"As I'm sure you know, the Salvation Army actively supports the ban on gay marriage," a Stranger reader e-mailed me last week. "My boyfriend and I were discussing how unfortunate that is, because the people ringing the bells are everywhere, but I can no longer give them money. And yet I don't think it's fair to tell off the bell-ringers (who may have no idea and who have been given a much-needed job by this charity)."
The Salvation Army does more—and it does far worse—than merely supporting the ban on gay marriage. Barack Obama supports the ban on same-sex marriage, if not DOMA. (It might be fairer to say that Obama isn't an opponent of marriage equality, he just plays one on TV.) The Salvation Army has lobbied to prevent federal money from going to cities or states with LGBT antidiscrimination laws and, even worse, it goes out of its way to discriminate against vulnerable LGBT people during moments of crisis.
"When a former boyfriend and I were homeless, the Salvation Army insisted we break up before they'd offer assistance," writes gay blogger and activist Bil Browning. "We slept on the street instead and declined to break up as they demanded."
Browning's experience isn't unique: "Three years ago, one of my community college students became homeless during the semester," Slog commenter greendyke wrote last month. "The only shelter in our Midwestern capital city with any openings for women and children was a SA shelter. This lesbian household was told they had two choices: One of them could live on the street and the shelter would take the other mom and the kids as a 'family,' or they could all sleep on the street... [That] evil organization will never get a cent of my money."
Plenty more people have posted online testimonials of the Salvation Army's bigotry and sadism in action in California, Texas, and other states.
Officially, the group claims that its services "are available to all who qualify, without regard to sexual orientation." But Salvationarmyusa.org—in a section titled "homosexuality"—says that church services are restricted to those "who accept and abide by the Salvation Army's doctrine and discipline." And that discipline, apparently, doesn't allow for gay people to have partners and families.
Or food and shelter, if the Salvation Army can help it.
How does the Salvation Army respond to these charges of discrimination? "An individual's sexuality is simply not a factor in whether or not we provide service," insisted Lt. Colonel David Hudson, chief secretary of Salvation Army's USA Western Territory, in an e-mail. While he acknowledges that the group is "an evangelical part of the universal Christian church," Hudson continues, "any instance of discrimination is in direct opposition to our core beliefs and is against all of our policy."
Uh-huh. The examples of the Salvation Army advocating against civil-rights protections are legion, as are individual stories of anti-gay cruelty.
"It's amazing to me that so many Christians have chastised me for advocating that people avoid the red kettles by claiming that it will hurt homeless and hungry (straight) people," Browning says in an e-mail. "They overlook the fact that the Salvation Army discriminates against LGBT people and has threatened to close soup kitchens in many cities if required to abide by nondiscrimination laws."
And the money you refrain from tossing into the Salvation Army's red kettles? Donate it to charities that don't discriminate. "There are plenty of secular charities like Toys for Tots, Goodwill Industries, and the American Red Cross that could use the extra cash and don't discriminate against LGBT people," writes Browning.
Or you could give to Northwest Harvest.