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Salvation Army Protest Had A Strong Purpose

Published in “Dallas Voice”

December 31, 2004

Recently gay activists lodged complaints with the two Walgreens in the Oak Lawn area for allowing Salvation Army bell ringers at their stores.

A few people in the Dallas GLBT community have raised issue with our targeting the Salvation Army, a fundamentalist Christian organization with an anti-gay record, as it assists the poor and homeless. One wonders if people would object to African Americans complaining about a bigoted charity raising money (or similar actions by Latinos or Jews with similar complaints).

With the negative outcome of November’s election it will be difficult for the GLBT community to advance civil rights through the government during the next four years. We must still continue our efforts but we may have to settle for keeping previously gained rights from eroding.

But we can maintain the move towards equality through continued improved policies and benefits in the business sector. Business has historically been ahead of the government in terms of sexual orientation policy. As of December 31, 2003 fully 72 percent of Fortune 500 companies had sexual orientation included in their employment nondiscrimination policies. Forty percent of the top Fortune 500 companies also had domestic partnership benefits that covered partners of gay workers.

Companies haven’t instituted these policies out of the goodness of their corporate hearts. Gains have come from pressure brought by the GLBT community along with our families and friends who have been employees, shareholders and customers of those companies.

Most folks see the Salvation Army as friendly bell ringers outside of department stores, supermarkets and the like during the Christmas shopping season.

In reality the Salvation Army is an evangelical Christian organization that has a long history of discriminating against gays.

Back in the mid-1990s, according to the Salvation Army’s employee manual, they referred to homosexuality as a sin and supported reparative therapy to cure us. With the recent controversies they have faced, the Salvation Army’s policy concerning homosexuality has been revised to be more politically correct and less inflammatory. They still call on gays to lead celibate lives.

The Bush Administration became embroiled in a huge fiasco in 2001. The White House was caught red-handed brokering a backroom deal as part of Bush’s faith-based initiative for government funding of churches and religious organizations offering public services. As a condition of its support for Bush’s initiative, the Salvation Army wanted federal protection to enable them to not hire gays, even in localities with sexual anti-discrimination laws in place.

“George Hood, a senior official with the Salvation Army, said the group never discriminates in delivering its services, but on the hiring of gay employees, ‘it really begins to chew at the theological fabric of who we are.’” (Washington Post, July 10, 2001.)

The New York Times reported in February 2004 that 18 current and former employees of the social services arm of Salvation Army brought federal suit against the Salvation Army. They charged that the New York division imposed a religious veil over their secular caring for foster children and counseling young people with AIDS. The workers were prevented from giving condoms to people infected with HIV.

“I was harassed to the point where eventually I resigned,” said Margaret Geissman, a former human resources manager who said her superior asked for the religions and sexual orientation of her staff. “As a Christian, I deeply resent the use of discriminatory employment practices in the name of Christianity.” (New York Times February 25, 2004)

As much as I favor GLBT employment and domestic partnership benefits, I agree that religious organizations shouldn’t be forced into practices against their beliefs. However, organizations that discriminate then become liable to public opinion and pressure.

Though the Salvation does some good, we must hold them accountable for their prejudice.

They will not change their policy solely through our contact with them. They must feel the sting of withdrawn support from organizations and businesses.

Our activism should include educating businesses and organizations about the reality behind their public persona. Stands against prejudice by forward thinking companies are not without risk. Evangelical Christians are threatening a boycott of Target for their decision this year to ban Salvation Army ringers.

For those worried that our recent efforts in Oak Lawn will deny needed services, Joan Kroc (widow of the founder of McDonalds) left the Salvation Army $1.5 billion when she died. I think they will manage.

Still our efforts will have a symbolic impact.

Gays must remain vigilant in rewarding GLBT-friendly organizations with our business and donations and penalize those against us with determined pressure. The Salvation Army can’t have it both ways. If they discriminate, we can’t suffer silently and ignore them.

Discrimination unchecked will spread. Social and economic pressure will impact the Salvation Army, giving businesses and organizations pause before partnering with the Salvation Army and others who discriminate against us.

John R. Selig is a freelance writer and photojournalist who earns his living in marketing and advertising. He was one of eight activists on the StopDrLaura.com national steering committee and is the Dallas contact for DontAmend.com. He and his husband, Rodolfo, were married in Toronto on April 17, 2004. E-mail