One of the brightest lights of activism and generosity here in North Carolina is Bob Page, chairman, chief executive officer and president of Greensboro-based Replacements Ltd. He turned his passion for collecting china and crystal into a business in 1981 that today houses the world’s largest supplier of old and new china, crystal, silver, and collectibles. Replacement Ltd sales exceed $80 million and it has a diverse workforce of 450 employees.
With that success Bob Page has become a force for equality in many ways — as a businessman, a philanthropist, an activist, and most of all — a partnered out gay man from a small town in North Carolina who is raising a family and trying to make a difference. Page lives a modest lifestyle in Greensboro with his partner of 22 years, Dale Frederiksen, and their twin sons.
Bob was honored last year for his support of LGBT equality with the Equality NC Foundation’s Champion 2011 for the Triad Region, but he has definitely not rested on those laurels. He knew he couldn’t, as he watched the NC General Assembly, led by the GOP for the first time since Reconstruction — vote to place what is now called Amendment One on the ballot.
He believes that we can defeat the ballot initiative on May 8 — but he underscored that we need more of the major players in the donor community to get in the game. Many who gave for Prop 8 and marriage equality in NY and other LGBT rights battles are still sitting on the sidelines, including some well-known names in the LGBT community here in NC and around the country.
Bob Page has dug deep for equality — investing in the six figures to beat Amendment One — and believes in that investment.
He also knows the impact on business that Amendment One could have on growth and ability to attract and retain the best and brightest employees. Bob took time out of his busy schedule to speak with the Blend because the fight to beat back this amendment is at a critical stage and he wanted to let people know why North Carolina is politically critical to the future of LGBT movement.
Amendment One’s effect on business in the state
Page, a native North Carolinian grew up on a tobacco farm, graduated from UNC and built his successful business here, pondered how the state’s economy would be affected by the amendment if it passes. “North Carolina is going to look as if it’s moving backwards. It’s 2012. Corporate America and most of the rest of the country has moved in exactly the opposite direction, embracing diversity and inclusion. I’m sure you saw Bank of America’s Cathy Bessant talking about how difficult this makes it for our economic developers, who are doing everything they can to compete in the jobs war.
He noted the conflicting message the state would send. “On the one hand, people in North Carolina are saying we want to attract highly educated and highly skilled workers. On the other hand, we know that those some people are repelled by intolerance. And young people, in huge numbers, are in favor of marriage equality. Ballot fights like ours just send them running in the other direction, to places like New York or Seattle.”
Building a life in NC – and making change happen
The decision to live as an out and proud partnered gay man with children in North Carolina, given the state of equality here (no state employment non-discrimination measures exist here — one can be fired for being LGBT) is seen by some as an unnecessary challenge. Why does Page remain here? “Well, it’s home,” he said. “I have to say, I live in a place where almost everyone I know is opposed to Amendment One.”
On the other hand, there are still concerns. “There are large parts of the state where it’s still scary to be LGBT, especially if you’re a young person. Somebody asked me this fall whether I would have started a business here during this Amendment fight, and the answer is no. Why would I plant a business somewhere I’m not wanted? Add to the tax base of that place? No thank you.”
One of the ways that Page feels that he can change hearts and minds is in personal interactions in daily life. “I make sure I talk about the amendment when I go out. The woman who cuts my hair — she is a Republican and has said that she’s voting against the amendment. A middle-aged black woman I met at the gym said that she had some gay people in her church whose pastor is reluctant to be publicly open about his opposition to the amendment, wanted an anti-Amendment One T-shirt. When I go to antique stores, I show people my cell phone background with a picture of my family. When they see we are real people, it’s about family.”
We’re selling anti-Amendment One yard signs and T-shirts in our store. I’m sure there are people who are upset by that but these are our values.
Given his sons are growing up in the state and are well-aware of the amendment battle and the heated emotions it generates, it’s natural to wonder what the impact is on them. “I’m so thankful to have my boys. I recently saw an amazing Gallup polling number: among people 18 to 34, support for marriage equality is at 70%, up from 54% a year ago. So like most young people, our boys think Amendment One is ridiculous, Page said. “They go to a school that is 100% supportive of our family. But as a parent, I really worry that somehow or another they’re going to get the message that some people don’t think our family is valid or worthy…and that really upsets me, because we’re a family just like every other family. I don’t want them to feel any sting because of other people’s hang-ups about my 23 year relationship with Dale.”
Turning back the amendment
Bob Page strongly believes that North Carolina can defeat the ballot initiative at the polls on May 8. He’s seen the ground shifting in favor of it. “When people learn what the amendment actually does, they’re against it. The people who think this is just about marriage have been sold a bill of goods. The amendment offends lots of different people for different reasons. A lot of conservatives are against this because it’s poorly conceived government meddling.”
He adds, “A lot of people of faith are against it because it offends their religious beliefs. African-Americans are against it because they know—thanks to the National Organization for Marriage — that this is just a gimmick to pit black people against gay people so that Republicans will win. And of course gay people are against it because we’re tired of being scapegoated for political gain. It’s cheap, and it degrades all of us. For us, this is not about scoring political points. These are our lives and our families. It’s deeply personal.” And NOM? “It wants to divide and conquer — and they are so bold about what they are doing. Their sole mission is to deny gay people rights.”
Keeping tabs — the major donors sitting this out need to get in — now.
In terms of working for change, Page has generously donated to equality efforts around the country; many in Red states have dug deep to help those in other states fighting amendments and for marriage equality. He believes that investing in a win in North Carolina helps the entire movement — and that the difference will be made by educating voters about the harms of Amendment One. “I want people to know that we can win this. But if the people don’t understand what the amendment does, I think it will be very difficult to prevent this from passing. I really hate the idea that people will get motivated after it’s too late, or that voters will not be making an informed choice. ”
He shared his frustration about those in the donor community still sitting on the sidelines. “If you want to win this, understand that we have a lot more educating to do, that we need to do that on TV and radio, and that it’s going to take a lot more money. We need everybody to dig deep and give until it hurts.”
I don’t live an extravagant lifestyle; my car is going on 14 years old. There are people out there who can afford to spend $200 on a pair of jeans but won’t give even $5 for this cause. Or they have too many bars to go to; they say that it’s always someone else’s battle. We need to change this.
Page believes that some of the reticence is unwarranted — and unhelpful. “There are also some out there who believe that there should be different messaging in this anti-amendment campaign, including a major donor here in NC, who have chosen not to give a dime. The fact is that we may lose because of this if we don’t have the money to get on the air to tell people why the amendment will hurt families.”
And he doesn’t hold back. “For instance, [Wall Street financier] Paul Singer is financial supporter of AFER (American Foundation for Equal Rights) and was instrumental in getting marriage equality passed in NY. He will be giving tons of money to Mitt Romney — it’s disturbing. It’s disappointing to see that at a national level.”
Winning here means a win for the movement
Even so, Bob Page is optimistic; with NOM on the ropes and major political figures in the state (including conservative ones) coming out against Amendment One, people are starting to see that a win in here has national implications. “I really believe that if we win this battle in NC the impact would ripple across this country — a Southern state could actually do it! We all know that we are going to ultimately win marriage equality in this country. If we could defeat this amendment next month it would send a message that this game — trying to stop marriage equality — is over.”
To help the fight to defeat Amendment One, you can give here. And it’s needed – the latest on this past week’s Money Bomb: