Popular charity has long history of discrimination

by Hannah Benson, ’15

A bobbling crowd surging the streets. The low whistle of wind sweeping between skyscrapers. Red donation kettles gleaming beneath ringing golden bells. Gloved hands disinterestedly plinking coins into baskets.

It’s a familiar scene, one recognizable to anyone who’s gone prowling through a city at this time of year. Winter city streets would almost seem empty without those glossy Salvation Army baskets and the workers behind them, jingling bells to tunes in their head and encouraging passersby to have a merry Christmas.

The Salvation Army operates in 126 countries and, on its website, identifies itself to be “an integral part of the Christian church.”

The organization works to end human trafficking, provide immediate relief to areas struck by national disasters and give a quality Christian education to children in impoverished areas. The organization is faith-based, not secular, which means it is free to take social and political positions unrelated to its stated cause.

With all the good the Salvation Army does, most people remain unaware of the organization’s long history of discrimination against LGBT+ employees.

In 2001, for example, the Salvation Army sought a resolution from the White House allowing it to ignore non-discrimination laws protecting LGBT+ people. In 2004, the organization threatened to close all of its soup kitchens in New York City to protest a newly adopted law requiring all city vendors to adhere to local civil rights laws.

Anne Lown, a Jewish employee of the Salvation Army for almost 25 years, was fired upon refusing to sign forms pledging loyalty to the organization’s Christian principles in 2004. The Supreme Court held that the Salvation Army was allowed to hire on a religious basis.

The Salvation Army refuses to distribute donations related to two popular franchises, Twilight and Harry Potter, because it conflicts with its religious beliefs.

Worse, the organization has a history of turning away gay couples and transgender people seeking shelter. Bil Browning, a long-time gay rights activist and writer, sought help at a Salvation Army shelter in southern Indiana with his then-boyfriend twenty years ago.

“The Salvation Army refused to help us,” Browning told The New York Times in a December 2011 interview, “unless we broke up and left the ‘sinful homosexual lifestyle’ behind.” Browning and his boyfriend refused to break up and instead spent the night on the sidewalk outside of the shelter.

Browning encourages making donations to other charities that help the same cause, such as the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders.

Until recently, the organization was open about its conservative beliefs. In 2010, a statement on its website read: “Attempts to establish or promote [homosexual] relationships as viable alternatives to heterosexually-based family life do not conform to God’s will for society.”

Today, the only reference to allegations against the organization on its website falls under its mission statement: “to meet human needs in [Jesus Christ’s] name without discrimination.” However, the Salvation Army continues to discriminate in its hiring practices.

Senior Shoshana Cohn advises people to boycott the organization.

“For those who believe in, you know, equality, my advice would be: Don’t donate. The Salvation Army does a lot of good but there are other queer-friendly organizations out there that could use your help,” Cohn said.

Cohn believes the Salvation Army is a prime example of the homophobia that still permeates society.

“The idea that all [the LGBT+ community] wants is marriage is honestly quite shallow and completely incorrect,” Cohn says. “I’ve heard of members of the LGBT+ community getting hassled by members of the Salvation Army. This is not a queer-friendly group by far, and it really sucks that a good majority of the public doesn’t know about this.”

Image caption: A bell-ringing Salvation Army worker accepts a donation. The Salvation Army’s red kettles are a beloved symbol of wintertime; however, the organization has a long history of turning away Jewish and LGBT+ people.

Image by Kroc Center