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 transgender 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.