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Op-ed: How Business Can Be a Game Changer in Fight Against Bigoted Laws

Op-ed: How Business Can Be a Game Changer in Fight Against Bigoted Laws


Advocacy groups can't cede the argument on whether being LGBT is a sin, says the out cofounder of Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams.

These past few weeks we've seen how effective businesses can be when expressing not just their endorsement of LGBT legal equality but also their outrage when it is trampled on. These are very exciting times because we are now seeing that businesses have courage to not fear losing business over supporting gay rights.

I applaud companies that are in a position to threaten action if an antigay law is passed and have the gumption to follow through. The reality is that the Republican Party is made up of basically two kinds of people: those obsessed with life before birth and whether same-sex couples get married, and those who are, simply put, filled with greed and couldn't care less if I get married to the person I love. So pulling the financial plug can be a strong motivator. For many politicians, their motto is "what's good for business is good for America." I don't agree with that, but they do ... so let's use it.

In my own home state of North Carolina, where I live and have our company headquarters and factories, Gov. Pat McCrory has said publicly that he will veto legislation working its way through both houses of the legislature. Why? He's seen the backlash from businesses in other states and doesn't want his success to be hampered in any way. He's a politician through and through. I met him several years ago casually at a restaurant and could quickly see he cares about one thing: his career. Couldn't care less about me.

Many companies today also believe they cannot stand on the sidelines regarding this civil rights issue of the moment. They've come to understand the buying power and, importantly, employee contributions of the gay community. The Human Rights Campaign and other organizations have almost made it so that if you aren't a sponsor, you're against equality. It's kind of you're either with us or against us turned in the right direction. I love it.

And that is where it stops for most companies that I know of. For Bob and me, using the above and a whole other dimension is ultimately most important. We have seen the financial benefits of supporting equality. But the biggest motivator for us is the enormous harm caused to young, innocent, vulnerable teens by being denied legal and spiritual equality. Bob and I do not want one more kid to go through what we went through as kids. And make no mistake about it, kids still do suffer tremendously -- until it might get better for them.

These "religious liberty" laws proposed in Indiana, Arkansas, Georgia, and North Carolina (and many more states) that would give cover to freely discriminate against LGBT people are all rooted in outdated, ill-informed, and misguided religious teachings. Religion-based bigotry. I believe these laws surfaced because leaders of the "religious wrong" knew they could get away with it. While tremendous progress has been made, the foundation of antigay sentiment has not been fully dismantled.

LGBT advocacy groups simply do not engage in conversations about religious teachings and consequently you can never get people to change if they have never heard your voice. Members of the press generally don't fully understand the religious dynamics in a presidential candidate or these heinous proposed laws, and they too are afraid to appear antireligion.

As a businessperson, I think in terms of getting to the root of the problem to solve it. That's what changes the game. So my efforts have been to help or influence advocacy groups and the press to have the knowledge and education necessary to challenge religion-based bigotry. I wish I was more successful to date, but I do feel the tide is changing.

For the past 15 years I have been deeply involved in trying to understand why people are against LGBT people having full legal and spiritual equality. I've come to the conclusion with the help of my own spiritual mentors (former Rev. Jimmy Creech, Brent Childers, Bishop Gene Robinson, and more) that the seminal reason people vote against our equality and support horrible legislation like these "religious liberty" laws is because they have been taught and they believe that "homosexuality is a sin." And why would they think differently? Have you ever seen any of the advocacy groups that are constantly asking for money say or do anything to break down this foundation of belief? I have seen very, very little.

But times, they are changing. Too slowly for me. But maybe as you read this you'll decide to do something significant to get the full equality movement to take the leap into the final frontier. I encourage you to scrutinize the organizations and candidates you contribute to and make sure your contribution goes toward ending religious teachings that say "homosexuality is a sin."

On Easter Sunday, Frank Bruni had a powerful op-ed titled "Bigotry, the Bible and the Lessons of Indiana." The fabulous Diane Rehm had the brilliant evangelical Matthew Vines on this past Thursday. Matthew and his father have an incredible story that could and does change people's thinking.

Perhaps one of the biggest game changers will be Rev. David Gushee, evangelical minister and ethics professor, who last November wrote an important editorial for The Washington Post as a prelude to his new book, Changing Our Mind. Yes, for all the advocacy leaders who have told me over the years "you can't change these people" or "you can't tell someone their religious beliefs are wrong," yes, you can. And yes, we must. We have to win the war, not just battles.

My number one priority as a person and as a businessperson is to get homosexuality off the sin list. And to speak with clarity. To constantly speak so everyone understands that "it" is not a sin. What are your priorities? Will you join me? You and businesses can be the final game changer.

MITCHELL GOLD is the cofounder of the Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams furniture company, based in North Carolina and with stores across the country.

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