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. Due to the length of the interview, it is being posted in two parts.
Q: You are a successful furniture designer. What do you see on the horizon on the fashion scene in home furnishings: colors, textures, use of space?
(Part One continues after the jump)
A: Colors and textures are all about soft and happy. Textures are beautiful tightly-woven chenille or smooth and suede-like. When I say "happy colors" they are exactly that: something that when you look at them either make you smile or relaxed. We like soft chalky colors rather than primaries. If we do use a primary it's only one and we mix it with softer shades. In our new book The Comfortable Home we show people how to think about colors that will work for their life style. We also urge people to think about how they will use their spaces: for media, reading, eating, etc. We really want people to get the most use out of each room so that their investment in their home pays off... every day.
Q: A good designer has to be able to anticipate trends in the way people are thinking. How are you able to use this skill in your advocacy?
A: I think a big part of our success is that Bob and I study the way people live and the way they want to live. That last part is really important. What are they thinking about that they don't even know they're thinking about? We did this by carefully observing people in stores. What were the dynamics of the purchasers? Were they alone? With a mate? Same sex? Opposite sex? With kids? Pets? What were they wearing? Which brands?
This same approach has guided me in founding Faith In America and in writing CRISIS. I spend a good deal of time observing and talking to people who vote against my right to full and equal rights. What is most interesting is that for the most part they are not mean, horrible people. I'm not talking about Maggie Gallagher or Tony Perkins who are professional anti-gays but rather the "moveable middle" human beings. And I listen to what they are saying and am observant to what they hear.
For example, my observation is that many of these people live in fear that their child will choose to be gay and in their minds that is a sin. So let's really think about that. First of all, too many of our nice opposition believe sexual orientation is a choice. And second, they believe it is a choice to go against their God's will and order. That is a big reason they are so afraid of marriage equality for gay people. I find that telling them how they are not being fair to me, that they are depriving me of my rights is just not the message that will get through. We have to address the questions of sin and choice with them. From my experience, when we do talk directly with them about these critical issues, we see many people change their minds.
Q: You mentioned in the dedication of your book Crisis that a "basic question" was the catalyst for writing the book. Tell us about that.
A: I was being interviewed by a journalist for a group of southeastern newspapers in the great hall of Union Station in Washington, DC. The interview was about Faith In America. Midway through he looked me in the eye and said something like, "You're a successful business person, you look healthy and happy and have a good life. You could take more vacations... why are you devoting so much time and money to this effort?"
Without a blink I told him, "I don't want one more kid to go through what I went through as a kid." I then went on to tell him the crisis I felt when I realized I was gay. How afraid I was that my parents would throw me out of the house or send me for shock therapy. How afraid I was my brother would beat me up or disown me. I was devastated. I thought I had no future. I thought about suicide for years. I can't remember how many nights I cried myself to sleep.
As I talked [with the journalist] I got into sort of a trance. I hadn't talked about these things in such detail. I looked down through most of my confession because I was so embarrassed that I had bared my soul to a complete stranger, I allowed myself to be so vulnerable.
When I finished I looked up at this middle-aged, big football-playerish guy who had tears in his eyes. He simply said, "I had no idea that's what a gay kid goes through." When I left the interview I walked out of the station and saw the Capitol. It was a beautiful chilly day and there was this really incredible view that for the moment just made me stop to understand the enormity of what I had just been through. I realized at that moment how many good and decent people are against LGBT people, and they just don't know the harm they are causing so many people, especially young teens. I called my sister-in-law Mindy, and we discussed how we could create a book to change that.
Q: You chose stories as the means to change the emotional landscape of the straight community. Why did you not instead directly address the "Is it a choice / Is it a sin" arguments?
A: The essence of the book is for people to tell the story of the time they realized they were gay. So many times I've talked to people who have read the book and they've told me, "Okay, now I get it. People wouldn't choose to have a crisis like that."
If I didn't do stories it would have been a much more text book style and dry to read. We picked a very diverse group of people so there would hopefully be something for everyone to relate to. I wanted a straight jock to read about Billy Bean or Jon Amaechi and be able to say, "Wow, there could be a guy next to me on the field and I need to know that saying slur words can hurt." I felt it was important to put the emphasis on real stories from real people who talk about the pain and trauma they experienced as gay youth--most of which in one way or the other was brought to bear on them by a societal attitude, again justified and promoted by religious teaching that gay people are immoral, sinful and a threat to themselves and others.
Actually, I really think we did address the "sin" question in a chapter very directly. I would contend much more directly than most have done. I wrote a careful introduction to the chapter because I think it is the question for the next years to come, and I had two clergy write how they believed homosexuality is not a sin. Jimmy Creech is a former Methodist minister and Stephen Shoemaker is a Southern Baptist minister. Also, I don't think it needs much more than what we wrote. It's a much more simple matter than many think. Let's not overcomplicate it!
I believe that is one reason the book has been an effective tool for us in that it has a very focused message: immense harm is being brought to bear on gay youth and it must end.
Continued in Part Two.