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Topics In the News
Salvation Army Kettles: Just Pass on By
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 12/03/12
Last updated on: 12/04/12
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During the Christmas season, the Salvation Army aggressively begs for donations, but supporters of the glbtq community should just pass on by. At this time of the year, bell ringers are omnipresent, especially at malls, directing shoppers to their little red kettles, asking them to support their good works. What they do not mention is their ugly history of discrimination. Indeed, they frequently lie about it, as became obvious when one of their spokespersons appeared on a liberal television program two weeks ago.

Although the Salvation Army is well known for providing food and shelter to victims of disasters and emergencies all over the United States and in over 100 countries internationally, as well as for its thrift shops and shelters that serve the homeless and the destitute, it is sometimes forgotten that the Army is actually an evangelical Christian sect. Like much of the evangelical Christian movement of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the Salvation Army has become increasingly politically active. What began as a Christian-based movement of social reform has become just another arm of right-wing conservatism with a particularly ugly history of anti-gay conduct and activism.

As Tina Gianoulis observes in her glbtq.com entry on the Salvation Army, the organization has campaigned against sodomy law reform in various parts of the world, including especially Australia and New Zealand, and opposed the glbtq movement for equality in the United States and Great Britain.

It has consistently refused to adopt non-discrimination policies or to offer domestic partner benefits to gay employees. There are also many documented cases of the Army's refusing to offer services to members of the glbtq community.

The Army was involved in a particularly revealing controversy in July 2001 when an internal memo was made public by the Washington Post. The memo exposed a secret deal between the Salvation Army and the adminstration of President George W. Bush.

The Salvation Army promised support for the president's so-called "faith-based initiative," a proposed policy to funnel hundreds of millions of tax dollars and billions in tax breaks to religious groups providing social services. In return, the administration would support legislation allowing the Army and other Christian groups legally to discriminate against gay men, lesbians, and other sexual minorities.

Although the White House and the Salvation Army quickly backed away from the notion of a secret quid pro quo, many people were scandalized by the cynical deal-making. In a protest led by Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), many communities showed their disapproval by placing fake "three-dollar bills" in Salvation Army kettles during the Christmas season of 2001, stating that they refused to donate to a bigoted organization, a practice that has continued every Christmas season since.

The Salvation Army has also contributed money to campaigns against marriage equality, including to the campaign in favor of Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California. They have campaigned against same-sex marriage in Australia and the United Kingdom as well.

Earlier this year, a Salvation Army official in Australia made headlines when he told a radio station that "non-celibate gay people deserved to die. He explained that this was part of the Salvation Army's belief system, as discussed in 'Salvation Story: Salvationist Handbook of Doctrine.'" In the face of condemnation, his superiors attempted to walk back or at least explain away the statement.

As glbtq people have earned more acceptance in society, the Salvation Army has recently decided simply to lie about its anti-gay history and policies.

For example, on November 19, 2012, openly lesbian Current TV host Stephanie Miller featured Major George Hood of the Salvation Army on her Talking Liberally television show. To the dismay of people who know better, including many of her glbtq fans, Miller allowed Major Hood to lie.

Hood simply told one bald-face lie after another. When Miller asked him to address the Army's reputation for being anti-gay, Hood said, "Well it's a great misunderstanding that's spread across the country, and we're doing everything we can to re-educate and help people understand that the very mission of the Salvation Army calls for meeting the needs of humans without discrimination."

When Miller specifically asked about discrimination in hiring, Hood lied again: "We do not [discriminate against gays in hiring]. We have many who work for us and will gladly tell you they work for us. It's not a question that we ask in an interview process."

Miller seemed to agree with Hood that the allegations against the Salvation Army were simply "Internet lies."

However, many of her listeners were outraged. The reaction from the blogosphere was so great that Miller soon issued a heartfelt apology.

She posted the following statement on her Facebook page.

Monday on my Current TV program 'Talking Liberally,' broadcast simultaneously on my national radio program, 'The Stephanie Miller Show,' I announced that my friend and colleague Bill Press and I were launching a three-week competition to raise money for the Salvation Army to help Americans in need.

This was in conjunction with an advertising buy by the Salvation Army on Current TV. We all thought that we were doing something positive in the spirit of the holiday season.

Where I screwed up was in not doing more research about the Salvation Army's long and checkered history involving LGBTQ people and our issues. I sincerely apologize for that.

When I returned from the Thanksgiving holiday, I learned a lot more--much of of it from friends like John Aravosis at America Blog and Michelangelo Signorile at Sirius OutQ--and I decided that, effective immediately, 'Talking Liberally' and 'The Stephanie Miller Show' would no longer be a part of the Salvation Army's Online Red Kettle Campaign.

Through yesterday, your generosity has raised $1,150 for the Salvation Army in the Stephanie Miller Red Kettle.

I am now going to personally match that amount with a donation to the Trevor Project, whose work and mission I can endorse without any reservation. The Trevor Project provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth.

As always, I am grateful to my viewers and listeners for holding me to the high standards that I always try to set for myself.

This is how she and her colleague Bill Press discussed the incident on her radio show.

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