So you’re in the Salvation Army on the corner of Valencia and 26th, and you’re browsing for that perfectly grotesque wool-knit sweater, the one with blue-green checkered pattern and the fuzzy, white Frosty the Snowman stitched on the front, and suddenly you think to yourself–oh my goodness, is my irony-induced thrift shopping furthering the persecution of homosexuals by supporting a rabidly anti-gay evangelical organization?

Maybe that doesn’t happen to you. But it could. Recently I came across a brief opinion piece in the Guardian which raised questions about whether supporting the Salvation Army is kosher considering their stance on homosexuality. I thought it would be nice, in the spirit of the holidays and all, to do a brief examination of the Salvation Army’s attitudes on a few topics close to our readers’ hearts to help you decide whether or not to drop a nickle in Santa’s bucket this Christmas. In charitable giving, as in local news coverage, the Appeal always has your interests at heart.

So launching right into it, does the Salvation Army have a history of subtle (and often not so subtle) anti-homosexual policies? Guilty as charged.

I assure you that the first hand that reaches to pull you from the rubble of our next earthquake will be the anti-gay hand of the Salvation Army.Yes, in 2001 they briefly awarded benefits to domestic partners and then quickly rescinded the offer.

Yes, in 2004 they briefly threatened to close soup kitchens in New York City if the local government enacted legislation that would require firms that do business with New York to offer health benefits to partners of gay staffers.

And yes, most famously, an expose originally published in the Washington Post in 2001, and covered later in the Seattle Times, revealed that the Salvation Army worked closely with the Bush Administration to make it easier for government-funded religious groups to discriminate against gay people, in return for the Salvation Army openly supporting government faith based initiatives.

Here is the official position of the Salvation Army on homosexuality (and a number of other issues including euthanasia, suicide, and abortion). It may be public relations hogwash inspired by the backlash, but, the Salvation Army says that though they reserve the right to model its internal hiring polices around its beliefs, services would never be denied to those who qualify based on their sexual orientation.

In an article published in the Seattle Times shortly following the piece from the Washington Post, the Salvation Army made an argument that its decisions were less influenced by anti-gay prejudices and more a reflection of their belief in the separation of church and state. To offer equal benefits to domestic partners, they argue, would run contrary to the beliefs and principles that constitute the foundation of their faith. Since they consider themselves a religious organization, insofar as to claim exemption on form 990, they do not believe local government has the right to meddle too deeply in their affairs.

Where the Salvation Army’s positions become a little more nebulous is in regards to immigration. Recently an article published in the ABC7 subsidiary in El Paso reports that children requesting toys donated to the Salvation Army would have to prove their residency before obtaining them. Furthermore, the article insists that Salvation Army officials in El Paso frequently check the immigration status of people before granting them shelter. Whether this reflects the prejudice of one specific branch of the Salvation Army, unfairly influenced perhaps by escalating anti-immigration policies of the local government, or is indicative of the principles of the entire organization remains to be seen.

Much of the fire (from what I can tell) surrounding the Salvation Army’s anti-gay tendencies has been stoked by AMERICAblog writer John Aravosis , in a series of inflammatory posts against the Salvation Army.

The question that Aravosis’ posts frequently bring up is whether supporting the Salvation Army means you are supporting an anti-gay organization. So what you need to decide before you support them is if you’re willing to make that tradeoff, and to allow your money to pass through this organization to get to the many humanitarian efforts they supervise.

Anti-gay prejudices aside, the Salvation Army is a highly efficient charity. According to the Better Business Bureau, 89% of the donations received go to supporting Salvation Army projects or future fund raising.

On September 11th, Salvation Army volunteers quickly set up 21 mobile feed stations in Manhattan that served 300,000 meals in the 72 hours following the disaster. Volunteers even brought hundreds of teddy bears for children of the victims, and vapor rub to smear inside the nostrils to cover the stench of death and charred metal.

While FEMA was infamously not responding to Katrina, Salvation Army was one of the first charities on the scene. Within a day volunteers had provided shelter and food by mobilizing 178 canteen units to serve more than 5.7 million hot meals and 8.3 million sandwiches. They aided search and rescue missions with SATERN, their network of two-way radio operators, and helped locate more than 25,508 survivors. After the tides ebbed the Salvation Army did not retreat, but stayed behind to rebuild New Orleans and help relocate thousands of displaced residents throughout the country.

The stories are the same for 2004 tsunamis, the earthquake in 1989, and a myriad of other disasters. I assure you that the first hand that reaches to pull you from the rubble of our next earthquake will be the anti-gay hand of the Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army is not the only major American charity to be marred by some kind of scandal. The Red Cross may make no distinctions based upon sexual orientation, but that did not stop them from reportedly rerouting millions of dollars in charitable donations intended to aid victims of 9/11 to unrelated Red Cross Programs and services.

Or what about the United Way, which has a history of former directors stealing money from the organization ($500,000 taken by Oral Suer, and another $200,000 taken by Ralph Dickerson.

I don’t use these examples to equate an organization that will not recognize homosexuality as a basic human right with one that employs deceptive fundraising tactics, or an another that suffered the sins of an individual. I intend them to demonstrate how larger charities can sometimes be out of touch with the values they claim to espouse.

If you can stomach the fact that your money has to pass through potentially gay-bashing hands before reaching a family in need (because it will indeed reach them), then by all means drop a quarter in the bucket. But if you can’t, consider taking a more proactive approach to charity this year. Do some research on local charities, and find which ones most accurately reflect your own personal ethos.

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  • cedichou

    There was much more to the post than I thought based on the quote in Phil Bronstein’s Chronicle column today. One day, SFgate will understand the concept of hyperlink.

    That being said, the main point is that, if you don’t want to support a gay bashing organization, then don’t donate to them: there are plenty of other organizations that will gladly accept your money and won’t discriminate against gays. Because they are the biggest charity, and would assist in the case of an earthquake, does not mean that I should donate to them.

    It would be useful to have other charities with similarly low overhead but without the anti-gay agenda. The SF Food Bank, or the Shelter Network, then which other ones?

    • 19wineland

      Can you produce anything that would be considered gay bashing that the Salvation Army publishes? Christianity gets their doctrines from the Bible and for those churches that have issues with homosexuality usually put something into their bylaws about marriage being between a man and a woman. Churches have taken a side and fought against gay rights but I don’t remember ever seeing a publication or hearing a sermon that chooses to bash gays. If there were incidents where a local Salvation Army Corps discriminated against a person for their sexual orientation they should be reported. The Salvation Army is made up of corps, divisions, territories, national headquarters and world headquarters. If the least of these cause a blemish on the reputation of the organization, it effects the entire organization. That was the reason it’s organizer William Booth chose the military pattern because he wanted uniformity. Because it is made of of humans, there may be malcontents that take advantage of they position to express personal bias but there is a chain of command they are subject to and can be counseled if they are out of line.