The Salvation Army's Red Kettle bell ringers have become a truly iconic part of the holiday shopping season. However, many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights advocates are now calling for shoppers to skip the donation buckets due to the organization's conservative view of homosexuality.
"The Salvation Army has a history of active discrimination against gays and lesbians. While you might think you're helping the hungry and homeless by dropping a few dollars in the bright red buckets, not everyone can share in the donations," Bil Browning notes on The Bilerico Project. "The organization also has a record of actively lobbying governments worldwide for anti-gay policies -- including an attempt to make consensual gay sex illegal."
Indeed, as Browning points out, the group's position statements reveal a somewhat rigid outlook on LGBT lifestyles. "Scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex," one statement reads. "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. There is no scriptural support for same-sex unions as equal to, or as an alternative to, heterosexual marriage."
However, the statement does go on to note, "Likewise, there is no scriptural support for demeaning or mistreating anyone for reason of his or her sexual orientation."
Like the Protestant Christian organization's holiday campaign itself, the controversy is very much an annual one. Last year, Jeffrey Curnow, the public and corporate relations manager for the Salvation Army, defended the position to Chicagoist, noting:
"I appreciate the opportunity to correct the record when it does come up. In fact, the Salvation Army serves countless people across the country every day from any variety of backgrounds, including gays and lesbians. This number probably reaches into the thousands, though it is impossible for us to determine, primarily because we would simply never ask about a person's sexual identity."
"Because The Salvation Army is a church we do have theological positions on a variety of topics. These positions are intended for our church members or those who are interested in our church. Just as you wouldn't expect everyone you meet to share all your ideas or beliefs, we would never expect everyone we help, our donors, or even our non-church-member employees to necessarily agree with these theological positions."
Andy Thayer, co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network, was similarly critical of the Salvation Army's stance, noting, "If a racist organization was trying to collect money with the message that some of the money was going towards doing good, would you support them? I would hope not." He went on to suggest people would be better served by donating to more pro-LGBT organizations such as the Howard Brown Health Center, the American Red Cross, or The Trevor Project.