Documenting the crisis

Forty writers contribute essays, recollections, speeches and sermons to help gay youth

by David Stout  Associate Editor  editor2@goqnotes.com
Published: September 20, 2008 in Cover Stories

‘I hope and pray that not one more teenager will have to live this way, the way I grew up,’ says ‘Crisis’ editor Mitchell Gold.

If there is any uncertainty about the state of lesbian and gay youth in America, openly gay furniture magnate Mitchell Gold wants the truth to come out loud and queer: they are in trouble.

“There are teenagers all over the world today in crisis mode because they fear what will happen if others discover their sexual orientation,” he says. “They suffer debilitating depression, isolation, addiction and possibly suicidal thoughts.”

Gold’s dismay has led him to assemble and edit “Crisis” (Greenleaf Book Group Press), a new hardcover collection of essays, recollections, speeches and sermons from 40 gay and allied individuals who document — to quote the book’s subhead — “the personal, social, and religious pain and trauma of growing up gay in America.”

“I hope and pray that not one more teenager will have to live this way, the way I grew up,” says Gold, who has achieved much in life despite his painful experiences. In 1989, he established furniture company Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams with his namesake business partner, also openly gay, in Taylorsville, N.C. The company now boasts more than 750 employees.

Many people don’t realize how unbridled homophobia manifests in the lives of America’s 1.6 million lesbian and gay teens, however, the facts are sobering. And literally a matter of life and death.

Because gay teens face an increased risk of violence, prejudice and shunning, they are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. Tragically, one-third of all gay youth try to end their own lives.

In addition, approximately 28 percent of gay students drop out of school, more than three times the national average. The odds of illegal substance use among gay youth are about 190 percent higher than for heterosexual youth.

“Crisis” addresses these issues and more in submissions from nationally known figures including actors Richard Chamberlain and Alec Mapa, former pro athletes Billy Bean and John Amaechi, Episcopal Bishop The Right Reverend Gene Robinson, U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, “Oprah” design guru Nate Berkus and MTV Networks President Brian Graden.

“Crisis” also benefits significantly from an appreciable number of contributors who are not famous, are not products of the nation’s urban centers and are still in their late teens and early 20s. A handful of these individuals even reside here in the Carolinas, while others are native to the region but have settled elsewhere.

Q-Notes Editor Matt Comer is among the the book’s Carolina contingent. “At 22, I’m young enough that I still have vivid memories of my own challenges as a gay youth. And, to be honest, I sometimes feel the effects of those difficulties even now,” he allows.

“You can’t just walk away from all the hurts that accompany being gay or lesbian in this society and be instantly healed and completely self-accepting. You have to go through a process of healing. That’s why I feel particularly proud to be part of this project with so many others who’ve been there.”
Along with Comer, Gold and Williams, additional contributors with ties to the Carolinas are:

Brent Childers, executive director of Faith in America who shares his journey from religion-based intolerance to genuine acceptance.

Jimmy Creech, a former United Methodist Church pastor who was stripped of his credentials in 1999 for his steadfast support of the LGBT community. He debunks the notion that being gay or lesbian is a sin.

Lane Hudson, communications director of Faith in America who recalls his internal struggle with coming out.

Kevin Jennings, founder of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) who underscores the tragic costs of schools that don’t visibly and actively support gay and lesbian students.

Elke Kennedy, founder of Sean’s Last Wish who recounts the devastation of losing a gay son to homophobic violence and her drive to give Sean’s death a degree of purpose through her activism.

Jarrod Parker, a 22-year-old Emergency, Fire and Aeromedical Services worker in Greenville, S.C., who recounts an incident of anti-gay abuse at the hands of fellow camp leaders that begins his trek toward self-acceptance.

Rev. Dr. Stephen Shoemaker, senior pastor at Myers Park Baptist Church who contributes a sermon he delivered to his congregation in 2001 calling for the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the life of the church.

Proceeds from sales of “Crisis,” available now at White Rabbit and other book retailers, benefit seven organizations providing direct services to LGBT Youth. They are: The Trevor Project, GLSEN, The Point Foundation, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), Ali Forney Center, LA Gay and Lesbian Homeless Shelter and MCC-NY Homeless Youth Services/Sylvia’s Place Homeless Youth Shelter.