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Gay CEO on a Christian Loveseat

Furniture mogul Mitchell Gold eschews glitzy Democratic confabs for coffee talk with evangelicals

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If you’ve sat down in America in the past two decades, there is a good chance it was on a piece of furniture sold by Mitchell Gold. His company, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, which is based in the Appalachian foothills of North Carolina, has made upholstered chairs, sofas, and beds for Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, and Williams-Sonoma Home. That’s in addition to Gold’s branded stores, which have popped up everywhere from Soho to Orange County, Calif. Starbucks buys the company’s leather club chairs. And the Obamas put two pieces of Gold’s furniture in the White House.

But despite the fact that Gold’s stores also sell Tipper Gore’s photography, most people who buy the company’s plush, slightly oversized furniture probably have no idea what Gold’s politics are—a fact that evidently delights the veteran gay-rights advocate and major Democratic donor. When I asked him what he thought of homophobes sleeping on the beds he makes, the 61-year-old replied impishly: “Well, it’s the greatest revenge, to get their money.”

In truth, he’d much rather change their minds. For the past eight years, Gold, a secular Jew from New Jersey, has been conducting a one-man campaign against what he calls “religion-based bigotry”—the invocation of biblical authority to justify denying rights to Americans on the basis of their sexual orientation. It is, to his Yankee ear, directly analogous to the way Southern preachers once cited scripture to defend the Jim Crow system. “One of the things I’ve learned is that on the other side, there are a lot of good people, and they do not want to be bigots,” Gold told me when we first met this summer at the condo he and his husband, Tim, keep in Washington, D.C. “And unless we teach them that, in fact, they are bigots, they will never know that what they are doing is really harmful to people.”

Gold is among a growing number of corporate executives pouring resources into the cause of gay rights this year. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, pledged $2.5 million in support of same-sex marriage legislation in Washington state, and hedge-fund head Paul Singer has given $1 million to a Super PAC that supports pro-gay Republican candidates. But Gold may be the only one who spends Sundays sitting in houses of worship that belong to a faith other than his own in order to get a clearer idea of what, exactly, his target market is. “What I’ve noticed is that if you get someone who’s moderate, they’ll tell 10 people,” Gold told me. “But if you get someone evangelical, they’ll tell 10,000 people.”

In many ways, it’s been a watershed year for gay rights—President Obama publicly came out in May in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage; the Democratic Party platform includes both an endorsement of same-sex marriage and a call for repeal of the Clinton-era federal Defense of Marriage Act; and even big-time Republican donors and operatives are pushing their party to moderate its views on gay issues. But the issue is far from settled. Last week, in Tampa, the Republican Party adopted a platform firmly in favor of limiting marriage to heterosexual couples. And Gold is still smarting from North Carolina’s passage, last May, of Amendment One, a ballot measure that altered the state constitution to prevent the recognition of same-sex marriages. (It was the 31st state to do so.) “The amendment was started by, aggravated by, and implemented by people who have strong anti-gay, Christian beliefs,” Gold told me. “This was their chance to make sure people in the state knew that gays are not first-class citizens.”

When he was just starting to get involved in the issue, Gold took all of the usual steps: He attended gala fundraising dinners; sat on the board of the Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay-rights organization; and gave to political candidates. In 2004, he used his service as a delegate for North Carolina at the Democratic National Convention in Boston as a springboard to talk about gay rights and put up billboards outside the convention center to draw attention to his cause.

The furniture maven remains an ardent Democratic partisan and as well-connected as ever—he’s been a guest at various White House events and is a summer regular at the Fire Island home of Democratic National Committee Treasurer Andrew Tobias. Yet as this year’s Democratic National Convention convenes in Charlotte, just an hour away from where he lives and works, Gold is pursuing a far less glitzy brand of activism: one-on-one outreach to pastors, preachers, and devout Christians whom he thinks can be persuaded to his view that demeaning gay and lesbian Americans is, in religious terms, a sin far worse than homosexuality itself is taken to be. He regularly totes manila envelopes with the photographs of 24 gay teenagers who, rejected by their churches and families, have committed suicide over the past five years. (In August, he took one with him to a meeting with Vice-President Biden as a way to thank him for taking a public stand in favor of gay rights earlier this year.)

Gold already has a victory to show for his efforts. It was after engaging in dialogue with Gold that Jane and Joseph Clementi, evangelical Christians whose son Tyler committed suicide in 2010 after his Rutgers University roommate used a webcam to broadcast him having sex, went public with their new-found conviction that there was nothing wrong with their son being gay. The Clementis credit Gold with giving them the words to articulate their change of heart, as well as strategies for coping with the press and with their fellow churchgoers. “He taught me to keep the conversation going, whereas my personality might be to walk away,” Jane Clementi, who late last month publicly broke with her church over its teachings on homosexuality, told me. “But he understands the importance of someone’s faith in the fabric of themselves, and he doesn’t say you have to get rid of your faith to grab hold of the idea that people who are gay aren’t broken.”

