News & Views
With an entreprenurial spirit equally matched by his passion for gay advocacy, Mitchell Gold has become a formidable force in the battle for equality as well as an example to his fellow neighbors in North Carolina that gay individuals are your friends, your colleagues, and -- at least in his case -- the businessman selling you your new living room set at Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams.
Combating religion-based bigotry is an issue of special importance to Gold. His latest book, Youth in Crisis: What Everyone Should Know About Growing Up Gay, shares the stories of over 40 individuals -- some famous, others just ordinary Americans -- and the impact their upbringing had on their lives and others.
In this exclusive interview with Liberty Education Forum, Gold shares what he learned in the process of writing the book and his prescription for gaining equal rights for all Americans.
[Mr. Gold’s answers are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and perspective of Liberty Education Forum.]
Q: Combating religious bigotry is one of your hallmarks in your gay advocacy work. Is religious bigotry more dangerous than other forms of anti-gay discrimination? Why?
First, it is “religion-based bigotry” that is the number one hurdle to full equality -- not religious bigotry. On Faith in America’s website on the front page one can download an important messaging report that explains the difference.
Second, it is the most dangerous because it can clearly be the most painful if a person believes in the concept of sin. If they are taught at a vulnerable, innocent stage of their life that they are sinners, it is devastating to that person. Enormous emotional harm is caused to young and older people. Given that 86% of Americans consider themselves religious, a vast amount of people fall into this category. I’m always unpleasantly amused when I talk to gay people who tell me they don’t believe in sin. I have to remind them and take them back to their youth -- because they did then. Although I was brought up Jewish and in a pretty non-religious home, I believed God hated me and made me have the problem I had. It took me years to grow out of that.
And third, people hide behind saying their anti-gay actions are based on their deeply held religious beliefs and for the most part, have gotten away with it and not been challenged. Right now, virtually all LGBT advocacy groups, including Log Cabin Republicans, are uncomfortable or afraid or lack the knowledge to challenge people when they hold up the shield of “these are my religious beliefs.” So our road to progress is longer and slower.
Q: Your book Youth in Crisis tells the stories of numerous gay and lesbian individuals -- some famous, some "everyday folks" who could be our neighbors. All of them open up about the challenges they faced growing up with gay shame. What's the key to breaking this cycle of shame?
If all LGBT advocacy groups would stand together and not accept religion-based bigotry -- challenge it and educate people to the harm they are causing -- I believe we could break the cycle. We have to stop allowing it to be acceptable -- to stop the news media for giving the bigots a pass when they say it. In recent months CNN and NBC have become better at challenging “deeply held religious beliefs.”
Q: Your book profiles gay and lesbian Americans from all walks of life -- including some especially interesting chapters on Jim McGreevey, Candace Gingrich and LEF ally Mary Lou Wallner. Which of the individuals you profiled did you find the most interesting? Why?
As I was doing the book I became involved with each person and for that moment they became my passion. I selected such a diverse group because we wanted all walks of life to be able to relate to the crisis that is going on in the young LGBT community. That said, I have a very special place for Jarred Horsford, the young man who cut himself and was so suicidal. I became so personally satisfied that he did not take his life and made it to a new emotional place to now be living a full life. If I had to pick one favorite, it would be Brent Childers. He’s straight, former anti-gay Southern Baptist that changed his thinking. Brent has recognized the immense harm he perpetrated and wrote a beautiful apology to all LGBT people. People do change and can.
This past year I’ve become friendly with Jane Clementi, mother of Tyler Clementi who took his life almost 2 years ago by jumping from the George Washington Bridge. Knowing Mary Lou Wallner gave me such insight and an ability to help Jane get through her tragic loss. No parent should go through what these wonderful, well meaning people have. They have embarked on a journey to help other parents avoid the same kind of loss.
Q: Did your work on Youth in Crisis open your eyes to anything or lead you to conclusions you didn't expect? Or did it basically confirm everything you thought about the challenges of growing up gay?
I learned that while kids are coming out younger, they still go through too many years of crisis. Whether it is 3 years or 13 years, it is painful and life threatening -- and should not have to happen. I also didn’t realize the importance of my getting out to speak to the “unintended consequences of well-meaning parents.” Sin must be taken out of homosexuality! We must make sure everyone -- everyone -- knows that LGBT people -- especially kids -- are not broken.
Q: There's an especially moving chapter about a young man named Jared Horsford and his harsh experience in the "ex-gay" movement. Do you find strong ties between religious bigotry and so-called "ex-gay" therapy?
There is not just a strong tie, it is the tie. I’m working with the Southern Poverty Law Center and others to make this irresponsible treatment against the law, but all of us have to work especially hard to end this despicable practice. I think this could become a priority for the Log Cabin Republicans since virtually all the people who support this canard happen to be Republicans. LCR can and must be more outspoken about this. Think Michelle Bachman’s husband’s business!
Q: In one chapter you warn people who live in the "big city bubble" that they need to understand being gay in metropolitan centers in the United States is different than growing up gay elsewhere. What's the best perspective you can give to people in "big city bubbles"? Are we as close to equality as some believe? Or still very far from it?
This is a great question and frankly, my answer would depend on the day of the week, what I’ve read in the papers this morning and my mood! The key thing I would say is that I’m very optimistic because I’ve seen with my own eyes that when most -- not all but most -- people learn of the harm they are causing vulnerable youth, they change.
Regarding perspective: Basically half the country is Democrat and half Republican, and half of the Republicans are anti-gay Christians. This group controls the agenda for many Republican primaries and has too enormous of an influence in the Republican party’s agenda. That is not what LGBT people in the big cities see -- but I see it clearly living in a rural area of North Carolina. It’s a tragic mistake to be dismissive of the influence of anti-gay Christians in America as evidenced by the long and expensive road we’ve had to equality, and by the expensive losses we’ve had every time our rights for marriage have been put on the ballot.
Q: You've made a number of promotional appearances since the book was published. What has feedback been like from parents? From youth?
These appearances make me feel like all the hard work of putting a book together and traveling is well worth it. Young people come up with tears in their eyes and tell me this book was their salvation -- it made them see they are not alone or the only one -- and let them see how people do survive what can be called "The Dark Period" for too many. They often tell me how giving it to their parents was their way of coming out, and their parents accepted them in a much better way than they anticipated. Unfortunately I do hear how some times the parents are still difficult and it is a reminder that we all have to continue to work to end religion-based bigotry.
Almost every time I speak I’ll notice an adult in the back of the room -- usually in their late 30s -- who seems to just be waiting to get a private moment with me. They will tell me they have a child who is 13 or 14 and they think they might be gay and want to know what to do. Should they wait until their child brings it up? Should they talk to them? I tell them I’ve learned that it is important for them to talk to their kids now -- to make them know their home is one that “embraces” whomever they might be -- gay, straight or somewhere in-between -- and whatever gender expression they might be. Waiting for a child to be ready to talk can be catastrophic. It can literally be life-threatening.
Q: Is there hope for the next generation of gay youth? Or will gay youth always be "in crisis"?
Yes there is tremendous hope, but unfortunately there will probably be a percentage of the population who cannot get past their outdated and ill-informed religious teachings, and they will continue to put their kids in crisis.
I believe every parent, politician and clergyperson has an obligation to learn about sexual orientation and gender expression. To either help their child along or to create a home or society where their children do not become bullies. I believe every advocacy person has an obligation to learn about religion-based bigotry and how to educate about the harm it causes, and make it a top priority to end it—now.