“Bob has been absolutely fearless in the face of that [threats]. It’s a North Carolina that exists but that I don’t recognize. There are two North Carolinas: the progressive cities and college towns, and places where there are no openly gay people.”
– Andrew Spainhour, Replacement Ltd’s general counsel
I’m glad to see that Bob Page, the founder and chairman of Greensboro, NC-based Replacements Limited (@replacements), is getting recognition for his bravery as a businessman willing to risk losing customers and attracting the wrath of homopbobes in order to stand up for his rights and those of other less fortunate LGBTs in North Carolina in the recent battle to defeat Amendment One. That’s more than most of the Fortune 500 companies based in the state did.
Bob is profiled in the NYT article “A Company’s Stand for Gay Marriage, and Its Cost” and it chronicles the venom, ignorance and sad examples of bigotry he and his company, which is the world’s largest supplier of old and new china, crystal, silver, and collectibles faced:
The company lobbied legislators, contributed money to causes supporting gay marriage, rented a billboard along the interstate near its headquarters, and sold T-shirts at its showroom. Its experience may explain why no other for-profit company followed its example.
Hostile letters and e-mails poured into the company from customers canceling their business and demanding to be removed from its e-mail list. “I understand that your company donated $250,000 or so to the effort to ban the marriage amendment,” read one. “I am very concerned that with an increased visibility and acceptance of the gay and lesbian lifestyle, one of my children, who would have grown up and been happily married to a husband, could be tempted to the lesbian lifestyle.”
Another read: “I was excited to see your wares and expected a pleasant shopping experience. Instead I was accosted by your political views, which I do not share. It was very uncomfortable and unpleasant browsing with all those signs and T-shirts against amendment one, to the point where I had to leave.”
A third said, “Money you used to support this opposition came from my many purchases from your company and that is not O.K. with me,” adding, “I will look for my replacement pieces elsewhere.”
When I profiled Bob Page on the Blend earlier this year, during the campaign to defeat bigotry on the ballot, he helped explain why he built his business here and why he fights for equality.
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.”
This is about business and family, and even in the face of defeat (with Amendment One passing by 21 points), I know that Bob Page probably hears some of the things I do — why stay here, where you have to listen to the vile chest beating of a bigot like Rev. Charles Worley, who wants to embark on a “final solution” for gays, rounding them up and placing them behind electrified fences until gays die off. Some of us are willing to make the sacrifice for those who cannot just pick up and leave and cannot speak out for fear of losing their jobs. Does it make it more difficult? Yes, but what kind of example is that to set for kids in NC struggling on whether to come out…or even live?
Mr. Page said that he considered his money well spent, and that tolerance in North Carolina, while it may have a long way to go, has improved. “I love children, and it tears me apart when I think about these young kids and teens who are committing suicide, like the young guy at Rutgers who jumped off the bridge. This doesn’t have to happen. I want things to be better for other people than it was for me. I truly hope things will be better, and I want to do my part to make things better for those coming after us.”
“I want to do my part to make things better for those coming after us.” And that’s essentially what I said last week in my post “A few thoughts from a drained accidental activist.”
I just want to leave this earth with some sense that it’s in a better place than when I was brought into it. Maybe that’s foolish and hopeless; I don’t know if I have any impact at all, really. For all the gains in human rights we’ve made in this country since I was born in 1963, sometimes I wonder where we are heading, where do we really want to go as a society.
I do know that Bob Page has made a huge impact personally and professionally by living out and proud — his presence represents the NC of the future, not the past — his values run through Replacements by cultivating an environment that employs a diverse workforce of 450 and was recognized by The Advocate magazine as one of the top 10 gay-friendly companies in the country. That makes a difference – he is creating change by staying in this state during this transition. He is standing tall, facing down the dying culture of fear and ignorance.
And despite all of the hate mail and phone calls and the flagging economy, the NYT reports 2011 was one of the best in Replacement Ltd’s history. More power to you Bob; thanks for all that you do here in NC.