While the Salvation Army's stance on homosexuality may not be a new point of contention for many LGBT activists, recent reports of a drastic drop-off in donations to the group's iconic Red Kettle Campaign in the Chicago area have elicited speculation that the group's anti-gay reputation may be putting a dent into its fundraising haul this holiday season.
According to a Dec. 13 Associated Press article, Chicagoland contributions to the Salvation Army's practically ubiquitous bell-and-kettle campaign, responsible for roughly 70 percent of the organization's funding, are down 13 percent over last year's numbers while demand for the group's services have shot up exponentially. In the story, Army spokeswoman Dee McKinsey blamed bad weather and the stunted economy for the campaign only netting $4.1 million, compared to $4.6 million during the same time period last year.
But some LGBT activists suggest the lower numbers are due to Chicagoans becoming increasingly aware of the army's opposition to same-sex relationships and history of lobbying against pro-gay legislation and carrying out questionable hiring practices.
According to the Salvation Army's website, the group "does not consider same-sex orientation blameworthy in itself" and opposes "demeaning or mistreating" anyone. Nonetheless, the group advises gays and lesbians to "embrace celibacy as a way of life" because "Scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex."
In 2004, the army's New York chapter threatened to close the city's soup kitchens and end its services to the homeless there if the local government passed legislation forcing it to offer health benefits to partners of their gay employees. In 2001, the group ceased offering domestic-partner benefits to all its California employees since some benefits were being received by same-sex couples. That same year, the group unsuccessfully attempted to pressure Bush administration staff into easing LGBT non-discrimination laws for faith-based groups.
While the organization's policy on LGBT issues also states that its services are available to all who qualify, regardless of sexual orientation, and that their fellowship is open to "all sincere seekers of faith in Christ," presumably including queer people of faith, Rainbow Sash Movement executive director Joe Murray described the Army's use of Biblical text to justify not hiring openly gay employees or recognizing LGBT relationships as "obscene."
"Whether they're conscious of it or not, this is blanket discrimination against gay families," Murray told Windy City Times. "It's plain and simple discrimination ... People in our community and our allies need to be aware that there are religious groups out there promoting discrimination and doing it in the name of good works.
"That is hypocritical," Murray added, noting that many organizations within the LGBT community, such as the Howard Brown Health Center, are also in dire need of support at this time and represent a far more LGBT-friendly recipient of donations.
Andy Thayer, co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network, described the army's policy as sending "a mixed message, at best." He said the group's practices are representative of a larger problem of several faith-based agencies in the Chicago area who are contracted by the city to provide social services while, at the same time, violating the city's LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination employment law.
Thayer said he would like to see a city law that would eliminate faith-based exemptions for groups like the army and Catholic Charities under contract to prove certain city services. Meanwhile, he hoped the city's queer community will continue to "bring the Salvation Army's bigotry out of the closet."
"We need to call them out and make them pay a price for [this]. These groups like to run stealth campaigns, having their cake and eating it too," Thayer said. "They want to practice their bigotry, but at the same time, they'll project a public image of just being another warm and fuzzy charity that people should give to. ... We need to label them as the bigots that they are."
At press time, the Salvation Army's Chicago area office did not return Windy City Times' calls for comment for this story.