Furniture mogul Mitchell Gold explores religious homophobia.
by Karen Derr
On a recent visit to Houston, Mitchell Gold was eager to talk to OutSmart about his 2008 book, Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America, even though his more recent interior design book, The Comfortable Home, was being debuted.
Mitchell Gold came to fame with business partner Bob Williams with the success of their multi-million-dollar furniture business. Gold is also the author of two books expounding the benefits of a comfortable home. But for many LGBT teens growing up in American homes, life is not comfortable. In fact, gay teens are four times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers, writes Gold in Crisis:40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America. Gold believes religion-based bigotry is the root cause of much of the anguish experienced by LGBT teens.
With the publishing of Crisis in 2008, Gold made a plea to Americans, our politicians, churches, and the media to engage in a serious discussion about the statistics for depression and suicide among gay teens and its causes. In Crisis, Gold asks the question, “Could you live being called an abomination?”
Through personal accounts by contributors from all walks of life, including Candace Gingrich, Richard Chamberlain, Barney Frank, and prominent clergy, Gold builds a strong case that, despite this era of the Internet and Will & Grace, a silent epidemic is on the rise and ravaging American gay teens. Bob Williams, who shared his own painful coming-of-age account in Crisis, grew up in nearby Conroe.
Gold believes that Houston represents an opportunity unlike any other city. “Houston is the fourth-largest city in the country and has a lesbian mayor. We are looking to it as one of the cities we visit for a Faith in America event over the next 12 to 18 months.” He founded the nonprofit Faith in America in 2005 as a platform to educate Americans about the harm caused by religion-based bigotry against gay and lesbian Americans.
As fate would have it, Houston not only has a lesbian mayor, but is also home to the largest church in America. Lakewood Church was founded in 1959 by John Osteen, father of the church’s current leader Joel Osteen. Although he has never met Pastor Osteen, Mitchell Gold is very familiar with his 2007 interview with Larry King, where Osteen stated that he believes “God’s best” is for a male and a female to marry and raise children, and that we should always shoot for “God’s best.”
Gold responds, “We usually talk about religion-based bigotry, but Joel Osteen’s comments . . . were just plain religion-based stupidity. Does he have any idea what his words mean to a 14-year-old kid from his church who is just starting to understand his or her sexual orientation? Devastating! This is the kind of spiritual and emotional harm that has come from religious leaders for too long. Thank God we have religious leaders who understand the true nature of sexual orientation and recognize it is not a sin. These are the leaders who respect every human being as being “the best.”
One such religious leader, who contributed to Crisis, is Rev. Dr. H. Stephen Shoemaker, a Baptist minister who walks the reader through Bible passages that are commonly believed to address homosexuality. He points out that there are surprisingly few, and that Jesus never talks about homosexuality at all. Some passages are dissected by Shoemaker to reveal they actually do not refer to sexual orientation, but rather condemn certain aggressive, violent, and demeaning behavior by men toward other men. Other passages are part of the Old Testament rules for cleanliness that are largely regarded as invalid outside of the context of that era. If the concept of sexual orientation was understood or recognized in biblical times, there is no evidence of it in Scripture. Even the well-known story of the destruction of Sodom, according to Shoemaker, is an Old Testament account of God’s condemnation of lustful men who demanded Lott send out his visiting male house guests so they could humiliate and rape them. Lott gave them his daughters instead, says Shoemaker.
Crisis is a comprehensive sourcebook, but also an urgent call to action. Country singer-songwriter Chely Wright read the book and told LGBT POV in a recent interview that it changed her life. In May, Wright became the first prominent country-music star to declare publicly that she is gay. Mitchell Gold praises Wright for her courage and for agreeing to join the board of directors of Faith in America. “I’m so very grateful for Chely’s desire to join our board, as the organization seeks to end the immense harm caused to gay and lesbian Americans, especially youth, when certain church teaching is misused to justify prejudice and hostility. Her desire to alleviate human injustice in this area—and other areas—reflects what a wonderful person she is,” Gold said.
Wright was named the Academy of Country Music’s Top New Female Vocalist in 1999. The 39-year-old Kansas native has seven albums under her belt and a No. 1 hit single in 1999 with “Single White Female.” She has recently released a new album, Lifted Off the Ground, and her memoir, Like Me, is in bookstores as well. Gold believes Wright’s life experiences drew her to the work Faith in America is doing, as she recognizes that gay and lesbian individuals suffer real harm because of a societal climate that places a religious and moral stamp of approval on prejudice and discrimination toward them.
While Mitchell Gold has been accused of being anti-religion, he argues that he is not. He has high regard for the clergy who contributed to this book and who are involved in Faith in America. He has reached a point in his business career with a very successful line of home furnishings, in a field epitomized by sophistication and good taste, where he could easily dismiss religion as insignificant and obsolete. On the contrary, Gold concedes the importance of organized religion, and has taken on the cause of trying to transform it. If anything, Crisis acknowledges and warns us of the impact that religion still has in all our lives. When asked if he is a believer, he declines to answer—but either way, he has become a messenger of hope, understanding, and equality for all.
Proceeds from the sale of Crisis benefit several nonprofit organizations working with gay teenagers and their families, including The Trevor Project, the Point Foundation, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG.)
Karen Derr, a Houston-based Realtor for over 20 years, writes and speaks about home and small-business topics.
Gay Teens at Risk—the Statistics
• Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds. For every kid who takes his or her own life, there are 20 more who try.
• Gay teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.
• Gay youth in grades 7 to 12 are twice as likely to make a plan to commit suicide, and four times more likely to make a suicide attempt that requires medical attention.
• 45% of gay men and 20% of lesbians surveyed had been victims of verbal and physical assaults in secondary school specifically because of their sexual orientation.
• Gay youth are at higher risk of dropping out of school, being kicked out of their homes, and turning to life on the streets. Some engage in substance abuse and are more likely than their heterosexual peers to start using tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs at an early age.
• Gay teens are at high risk because their distress is a direct result of the hatred and prejudice that surround them, not because of their inherently gay or lesbian identity orientation.
• 28% of gay students will drop out of school—more than three times the national average for heterosexual students.
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