Mitchell Gold is a successful home furnishings designer and manufacturer and co-owner of the Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams chain of signature furniture stores. While he is long known for his advocacy in grassroots organizations and national nonprofits, Gold also formed his own foundation, Faith In America, to fight religious bigotry against the LGBT community.
He published a book that compiled stories of what it's like to grow up gay. That book, Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America, is an integral resource for me as I reach out to fellow straight Christians. Mr. Gold was kind enough to take some time recently to answer some of my questions. Part One was posted yesterday.
Q: What was the catalyst for the formation of your foundation Faith In America in 2006? What do you foresee for this organization?
A: Previously, we talked about how I felt there was a need to bring the issue of religion-based hostility and prejudice to the forefront of our movement. For me personally, the passion in making that happen stemmed from an incident in 2004 as I was preparing to undergo a heart-related medical procedure. When you are faced with a potentially serious health issue, you naturally begin to think out your mortality and you begin to reflect on your life past, present and future. As I looked backed over my years of advocacy work and life in general, I was proud of many things and feel I've made a contribution to my community, but I honestly questioned just how much a difference I had made on the lives of young gay youth who were still having to deal with the pain and trauma that I and many others faced 40 years ago. It was at that point that I made a commitment to myself that I could no longer be satisfied with incremental progress when it came to alleviating that suffering in the lives of our youth.
Working over the last four years, we believe Faith In America has asserted some leadership in this area; and if you talked to some of our leaders they may tell you that I've been rather persistent in urging them to lead on this front as well. In fact some will say this is the only thing I talk about. This is true, but it is true because I've come to see that the harm religion-based bigotry causes to the LGBT community in general and especially youth is one of the only things they will not talk about. They treat it as an "also" instead of a central point of our struggle.
We have a number of initiatives that we have developed for implementation during the upcoming 12 to 18 months which we feel can and will make a difference in bringing about an end to the harm caused to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals--most especially youth--by religion-based bigotry. And I hope your readers will join us in making those initiatives successful. They we can really make strides in ending the bigotry.
Q: What are people saying to you about your foundation and book?
First and foremost, there is a thirst out in our community for someone or some organization to challenge religion-based bigotry. I get so many encouraging comments from people everywhere I travel. Sometimes it really makes me verklempt! I can't tell you what it's like to meet someone who has read CRISIS or Faith In America's website and have them just stand and weep while they tell me how it changed them or a family member. It's rather extraordinary to stand in a small southern town and listen to a mother talk about how she wishes she had understood her son while he was alive; how she might have been able to avoid his suicide; and how now she will try to help other parents.
Practically every week I or our executive director, Brent Childers, receive notes from people whom our message has impacted in positive ways. The following note is one example and it came last week from a social worker in North Carolina who received a copy of CRISIS after an event we did at a large Baptist church in Charlotte, NC:
I feel excited today to have opened the materials (brochure and book) you sent!
I began casually glancing through the book and quickly found myself engulfed in each story until the last page. (Who cares about paperwork!)
This book is an incredibly important read and I thank you so very much for including it! Every school needs this book available on every teacher's and counselor's bookshelf as well as I wish a copy were on every person's coffee table at home - and not just sitting there but ingested. Ohhhhh, what a better world... if only.
Thank you deeply for your critically important work.
We have been working to get the book in middle schools and high schools, and a statewide distribution is underway by a partnering organization in Virginia. A high school teacher in another state who has been using the book relayed to us two weeks ago how she has a class comprised mostly of male students who she described as "white, tight and right." She picked a chapter for a class discussion that was written by our executive director, who himself once would have been described as white, tight and right. She told us that she could tell the discussion that day had an impact on her class.
As I look back on my life, I know that putting CRISIS out in people's hands is something I reflect on and think this is what makes life worthwhile.
Q: As you anticipate trends, what would you have your advocates and community do right now?
A: There's a big trend in our advocacy groups to encourage people to "tell their stories" because it's been proven that when people know someone that is gay, they are more likely to be open to voting for equal rights legislation. Recognizing that, the biggest point is "What stories do you tell?"
Big trend number 1: When people understand the harm they are causing to young people, they change and/or become more committed to LGBT equality. I've seen it with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears. So when you tell a story, don't leave out your vulnerable young years when you first realized you were gay. There are kids today going through very similar pain. We must make sure people understand it.
Big trend number 2: Do not be hindered by the old paradigm that you can't effectively engage people about an issue related to religious belief or church teaching. We can and we must. You do not have to be clergy or a religious scholar to talk about this issue. Allow history to serve as the arbiter. There have been numerous times in this nation's history in which church teaching was misused to justify and promote prejudice, discrimination and violence; and history shows us and those we talk to that all those incidences have been judged as immoral, unjust and simply wrong.
Biggest trend number 3: We have to be able to talk about sin. That is a critical issue for so many in the elusive moveable middle. They are religious! I remember too often that some of our advocacy groups have done studies and they define a person as religious if they attend church one or more times a week. The reality is that 86% of Americans consider themselves religious, and I can assure you 86% of Americans do not attend church once a week. Many of these folks believe in the concept of sin so we must be able to engage them about it.
This month, Faith In America plans to release messaging guidelines which we have developed based on our experience during the previous four years. Visit our website, sign up as a subscriber and we will make our report available to you at no charge. And be sure to sign up on our Facebook fan page as well and keep abreast of our efforts.
Whether you are large advocacy group or three or four PFLAG parents in a small town, I encourage you to sit down with your peers and begin thinking about things you can do in your community that will push the conversation about religion-based bigotry's harm to the forefront of your efforts. I would encourage you to read CRISIS thoroughly as there is a wealth of information in there to help lead a discussion. I'm not making a penny on the sales of any books so I'm not pushing it for that reason. I know from comments I get how helpful it is.
We have held many events in communities across America and our executive director will be glad to talk about some of the things we have found effective in engaging communities.
Plan a CRISIS book distribution to middle school and high school guidance counselors in your community. Drop a book off to your state and federal elected officials.
And, perhaps most importantly, give a copy of CRISIS to a straight ally and encourage them to share with their minister or pastor and others in their faith families.