If you’ve been anywhere near a shopping mall or commercial sector downtown then you know the bell ringers with their little red buckets are out in full force this year. And for LGBT folks, it begs the question about whether making a donation to the Salvation Army is in one’s best interest.
Many gay rights activists say no way.
While the Salvation Army certainly does good, charitable work in our local communities and around the world, the group does have a very strict rule about homosexuality forbidding any sexual intimacy between members of the same-sex. “The Salvation Army believes, therefore, that Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life,” says the organization’s own public statement.
This stance is not unlike that of Catholic Church that recognizes gay people but insists that gay people not do “gay” things.
The Salvation Army also elaborates online: “There is no scriptural support for demeaning or mistreating anyone for reason of his or her sexual orientation.” Like many who discriminate, the group seems to distinguish between wishing that gay people not act upon their sexuality and denying gay people the right to do so, while inherently denying that it’s treating LGBT people as second-class citizens. So even if the occasional LGBT person could benefit from the organization – is that enough to chip in?
“The Salvation Army has a history of active discrimination against gays and lesbians,” says Bill Browning on The Bilerico Project. “While you might think you’re helping the hungry and homeless by dropping a few dollars in the bright red buckets, not everyone can share in the donations.”
Browning accuses the group of lobbying against gay rights around the world for years – going so far as to try and make consensual gay sex illegal (the group collected signatures in New Zealand in the late 1980s to criminalize sex between two men). In the U.K., the group also pushed to prohibit anyone from teaching about homosexuality or distributing gay materials.
And in the U.S., the group wanted to overturn anti-discrimination laws that would make it illegal to refuse someone employment based on their sexual orientation. They also wanted to change the regulations about federal grants and tax deductions for charitable organizations in relation to anti-gay hiring practices while George W. Bush was in office. At the time, the ACLU accused the Salvation Army of essentially wanting to use public money to discriminate. In 2004, the group threatened to close their soup kitchens in New York if they had to adhere to the state’s civil rights laws forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The Salvation Army does not offer benefits to same-sex couples either. Various evangelical Christian groups leveraged a war of words when the group proposed domestic-partner benefits 10 years ago.
“I’ve seen the discrimination the Salvation Army preaches first hand,” says Browning. “When a former boyfriend and I were homeless, the Salvation Army insisted we break up before they’d offer assistance. We slept on the street instead.”
In truth, despite the good work the organization does, dropping a few coins or dollars into the iconic red bucket does have a much bigger impact, one that isn’t always equitable to the LGBT community.
Andy Thayer of the Gay Liberation Network offers an interesting analogy. “If a racist organization was trying to collect money with the message that some of the money was doing towards good, would you support them?”
That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of other noble charities, like the Red Cross and Goodwill, as well as local and national charities that will use your donation for the good of all mankind – and not just the straight folks.