This Holiday Season: Don’t Give To The Salvation Army

November is the month of elections and the beginning of the holiday season. Now, with few exceptions, people who support LGBTIQ rights tend to go blue and those who oppose tend to go red. Blue and red happen to be the main colours of the two largest non-profit-thrift-stores-which-help-people-out, the relatively secular Goodwill and the religious conservative Salvation Army, respectively. This is why whenever you are out and about and you are a queer or an ally, and you see a red kettle, you should avoid it like the black plague and go blue, if not local:

The Huffington Post reports:

The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle bell ringers have become a truly iconic part of the holiday shopping season. However, many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights advocates are now calling for shoppers to skip the donation buckets due to the organization’s conservative view of homosexuality.”The Salvation Army has a history of active discrimination against gays and lesbians. 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,” Bil Browning notes on The Bilerico Project. “The organization also has a record of actively lobbying governments worldwide for anti-gay policies — including an attempt to make consensual gay sex illegal.”

Indeed, as Browning points out, the group’s position statements reveal a somewhat rigid outlook on LGBT lifestyles. “Scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex,” one statement reads. “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. There is no scriptural support for same-sex unions as equal to, or as an alternative to, heterosexual marriage.”

However, the statement does go on to note, “Likewise, there is no scriptural support for demeaning or mistreating anyone for reason of his or her sexual orientation.”

Now, I have to make a disclosure here. One of my first purchases of women’s clothing was at a Salvation Army thrift store in Pompton Lakes, NJ. When I was stuck in the closet at Ramapo College, my college had a Walk A Mile In Her Shoes event to bring awareness of domestic violence. I decided that this was an opportunity to be myself and most of all, support a good cause. So, I drove down to the SA, got this polka dotted dress, and I am glad I did get that dress, since none of the heels fit me, and I would not walk that anymore, seeing as I no longer identify as a male.

Since then, I had grown up, gotten to know more about this cruel world, and would NEVER, EVER shop at a Salvation Army ever again. If I ever wanted to find something good on the cheap, I would go to Goodwill, they have never given me a problem there and most of their stores have unisex dressing rooms (yippie!!!). But then again, I may also support a more localized organization.

The Bilerico Project further enumerates cases of discrimination:

-When New Zealand considered passage of the Homosexual Law Reform Act in 1986, the Salvation Army collected signatures in an attempt to get the legislation killed. The act decriminalized consensual sex between gay men. The measure passed over the charity’s objections.
-In the United Kingdom, the Salvation Army actively pushed passage of an amendment to the Local Government Act. The amendment stated that local authorities “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.” The law has since been repealed, but it led many schools and colleges to close LGBT student organizations out of fear they’d lose their government funding.
-In 2001, the organization tried to extract a resolution from the White House that they could ignore local non-discrimination laws that protected LGBT people. While the commitment would have applied to all employees, the group claimed that it needed the resolution so it “did not have to ordain sexually active gay ministers and did not have to provide medical benefits to the same-sex partners of employees.” After lawmakers and civil rights activists revealed the Salvation Army’s active resistance to non-discrimination laws, the White House admitted the charity was seeking the exemptions.
-Also in 2001, the evangelical charity actively lobbied to change how the Bush administration would distribute over $24 billion in grants and tax deductions by urging the White House deny funding to any cities or states that included LGBT non-discrimination laws. Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary, issued a statement saying the administration was denying a “regulation sought by the church to protect the right of taxpayer-funded religious organizations to discriminate against homosexuals.”
-In 2004, the Salvation Army threatened to close all their soup kitchens in New York City to protest the city’s decision to require all vendors and charities doing business with the city to adhere to all civil rights laws. The organization balked at having to treat gay employees equal to straight employees.

Wow, the Salvation Army wants people to starve, all because New York City recognizes that if you want to use your religious beliefs to negatively impact someone’s life, you should get no solace from the city. And what is scary is, the Salvation Army provides homeless services. A search of my own zipcode indicates that there are several shelter locations in Philadelphia alone. One of these is the Red Shield Family residences, which is where the Appletree Center, an intake center for homeless women and families, refers the latter to as an after hours site for those who don’t get placed. Appletree is connected with the Philadelphia Office Of Supportive Housing, which has put out this statement affirming transgender people’s rights to access shelter services appropriate to their gender identity. If any agent of the city, in their duties of referring homeless individuals, refers the individual to a place like Red Shield, they better be damn certain that the shelter is in compliance with local laws.

Of course, the bigotry of the Salvation Army proved to be deadly towards a transgender woman in Austin, Texas just before Christmas in 2008.

Two years ago today transwoman Jennifer Gale was found dead sleeping on an Austin sidewalk outside a homeless shelter run by the Salvation Army. (one reason why I refuse to donate money or used clothing to them).The reason she was outside on the sidewalk instead of inside the shelter is because they would not allow her to be housed with the women because of genitalia incongruent with her gender presentation. . She would have been foced by their policies to be housed with cisgender men.

Austin was in the grip of unseasonable cold in 2008, and the postulation by EMT’s is the near freezing temperatures helped trigger the heart attack that killed her.

Jennifer made multiple runs for political office in the area and was a frequent presence at Austin City Council meetings. The night before she died, Jennifer attended and spoke at an Austin city council hearing in which she sang ‘Silent Night’ to the assembled members before departing.

Here was a human being who had many ideas and who just wanted shelter, yet the Salvation Army just let her die; she was never male, and to force her into a gender role she didn’t want, could have led to a fate even worse than death. Homelessness is a complicated issue, and nobody should have de facto or de jure authority to degender people, just because they have fallen on rough times.

So, I am putting out a call to arms. If you see one of them red kettles, the least you can do is “just say no” (though if you hold up a sign and protest them, that would be awesome too).

But then again, what we need is more queer friendly civil society. It should not be up to theologically conservative religious sects to monopolize the charity market. Perhaps if you know of a church that is welcoming to LGBT people, maybe you could encourage them to set up charitable services, ranging from shelters to food banks to soup kitchens to even clothing drives.

RIP Jennifer Gale: I will make sure my “boy clothes” as well as my money, and hopefully the cities money, never goes to such an evil institution.

-Jordan Gwendolyn Davis

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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