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Friday, May 20, 2011

Mitchell Gold Still Calling Out "Religious-Based Bigotry"

Mitchell Gold protests the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., in February.
Mitchell Gold protests the National 
Prayer Breakfast in Washington, 
D.C., in February.
By Joseph Erbentraut -

Furniture entrepreneur-extraordinaire and gay activist Mitchell Gold is certainly one busy man.

Gold, who lives in Taylorsville, N.C., with his business partner Bob Williams, runs the multi-million dollar furniture company he co-founded in 1989. It started with a staff of 23, but the company has expanded to dozens of stores throughout the country and 700 employees.

But Gold is also an author, philanthropist and activist. Well before "It Gets Better" took LGBT youth advocacy viral, Gold founded the organization Faith in America in 2005 with the hope of "counter-messag[ing] the bigotry, prejudice and hostility toward the LGBT community being sold to the public for several decades under the guise of religious belief and religious teaching."

The organization’s advocacy also led to the publishing of a book, titled "Crisis", which will be re-titled "Youth in Crisis" and released in paperback this year. The work tells the stories of LGBT Americans’ struggles of growing up within an environment laden with inequality.

His organization most recently unveiled a new billboard campaign in his home state that asks a simple question: "Is the Republican Party the party of religion-based bigotry?" Faith in America has also taken out advertisements with similar messaging in local newspapers in response to Republican-authored bills currently before North Carolina lawmakers that would ban marriage for same-sex couples. The measures could also bar domestic partnerships and civil unions between queer couples.

This activism all part of the company’s two-pronged mission to "make the world a more comfortable place" for all-a mission that has thus far proven quite successful on both fronts.

Gold and Williams were recently in Chicago to check in on the progress of their latest store at 1555 N. Halsted St. that is set to open in August.

Gold told EDGE the store has been a long time coming. The recession delayed his and Williams’ plans, and it took time to find an ideal location. Gold said the company is back on track after a "very good" year in 2010.

The store will showcase Gold and Williams’ signature hybrid style that combines an authentic, comfortable, American vibe with a fresh and contemporary twist-their forthcoming fall collection will reflect this trend. And Gold added the store will also host parties and other events with the city’s LGBT advocacy groups.

This writer wondered aloud whether their unrepentant advocacy ever hindered the company’s bottom line? Gold admitted there were probably some people out there who are unhappy with his marriage of activism and business, particularly near his home base-the "buckle of the Bible Belt" as he described it.

"But for the most part people have been really receptive," added Gold. "One of the things I want to do is educate people about the harm that has been caused to young LGBT kids when they’re bullied at their school, by their parents or in their churches. We believe that when people understand the harm that has caused to young people, they don’t want to be a part of that. We’re educating them that that is exactly what is happening right now."

The struggles of LGBT youth are on the national radar in a way previously unparalleled, thanks in large part to the exposure of Dan Savage’s "It Gets Better" project. President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and countless Hollywood types, corporations and thousands of others-famous and non-famous alike-have contributed videos.

"I think it’s fantastic," said Gold, discussing Savage’s project. "I wish when I was 15 years old I could have seen something like what [Savage] or so many other contributors are saying that it gets better to talk me through a difficult period."

Gold described Obama’s video was "remarkable" as he imagined in retrospect what an impact a similar message from Nixon or Eisenhower could have made.

But Gold said there is still incredible pain being experienced by LGBT youth out there today, particularly in places where they may not have access to welcoming messages on the Internet that reduce isolation. Looking toward the 2012 presidential election, he said the leading Republican contenders outside long shot gay candidate Fred Karger have all steered sharply towards the right on queer issues.

"With the exception of [Karger], they are all taking anti-gay positions, including Donald Trump who for years has been, to my understanding, a decent employer open to gay people working in his company," added Gold. "For him to feel he has to take up the position of being anti-gay is, I think, hypocritical and disgraceful."

While he shares many LGBT activists’ frustration with Obama’s heel-dragging over marriage equality and the Defense of Marriage Act, the slow implementation of the repeal of "don’t ask, don’t tell" and federal employment protections for LGBT Americans, Gold said this angst would most effectively be channeled toward continued dedication to education and advocacy.

"I’m disappointed [in Obama] also, but I’m also disappointed that we haven’t done a better job [as a community] of educating him and the rest of the country about why LGBT equality should be happening," he added. "I would like to see members of the community take the position that religion-based bigotry has to come to an end in this country and we can’t be afraid to use those words. That’s how we educate people, because you can’t talk about the disease if you don’t know what it’s called."

Joseph covers news, arts and entertainment and lives in Chicago. Log on to to read more.

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