N.C. org to honor 10-year-old Arkansas advocate

Student Will Phillips refused to recite Pledge, says gays not yet equal

Will Phillips (r) discussed his reasons for not reciting the Pledge of Allegiance on CNN. His father, Jay, supports his decision.

Will Phillips (r) discussed his reasons for not reciting the Pledge of Allegiance on CNN. His father, Jay, supports his decision.

HICKORY, N.C. — Faith in America, an organization committed to preventing religion-based bigotry against LGBT people, will honor a 10-year-old Arkansas student who made national headlines when he refused to cite the Pledge of Allegiance because he felt LGBT people did not yet have full equality in the U.S.

Faith in America founder Mitchell Gold, editor of “CRISIS: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay In America,” will travel to Fayetteville, Ark., on Dec. 12. There, he will give a special presentation to Will Phillips, who braved ridicule from school staff and students after his refusal to to recite the Pledge on several days in early October.

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In an interview with CNN, Phillips recalled what he told his teacher after she insisted he stand for the Pledge: ”I eventually, very solemnly, with a little bit of malice in my voice, said [to my substitute teacher], ‘Ma’am, with all due respect, you can go jump off a bridge… I’ve grown up with a lot of people, and good friends with a lot of people that are gay. And I really — I think they should have the rights all people should, and I’m not going to swear that they do…”

At the presentation, Gold will also lead a discussion on his book and issues of religion-based bigotry.

“Following the story of young Will Phillips, I was immediately struck by his ability to understand a message so many in America have failed to grasp — that it is simply wrong to treat others as unequal and inferior based on their sexual orientation,” Gold, a Hickory, N.C., resident and co-founder and chairman of furniture company Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, said in a Dec. 2 press release. “It truly is a message that even children can understand, yet so often anti-gay religious groups tell us such a message is a threat to our children. I want to express my appreciation to Will and his family for helping others understand that very simple lesson – one that history has repeatedly shown. It certainly is no threat and, in fact, uplifts our society and our humanity.”

Published in September 2008, Gold’s book, “CRISIS,” has been shared with millions through media interviews and special events across the nation. It presents personal stories of rejection within families, religious institutions, schools and the workplace and calls for understanding and compassion. The book has been distributed to families, educators, clergy and elected officials — including President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. [Ed. Note — This writer is a contributing author in “CRISIS.”]

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While in Arkansas, Gold will also attend a dedication and open house at Temple Shalon. His company donated furniture for the temple.

The temple, whose construction was made possible through a joint effort between the Jewish community and a Palestinian-American Muslim, exemplifies the bridge-building philosophy that Gold is committed to with his company and his advocacy work.

“Mitchell’s definition of comfort goes far beyond his wonderful furniture,” said Judith Levine, an organizer of the temple dedication and whose board is a co-sponsor for the CRISIS event at the library.

“He recognizes how our humanity can achieve a wonderful level of comfort when we look beyond past prejudices that have divided us – whether it is the type of division that exists between people of different religious affiliations or the division that exists so often today between people of faith and their gay and lesbian neighbors.”

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.