By Konrad Juengling, Guest Opinion
If someone would have told me a few years ago that I’d be advocating for people to skip supporting the Salvation Army, I would have called them crazy. Salvation Army executives wishing gay people dead and the organization only helping select groups of people sounds like the plot to a bad movie — why would I have taken that seriously? Worse than that would-be movie, though, is the fact that this is actually happening.
The Salvation Army is one of the most recognized charities in the United States. Each holiday we see the bell ringers outside of businesses collecting change in pots while the bell ringer shivers in the cold. It’s a regular part of the shopping experience while we rush about to get the presents that we need. When I was a child, I always asked my mom for change so that I could give it to the bell ringers and feel like I did something that made a difference. The difference people are making when they donate to the Salvation Army, though, is a difference for a very select population of people: heterosexual Christians. What a lot of people, myself included until recently, do not realize is that the SA is actively and institutionally homophobic and works against people in the LGBTQ community.
In 2004, New York City enacted an ordinance that stated companies would have to provide health insurance for gay employees’ partners. The SA threatened that if it was forced to comply with this law it would shut down all New York City offices and projects. To appease them, Mayor Bloomberg acquiesced and let them operate without offering the required healthcare that other businesses were required to provide. The SA would have abandoned helping thousands of homeless and needy people just to prove that they are against treating people equally. For being a Christian organization, it seems antithetical that they would rather let people go hungry than treat minorities the same way they treat their other employees: with respect.
In 2012, Major Andrew Craibe, a SA media relations director for the company, implied (at the very least) that gays should be put to death. It’s one thing to hold a city hostage, saying you’ll abandon the homeless you’re helping because you have to treat people equally, but to say you believe in death for LGBTQ people is just a whole different realm of bigotry. Australian journalist Serena Ryan had interviewed Craibe, asking, “According to the Salvation Army, [gay people] deserve death. How do you respond to that, as part of your doctrine?” Craibe said, “Well, that’s part of our belief system.” A surprised Ryan asked, “So we should die?” Caibe, ever the perfect media relations director, answered, “You know, we have an alignment to the scriptures, but that’s our belief.”
Unfortunately, these aren’t isolated incidents. These are representations of SA’s belief system at a corporate level, showing how they feel about homosexuality. What about at a more micro level with how people are treated when they come in off the street looking for help? Isn’t that what people are really donating their money for?
Mark Oppenheimer ran a 2011 story for the New York Times solely about the SA turning away people because they are homosexual. While the SA has denied this, with their culture of discrimination and continued media reports, it’s a slim-to-none chance that people aren’t experiencing that discrimination when they look for help.
This inequality is built into the very structure of the SA. For this self-styled “evangelical part of the universal Christian Church,” the homophobia is literally written into its handbook. For their position statement on LGBTQ individuals,” 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.” Telling people that they are not entitled to love another person because of their sexuality is degrading and inappropriate. One could argue that they are only staying true to their beliefs, but what if one of their beliefs was not to help African Americans? Or the disabled? Is it appropriate for a tax-exempt organization to discriminate against a certain population of minorities?
Donating to an organization that actively works against LGBTQ rights supports the belief that heterosexual people are worth more than LGBTQ people. For those that believe that people are all equal, tossing your coins into the red bucket is in direct contrast to that. For those that donate to the Salvation Army, you’re saying that it’s alright to discriminate and to turn needy people away because they are different than the majority. These aren’t the values that Christianity, America — or common sense — ascribe to. Instead of donating to SA, donate to the American Red Cross if you’re looking for a large organization. If you want something a little smaller, there are any number of local shelters that would be grateful for your support.
When shopping, remember how you choose to spend (and donate) your money shows support for that organization; just make sure you’re supporting the right cause. Skip the red buckets and support an inclusive, non-discriminatory organization that truly wants to help everyone that comes through its doors.
Konrad Juengling is an Oregon native who currently lives in Beaverton with his boyfriend and three cats. He works full time in the financial industry, but has a Bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in women, gender, and sexuality studies. After finishing the post-baccalaureate work he is currently doing at Portland State University, Konrad will be pursuing a master’s degree with the goal of working with juvenile sex offenders. An avid collector of literature, Konrad also helps to run a gay men’s book club at Pivot in downtown Portland.