Gold has also made some unexpected allies, including David Blankenhorn, the president of the Institute for American Values and a well-known advocate for “traditional” marriage, who in June published a blockbuster op-ed in the New York Times calling for an end to “denigrating or stigmatizing same-sex relationships.” “When I first met him, I think he thought I was pretty much the worst offender, or among the worst,” Blankenhorn told me. “I don’t agree with everything he says. I think there are good reasons to be against gay marriage that don’t stem from prejudice, and I really don’t think he does. But it doesn’t matter because he definitely does point out that whether these church leaders mean to be hateful or not, whether or not they harbor animus or resentment or want to demean other people, they cause teenagers to be in despair over their lives.”

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PhillipNagle says:

Based on the reaction of the homosexual lobby to Chick-fil-a, I assume Catholics, Evangelicals and Orthodox Jews should organize a boycott against Mr. Gold’s company. He is fortunate they are much more tolerant of those who oppose their views than the homosexual groups.

surfer_dad says:

Why shouldn’t they be more tolerant?
There is a fundamental difference between the two POVs. As a hetero you can DO anything you want, if you’re not gay, knock yourself out – nobody cares. People who oppose rights for gays are opposing what OTHER people’s rights are, what OTHERS are allowed to do.
People who are FOR gay rights just want to allow free American adults who happen to sleep with people of the same sex to to have the same rights as those that sleep with those of the opposite sex. Not more rights, not take AWAY rights from heteros, just gain the same rights. Fundamentally this is more tolerant. And even if you “oppose” gay rights, most people understand it’s a personal issue and not a political one (even if it gets manifested in a collective political one like in NC).

MichaelSklaroff says:

“Homosexual lobby” sounds like where you check in to a Provincetown hotel. Most Catholics, Evangelicals and Orthodox Jews have more important things to do than boycotting businesses that support equal rights under the law. People of all religious persuasions organized against a company that was vocal in its efforts to demean and isolate a particular segment of the population based on what consenting adults do in private. This rubs a lot Catholics, Evangelicals, and Orthodox Jews the wrong way as well.

There is some interesting and good research suggesting that the more voices and more diverse the voices in a polity the better lifestyles everyone has, eg, living longer, better infant mortality, etc. – The Logic of Political Survival. http://www.amazon.com/Logic-Political-Survival-Bruce-Mesquita/dp/0262025469

The bigger the “tent” the better for everyone under it. Now, of course, some in-groups use ideology/religion/moralizing to dehumanize people outside their group and try to keep them out of the tent — because “they are really human beings, like us!” It’s easiest to dehumanize others when there is something different about them to point to: skin color, food preferences, dress, gender choices, language, etc.

It is a psychiatric matter of brain processes why some folks fight expanding the tent by demonizing others. It is not a matter of facts, logic or even morality. Just the in-group attacking people outside — while claiming their “god” and supernatural forces justify the attacks.

It’s not just that religious folks exclude and demonize/dehumanize outsiders — they hate them. Passionately. Jewish folks have lived with this kind of pathology for centuries.

PhillipNagle says:

People who support the traditional definition of marriage are taking anyone’s rights away. My personal view is that the government should get out of the marriage business and let people recognize marriage based on their own beliefs. That being said, the narrow minded bigots who would boycott a business because they don’t like the owner’s view of homosexual marriage, are beneath contempt. Those who oppose homosexual marriage but do not try to punish those who oppose is are the ones on the moral high ground.

PhillipNagle says:

The owner of Chick-fil-a (no one accused the company of doing anything but selling chicken) did not “demean and isolate”, he fought, and quite successfully based on referenda that have been held, to preserve the traditional definition of marriage. The narrow minded bigots of the homosexual lobby want to quash any actiont that opposes their agenda. They are enemies of free speech.

MichaelSklaroff says:

Well, you do raise a point about the efficacy and validity of economic boycotts. But surely you don’t want to infringe on the public’s right to spend their dollars where they so desire? Just as I don’t have any problem with Mr. Chick-fil-A saying whatever he wants. And if the effect of what he proposes is to isolate and demean a segment of the population, so be it. Let him advocate this proudly.

