Jesse Tyler Ferguson plays Mitchell, one half of a loving couple raising an adopted daughter, on ABC’s Modern Family. Jesse is also a fashion designer and political activist, he combines both passions with Tie the Knot, an online haberdashery, specializing in bowties (designed by Ferguson himself) in which all proceeds are donated to the cause of marriage equality. The bowties are great, HelloGiggles’ own Jessica Tholmer wrote them up as an Item of the Day.
I spoke with Jesse about Tie the Knot, marriage equality, and Modern Family:
Tell me a little bit about Tie the Knot: the idea, the history of the organization.
Well, it started off with a very simple idea: I wanted to get involved in the fashion world in a very simple and unintimidating way, so I thought of the smallest piece of clothing I could design in the fashion world–the bowtie. I wear bowties a lot, I love sprucing up a suit with a bowtie, they’re a little off-center and unexpected. It’s something I like to incorporate into my wardrobe, so I thought it would be fun to design a line of bowties. My fiance Justin [Mikita] and I came up with the idea to have all the proceeds from the bowties go to marriage equality, so we set up the organization Tie the Knot. We’d been playing with the idea of philanthropy for awhile, but it took these two ideas, killing two birds with one stone, and creating a great foundation for something we really believe in with a fun twist and light-heartedness.
What organizations are you guys working with?
We have our own foundation, TietheKnot.org. Our organization mission’s statement is to funnel the proceeds from our earnings directly to places that need the funds for marriage equality. If we’d been around 3 months earlier, it would’ve gone to the three states in the battleground in the past election. Unfortunately we couldn’t get started quickly enough for the 2012 race, so now our first benefactor is the Human Rights Campaign, the warhorse of civil rights right now. We’ve worked really closely with them in the past, so it’s been a great inaugural benefactor to give to. With the next collection we’ll find another organization that’s working towards marriage equality. That’s the beauty of the organization, we can funnel funds towards lots of different organizations working towards marriage equality. When we see marriage equality on ballots in the next election, we’d love to give it directly to states that need it.
I’m gonna ask you a question that’s gonna force you to kind of self-aggrandize: how do you feel your role on Modern Family has helped the cause in America?
It’s hard to say, because it’s just an acting job, really. It’s a great acting job, a wonderful character I get to play, and it’s certainly socially relevant. We were the only gay couple on network television, and certainly the only one raising a baby. It’s nice there are several others emerging on network television and cable. A show like Modern Family that has such mass appeal is certainly a cultural touchstone for a lot of people. It gets referenced a lot in the marriage equality conversation because it’s something people can relate to. I think a lot of people that aren’t comfortable with two men or two women getting married or raising children together can look at Cameron and Mitchell and say “oh, it’s not that scary.” Sure, these are fictional characters but we try and treat them in a humorous and light-hearted way, and treat them as every-men. They’re not terribly different from many struggling parents learning to be parents for the first time. It’s a great equalizer, tons of straight couples can relate to Cameron and Mitchell as well. When you start putting these characters on television, when they’re relatable to everyone, gay and straight, I think that’s a great thing. I think why people shy away from gay characters is when they’re these very flamboyant, out-there characters going to night clubs every night and drinking cosmopolitans, that’s a gay character that network television has portrayed in the past, and it’s fun and exciting, but not necessarily terribly accurate. Our writers have created a gay couple that’s just kind of normal.
That’s something that’s always struck me with the show. It’s great, it is done very well. Again, I’m gonna ask you something that forces you to be self-aggrandizing: do you ever think about the gay teenager–and I hate to make the stereotype–but the gay teenager living in a maybe closed-minded environment like middle America watching Modern Family?
Well I know that happens, because people have reached out to me, and that’s a great feeling, to know that he’s able to come out to his parents because the family watches Modern Family together, and it’s easier for him to have that dialogue because there is already someone in the room with him that is like him: me and Cameron on the television. I think if I had had characters like Mitchell and Cameron on television when I was a kid it’d be easier. I felt very alone without characters I could relate to in the mass media. Television reaches a lot of people, the entire world. So if you can kind of represent the whole human race in a dignified way on TV, it can make the people who are feeling alone more in touch with the world. It can certainly make the people in middle America feel like there is something out there for them, the life that they want does exist beyond this small town.
I think something that is missing from heated issues like this in American politics is calm, intelligent dialogue. If you had a little time to speak to people against marriage equality, what would you say to them?
I’d have questions, not statements. I’d wonder what they’re so afraid of, and why they think my equality effects their lives. When people have to answer those questions, they realize that my civil rights don’t effect them at all. There is the one argument people go back to, The Bible, and “this is what God wanted in the Bible,” and I don’t understand how a book that’s so old and has so many rules we’ve decided to ignore about mixing cattle and stoning women and inter-racial relationships, and how all these things are “sins” we seem to overlook, and how marriage between two men or women is somehow a sin. I’d challenge that, and in a calm fashion, ask why they think my civil rights and equality will effect their lives.
For me, a question like that would be less of a Socratic thing and more of an honest inquiry. I have so much trouble getting in that mindlessly hateful mindset. I just don’t get it, and I would want to understand where they are coming from.
So where do you see Tie the Knot going in the future?
We’re creating a brand new collection–twenty new bowties in a limited quantity–in a couple months. The response is very exciting, we’ve already sold out of a lot of the styles. People are really excited to support the organization.
They’re great bowties.
Right, they’re great, well-made ties and people really like them, and on top of that they’re supporting a great cause. So we will be developing other lines–we hope to do four lines a year. And we talked about expanding into other areas, like wedding invitations, work together with a great printer, maybe a jeweler who would do wedding rings, or pocket squares, and we want to think about what women might what to wear. I keep telling them women can wear bowties! It’s a piece of fabric, they tie it in their hair every day, why not wear one? I want it to be something we can all participate in.
I was never into bowties, but I was very impressed with yours.
Oh, thank you! Thanks.
And thank you! It was a pleasure talking to you.
Photo via E! Online.