- When it comes to LGBTQ rights, allies play a crucial role in the fight for equality.
And in recent years, the battle has been raging in an unlikely arena, bakeries.
Back in 2014, a Colorado Baker claimed he had the right to deny a gay couples service based on his religious beliefs.
And when he took his case all the way to the Supreme Court, they ruled in his favor.
Since then, cake has been the symbolic center of the fight for equality.
A so-called religious freedom laws have cropped up in several states across the country.
Including here, in Mississippi, where I recently visited a baker in the heart of the Bible Belt, who risked putting his business on the line to take a stand for gay rights.
- [Mitchell] Welcome.
- Are you Mitchell?
- I am.
- Well I'm buying.
- I'm selling .
- (both laughs) Welcome.
(guitar music) - All right, so I'll have a petit four and a green tea.
- All right.
- And I'd love to hear about the sign you have on your door.
- Sure thing.
Go ahead and have a seat, I'll come right around.
So talk to me about, the "We don't discriminate" sign - Yeah, yeah.
- Where did all of that start?
- In 2014, Mississippi decides to pass this Religious Freedom Restoration Act that said that I would have the right as a baker to discriminate against somebody for whatever I could claim was my religious exemption.
The Governor was saying how bakeries were being harmed if they didn't pass this law.
Nobody ever called me to say, "Hey, we're taking a poll from the Governor's office trying to figure out what we should do about this law."
And so I said, "Hey, I want to do something that says to people, I actually actively don't want to discriminate against anybody for anything."
I just want to sell you a cake.
That's all I want to do.
If you're buying, I'm selling.
And so we've designed the sticker.
We printed them up and started going around to businesses asking, "Hey, do you want to put a sticker on?"
- So are there other businesses out here that think like you in this area?
A lot in this area, took the stickers, put it on their windows, put it on their doors, and then we started getting calls from people in Biloxi.
Calls from people in Kentucky.
Calls from people in New Hampshire.
Hey, we saw the campaign and we want a sticker.
And so we would send out stickers on our dime.
Anybody who wanted one could get one.
- No one asked you to go out and give these stickers to businesses.
No organization came to you and said, Hey can put this on your door.
- Do you consider yourself an ally?
- Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, most definitely.
I have a business.
And so there came that point of, hey, are you here to serve people or are you not?
And does that mean all people, or is it just some people and I decided, business on the line, to come out as an ally in the state of Mississippi saying loudly, "I'm here to serve everyone that can ruffle some feathers."
We got like hundreds of supportive calls.
I got a couple that were less supportive but that's, that's the moment.
You have to decide who you are.
- Did you have a lot of relationships with LGBTQ folks just in your personal life?
What's your relationship like with the LGBTQ community?
- So, I'm a straight male.
But, I was a theater major in college.
And so I was introduced to people in the community as early as 1992.
I don't know of many people who were out, who were living their lives open.
At that time, even at the age of 18 what I knew about gay people, was all negative.
- What was some of the things that you knew about that was commonly said about gay people at that time?
- They're all pedophiles.
They all want to find young boys.
You don't go to the parks at night, because that's where they all meet.
You know, all of this stuff.
It was the Boogeyman.
They were the Boogeyman.
And then I meet my first gay man, and I meet my first gay woman, and they're like normal people.
And so you start to realize how tough it must be and how difficult it has been for them to just to be who they are.
And the fact that they are scared to death every day, that somebody is going to attack them.
That was quite a lesson.
- How do you think having experiences with folks who have a different life experience than you has affected your outlook on life now?
- As trite as it sounds, it has made me who I am, and has built in my mind the idea that we're all the same.
And that's something that a vast majority of people in Mississippi don't believe.
They think of the gay agenda.
What is the gay agenda?
It's to go and get a cup of coffee and come have a doughnut.
And so we should be allowed to have the same life.
But we're not.
And especially in Mississippi, we're not.
In Mississippi we are told from an early age, keep everything separate.
Blacks, whites, gays, straights, these are separate groups they should not intermingle.
You know, keep everybody separate.
So, we have to fight.
We have to fight every day and push against it.
Just to tell people, we're all the same.
- So you've called yourself an ally.
What's an ally?
- Somebody who thinks that you are no different than I am, and that you deserve to have the exact same opportunities that I have.
Somebody who understands that there's right and there's wrong, and I'm going to do what's right.
And so, for me, it's as simple as that.
- What is an ally?
- An ally is a verb and is an action word.
- Someone who will stand up for us when we're not in the room.
- Who'll be there on the front lines when I need them.
- Someone that protects the community.
- Is in the trenches with you.
- The person that drives the getaway car.
- An ally, quite frankly, is an accomplice.
- It means really creating change in a radical way through love.