ( and their supporters) are actually DOING things for the agenda, not simply bitching about it.

Finally, if you don't like marriage, don't get married ! The fact is that no other issue has ever gotten the LGBTQ agenda on the front page of every newspaper like marriage has, on every TV program, on every radio talk show. Yes, the other issues are ALL important, but all of them together have not succeeded in getting all of America in a dialog with us on our entire agenda, not just marriage. So, even if you do not like the marriage issue, in fact, it is raising public awareness and getting support for all other issues on the agenda, ENDA, DOMA, DADT, etc.

We need some positive energy to succeed, not pooping on the parade (March) !!!

Y'know, attitudes like yours are the exact reason why HRC is so universally detested by true grassroots activists in our community.

"(J)ealous of their success"? What success? What has HRC accomplished? Over the thirty years of HRC "leading" this movement what have we got to show for it? DADT, DOMA, and no basic civil rights for most LGBT Americans in this country.

HRC has proven not only a dismal failure as a leadership organization politically, but their self-serving behavior has alienated a significant portion of the community, probably the majority, and put them at odds with not only the vast majority of the American LGBT movement but also many truly progressive organizations like the AFL-CIO.

There's a reason why no politician with any realistic political ambition attended those HRC dinners in NY and SF last year, because they understand that if they want to tap into that grassroots energy and activism that's powering our community right now, they have to speak to the real community, those of us who actually represent our true voting majority, they have to come to us, not a room full of Appletini drinkers.

I forgot to say "Thank-you Mitchell Gold" for all your hard work and support for the entire community . I especially like your Faith in America work, and its web site.

Rodney Hoffman | October 7, 2009 6:45 PM

I agree with this article. Bible-based bigotry is our biggest enemy. (Not our only enemy, but by far our biggest.) I support any move to confront it.

"As thousands converge on the nation's capital this weekend for the National Equality March, our demand is simple: We want full equality. Now."

Check back on Monday morning and let me know if we have 'full equality.'

I know it's a lot more fun parading and partying in DC than phone-banking in Maine. But there actually was a pretty good chance for important breakthroughs for lgbt rights in Washington state and Maine until the March became substantially (and, as Cleve Jones would have it, intentionally) the sole focus of the lgbt "community."

Drake said - "I forgot to say "Thank-you Mitchell Gold" for all your hard work and support for the entire community."

Despite my hang-up about Maine and the March, I have to agree with Drake on this. (yep, that's an apology for the tone of my earlier post)

I believe Bible-based bigotry is being used as the biggest weapon, but it is a red herring to cover a cultural bias. I have personally discussed this with a number of straight men (Christians) who can't make themselves even look at the scholarly work that discusses a different point of view. One man who read four books on Biblical interpretation at my behest finished the last one and said, "Help me with the sin." He truly wanted to believe, he had the evidence before him, but he couldn't get past his upbringing. He has since found his way to understanding on his own. How? By hearing the stories of those who have been hurt by religious bigotry.

I am absolutely convinced that stories are the key to changing the hearts of those who will hear. Yes, there are those who will not hear. Don't waste your energy on them. Tell your stories of rejection, acceptance, hurt and grace. Those who listen will find their own way through the struggle of faith issues. It is through stories that this victory will be had.

Looks like we have us another HRC "post and run" blogger, folks. A pity to be sure, but oh-so-predictable.

Amy McDonald | October 9, 2009 10:04 AM

One way to bring the religious right to their knees is to recognize them for what they are a cold war propaganda tool gone awry.As anyone who is old enough to remember knows school prayer,god added to the pledge of allegiance,and many other religious based laws were pushed through because communism controlled religion.Now the very same tool that was supposed to be a deterent to communism has and wishes for government and religion to be intertwined just like in the old Soviet bloc.They are a threat to more than just the lgbt but also to America and the Founding Fathers vision of individual religious freedom.Linking them to this history and showing the progression to where they are now I believe is the best way to bring an end to this movement.Soon I'm going to begin researching the period from the end of WW2 to the beggining of the cold war and religious propaganda and it's progression till now.