In 2004 I saw Gavin Newsom interviewed by Larry King on his decision to legalize same-sex marriage in San Francisco. His combination of passion and rationality made a lasting impression on me. I knew I had to become a force to help bring about the acceptance and approval of legalized same-sex marriage across the U.S. But how was I going to contribute? I realized I could use my talent as a jewelry designer to create pieces that were as much social statements as they were fashion statements. I would make wearable art prominently displaying words like "love," "pride," "equality," and "tolerance." I would reach out to pro-LGBT organizations like the Matthew Shepard Foundation and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and try and collaborate with them. My idea for loveandpride was born.
I've been asked many times why this topic is so important to me. I'm a straight, happily married man with the world's two most amazing children, so why fight for LGBT rights? I'd tell you that's a really stupid question, except I don't believe stupid questions exist, so let me explain why the answer is clear, simple, and obvious to me.
First of all, I reject discrimination for any reason. I always wonder whether I would have been asked "why?" if I had been part of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Discrimination is unacceptable in all its forms.
Secondly, for me, it's personal. I have friends and family members who are part of the LGBT community. Also, many of my colleagues in the jewelry and fashion industries are queer. I like to tell people I'm the "F" (for "friends and family") in LGBTF.
When I hear conservative rhetoric about same-sex marriage, it always strikes me how critics speak almost exclusively about the bedrooms and sexual behaviors of LGBT people. But marriage is so much more than that! Sex is an important part of marriage, but I believe it's love and devotion that walk couples down the aisle.
When we launched loveandpride in 2005, we structured it so that a portion of the proceeds from every purchase on the site would go to organizations that support the LGBT community. Besides the Matthew Shepard Foundation and HRC, we are also currently supporting Marriage Equality USA and the Mercury Phoenix Trust. In our seven-year history we have donated over $380,000 to these organizations, as well as to Lambda Legal and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN).
Today, instead of donating a portion of all sales, we frequently partner with one of our favorite causes to design special pieces, donating a full 100 percent of the net proceeds to our charity partner. For example, 100 percent of the proceeds from the "Erase Hate" pendant go to the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and 100 percent of the proceeds from the "Love & Equality" pendant go to HRC.
We've also initiated some powerful stunts to bring attention to the inequality dividing LGBT and straight Americans. I was stunned and furious to learn that the number of benefits that the U.S. federal government affords heterosexual married couples but denies their same-sex counterparts is over 1,000 -- 1,138 to be exact. Significant financial assistance involving Social Security and tax benefits, and critical matters like visitation rights, are still being selectively granted on the basis of sexual-orientation discrimination. We decided to distribute 1,138 roses -- each with a fact sheet attached about our government's state-sanctioned discrimination -- to people passing Union Square's Abraham Lincoln statue, beginning at 11:38 a.m. We followed that up by collaborating with Lambda Legal on an entire collection of necklaces, bracelets, and earrings for women and men featuring the number 1,138 in every design. The impact and success came on every level, from the public's awareness about state-sanctioned inequality, to donations flowing to a pro-LGBT organization dedicated to fighting the problem, to establishing loveandpride as a sustainable, profitable, well-known brand not just for the LGBT community but for everyone who believes in diversity, equality, and tolerance.
If I've learned anything in life, it's that you do not find love; love finds you. America was inspired by visions of equality, and I feel strongly that now is the time to fight for the principles this country was built upon -- equality to love, equality to marry, equality to live your life the way you want.
Under the Obama administration, we've witnessed great progress toward full equality. Obama ended "don't ask, don't tell," and the sky didn't fall once LGBT men and women began openly serving in our country's military, just as bravely as all our soldiers. The same applies to same-sex marriage: Ask any Dutch man or woman, or our neighbors in Canada, and they'll tell you that allowing it brings nothing but good!
I resolutely believe electing Obama to a second term will help manifest what's been denied millions of people far too long: equality! I'll fight for this with every tool I have, including talking and blogging about it and donating money, which is the oxygen that pro-LGBT organizations and allies need to continue fighting for these rights. That's why we chose to celebrate loveandpride's seventh anniversary, including our expansion beyond jewelry and the launch of our redesigned website, by donating $2,500 in June to openly gay candidates running for office this fall who support marriage equality. We'll select these candidates according to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund's endorsements, and our donation will be made through Campaign Political Action Committees (CPACs) that support them. We originally wanted to donate 20 percent of all sales two days in May to these candidates, but unfortunately that runs afoul of complex campaign finance laws, so we had to opt for Plan B.
Personally, besides helping elect officials who will legislate equality, I want to inspire all open-minded, pro-equality people to donate this election cycle. And beyond that, I want to champion the idea that philanthropy is cool, for whatever causes excite you. What I won't do is sit on the sidelines and allow inequality to continue as this country's norm.
Follow Udi Behr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/_LoveAndPride