I do agree with you, Phil, about the government getting out of the marriage business. This legal and economic arrangement is better off left alone. Do you think that limiting marriage legally only to members of the opposite sex is within the government’s right under the U.S. Constitution?

surfer_dad says:

Huh? So in your book it’s ok for someone to oppose someone else having equal rights, but it’s not MY right to not shop there? What kind of logic is that?
Your missing the big picture. Nobody (most people anyway) cares what any individual FEELS or BELIEVES. When an owner goes out of their way to SAY what they think, or to put their money where their views are, that opens the floodgate to reciprocate. I do not and will not spend my dollars at companies who go out of their way – either as a company or the owners individually – to give to causes I don’t agree with. What’s wrong with that? They have a right, but so do I!

“Those who oppose homosexual marriage but do not try to punish those who oppose is are the ones on the moral high ground.”
Even by your twisted logic, why are they “higher” than those who believe in homosexual marriage but do not try to “punish” others??
It goes both ways, doesn’t it?

PhillipNagle says:

First there is some question whether those who want to redefine marriage are fighting for “equal rights”. I, and from what we have seen in referendum after referendum, a majority of the population reject that premis. It is our contention that you are wrapping your wish for homosexual marriage in words that do not apply. Second, your refusal to respect other people having a different point of view is narrow minded, Finally, as this article shows, you would be outraged if people who opposed your point tried economic boycotts, you yourself find nothing wrong with petty facists who iniciated, with terrible results, the Chick-fil-a boycott.

surfer_dad says:

“outraged if people who opposed your point tried economic boycotts, ”
Me? I would be? How do you know that?It happens all the time, everyday. More power to them.

At the time of the end of slavery, end of Jim Crow laws, voting rights for women, at all those moments the majority of the “population” would have rejected those notions too. So what? I’m entitled to my POV, them theirs. I’m entitled to boycotting their establishments, their entitled to boycott mine.
Equal rights means every person doing what they want with other people. If you feel differently for whatever reason, fine. If you feel strongly enough to support with rhetoric or $ the opposing view, it is my DUTY to not support you. It really isn’t hard.

“So in your book it’s ok for someone to oppose someone else having equal rights”

Which right or rights are you speaking about specifically? The right to____________.

Please be specific so that the conversation can move forward reasonably and perhaps with more clarity.

“Your missing the big picture. Nobody (most people anyway) cares what any
individual FEELS or BELIEVES. When an owner goes out of their way to
SAY what they think, or to put their money where their views are, that
opens the floodgate to reciprocate.”

YOU are missing the big picture. Define reciprocate. The most recent case was a fairly radical escalation that went back and forth. If you want to evaluate who held the moral high ground in the end, then go for it but don’t try to use weasel words and vague moral equivalence arguments by leaving out all of the details. You want to go there? Fine.

“I do not and will not spend my dollars at companies who go out of their
way – either as a company or the owners individually – to give to causes
I don’t agree with. What’s wrong with that? They have a right, but so
do I!”

Nobody opposes your choices as described by you. What are you talking about? What rights of yours have been impeded in any way? Please be detailed. Don’t simply expect anyone to just take your vague claims of victimhood as proved when you haven’t even described anything specific. Your right to shop? Your right to speak? When were these rights violated?

Please explain yourself.

“Those who oppose homosexual marriage but do not try to punish those who oppose is are the ones on the moral high ground.”
Even
by your twisted logic, why are they “higher” than those who believe in
homosexual marriage but do not try to “punish” others??
It goes both ways, doesn’t it?”

Marriage without children is purely narcissistic. Civilizations have a stake in their future citizens. Raising children by their natural parents is the ideal. Historically the government has taken the position that this benefit is (while also rooted in tradition and many religions as well) clearly extended beyond one’s personal beliefs about sexual morality. Basically we as a people have noticed that when children may come forth at any time, we have an interest in incentivizing stability for those children.

It’s not about rewarding or putting anyone’s sexuality on a pedestal. It’s about the future and best interests of the children.

In my opinion, it is the narcissistic heterosexuals who came to see marriage as a blessing from the state and society rather than as what I described. This created a sense of arrogance among the less thoughtful of them.

This however does not provide a basis for what some call “equal rights” of marriage. All people have equal rights to marry already. If you marry anyone of the opposite gender, the fact that in theory you might bring children in to the world entitles you to described your relationship as a marriage.

Your vision of equality might be skewed by narcissism. It is nobody’s business who you have sex with until you have children who need to know who their parents are, and ideally they need to have maximum quality relationships with them. It’s about the children. Get over it.

Now the bigotry against homosexuals, the insults and attacks are often wrong. Obviously all laws should be respected, and those who consider themselves Christians should revisit how they are supposed to treat people.

Having said that, I don’t really know what the overall trends are because I don’t personally witness these things myself and with the media reporting events, this only gives us examples, but not accurate statistics.

Generally, people are angry today because they don’t know how to have rational, reasonable conversations. They speak before they are prepared with facts and informed opinions.

I have absolutely no problem with advocates of “homosexual rights” because even if all of these claims are exaggerated, they are still victims of the perceived threats they’ve been indoctrinated to fear. Based on the poor understanding of the issues on all sides, I’d say that Mr. Gold is doing a very good thing.

I totally empathize with his feelings and the fear anyone feels about these real or perceived threats. We need to think a lot more before we speak and then have these conversations calmly. Don’t quote the Bible to someone who doesn’t believe in it, and if you do quote it, make sure you have a firm basis. Don’t just repeat an opinion you can’t fully defend.

“Well, you do raise a point about the efficacy and validity of economic
boycotts. But surely you don’t want to infringe on the public’s right
to spend their dollars where they so desire?”

Your discussing non-salient points. Boycott anything you want. Don’t argue for supposed rights while breaking the law. When you use vicious rhetoric to attack law-abiding people, expect vicious rhetoric in reply, but don’t then fall back on your right to boycott or shop where you want. You may label it as such, but it’s not about that. It’s about the escalations beyond the so-called boycott.

Why do you use that label? I’d like an explanation. It’s so typical of why people simply talk past each other. The technique is to use non-salients to distract from the issue you wish to hide from. People do it without conscious thought because it’s so common.

“Just as I don’t have any problem with Mr. Chick-fil-A saying whatever he
wants.”

Great.

“And if the effect of what he proposes is to isolate and demean a
segment of the population, so be it. Let him advocate this proudly.”

Isolate and demean? You haven’t made your case. That is the most salient point; what did he really do that justified fascist attacks on his property? How do you defend fascist picket lines by simply referring to these acts as any old “boycott” or “choice” to buy or not buy what you want? It’s really just about your choice of what to buy? Of course not. Get real if you want to be taken seriously.

MichaelSklaroff says:

PhillipNagle raised the point about boycotting, and I referred to it. I don’t understand what you mean by “Your [sic] raising non-salient points.”

And really, nothing I said qualifies as “vicious rhetoric to attack law-abiding people.” I’d venture to say, from the tone of his posts, that PhillipNagle himself wouldn’t agree with you about that characterization.

What escalations are you talking about? Forgive me if I missed some heinous behavior on the part of disgruntled gay-marriage supporters. I don’t agree with it, if they broke the law. I do support non-violent political action and protest. [I'm not sure why picket lines are fascist. They've typically been labelled socialist or communist.]

I’m not sure – and I don’t want to put words in your mouth – but it sounds as if you don’t want one human to be able to legally marry – and receive all rights, protections and responsibilities that come along with that – another of the same sex. If the portion of the population that is homosexual is roughly 10%, society would be imposing these restrictions on a relatively small number of the populace. I view this as isolating and demeaning. Do you have a better way to characterize this unequal treatment?

Civil rights and equal treatment are not subject to a vote. They’re cornerstones of our political system. Separate but equal won’t fly. If you wan’t the government out of the marriage business, that’s one thing. But allowing one group of consenting adults to do this but not another isn’t justifiable. [Forgive me if this is not your position.]

Lastly, I am real, Chris. I really am. As a matter of fact, I’m realer than you. I just looked in the mirror and I proved to myself that I’m real. I pinched myself as well, and it hurt, so I know I’m real. I have no proof that you’re real, none whatsoever. Are you for real, Chris? Are you?

surfer_dad says:

The discussion of a “right” to boycott were SPECIFICALLY towards PhillipNagle — he seems to have a problem with boycotts, I don’t. I think it is a moral imperative to not shop at businesses that I don’t agree with, either from an anti-semitic or environmental or even a rights POV. It’s rhetorical.

“Reciprocate?” Again – to PN. Read the entire conversation before butting in with nonsensical questions.

Now, the semantics of “marriage?” You can go fight the semantics police if you want to take up that issue. To me, if a group of adults want to define their relationship as a marriage, great! This is the issue that it all comes down to. I believe in fighting for the rights of people to do what they want even if (especially if?) it infringes on the FEELINGS on others. Since when do we define marriage in terms of children anymore – far too many have children without marriage, many are married without kids – but many gay couples I know DO have kids. Do we not allow hetero couples to have kids if they need someone else’s sperm to conceive – an egg donor? Adopt? Why is it ANY different if a gay couple adopts or only one is a biological parent?

Sorry, but that is the fundamental issue – the fact that they want to do it is enough for me. I won’t knowingly support those that don’t especially for what I perceive as reasons not based on logic or science.

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Gay CEO on a Christian Loveseat

Furniture mogul Mitchell Gold eschews glitzy Democratic confabs for coffee talk with evangelicals