Saturday, November 9, 2013

Who to believe?

As a Lesbian, I have read the stories and seen the pictures about Salvation Army Christmas bell ringers being homophobic, going so far as to post signs on their kettles "We help people, just not the gays".There is also a story circulating that during a radio interview, a Salvation Army member said that all gays "should be put to death".

Like any story I'm sure there are 2 sides.  And like many organizations, there are zealots who take their beliefs too far and don't actually reflect the original views of the group they are representing. I don't know anyone who is a member of the Salvation Army, so I've never had the opportunity to sit down with them to discuss their beliefs.

I always like to try and do my own research (even if it is just a Google search) on topics before I fully believe something controversial - if you can ever fully believe one side over the other.  This one has been harder to research.  The radio interview  seems to be true, since there is a recording off it for all to hear.  The pictures of the bell ringers are often debunked as having been  Photoshopped.  There are very few mainstream news articles about the subject.

I started down this road yesterday when a friend posted an upcoming 5 km race on Facebook.  There aren't a lot of December races, so I thought I would sign up.  But it turns out it's a fundraiser for the Salvation Army.  Years of LGBTQ "habits" kicked in, and I said, thanks but no thanks, I'm no supporting them. I realized however that I had no actual proof of my own that they were indeed a homophobic organization.  So I sent off this email to the contact person for the race:

I am considering entering the Santa Shuffle, but I am concerned with rumours I have heard regarding the Salvation Army.  I am a Lesbian, in a relationship for 20 years, and my partner and I have an 11 year old son.  As you can understand we do not support homophobic groups, or groups that would not help out our family if we are in need.  

I recognize that the Salvation Army does great work in helping out families, especially around the holidays, so I'm hoping that you can comment on the Salvations Armies views on gay and lesbian families like mine, and whether your help would indeed be extended to us in a time of need.

I look forward to hearing from you.


I figured that would be the end of it and that I would not hear back from them. Imagine my surprise when I got a response in less than 2 hours, late on a Friday night.

Hello Andy

I am very glad that you reached out to me directly.

I am also very glad that in this case, I believe the truth will help get us all on the same page,

Firstly, let me say that as the largest non-government provider of social services in Canada it is our mission to help anyone in need, period. In every case of assistance, our decision to help or not is based entirely on the individual's need and our capacity to help, and nothing else. We are happy to - and regularly do - provide services to people of every race, religion, belief etc., and certainly this includes any and all members of the LGBTQ community.

To answer your question directly, if your family was in need our response would be entirely dictated by your need and our capacity and nothing else. We would be happy to help.

Recently, in particular, there have been a couple of stories making the rounds. The Salvation Army responded to those directly a little while back and I am happy to provide the link for your information:

Of these two stories, one is a complete fabrication, which is terrible for all parties involved.

The other is an example of one individual - who was employed by The Salvation Army in Australia - saying things that in no way reflect the beliefs of the Army. Immediately - without delay - The Salvation Army across the world came out against those statements, making it clear that while this person was employed by us, he in no way reflected our previously posted and still adhered to beliefs. Our organization is very large - in Canada alone we are in 400 communities and employ 10,000 people - and now are in almost 130 countries. You add all that up and it's a lot of people who 'represent' the Army, and unfortunately sometimes people think ways and act ways that don't jive with our posted beliefs of service to all. This is no excuse, just an unfortunate reality,

The very last thing I want to say is that this extends way beyond paper and policy. People share details of their lives beyond what we ask for, so I personally know of clients of ours who are members of the LGBTQ community, and that detail is completely irrelevant when it comes to the services we provide. They are treated no different than anyone else.

I apologize if this response is a little long, but I do hope that after reading it and looking into our official responses to recent issues, that you will agree that when it comes to services that we provide to people in need, our top priority is to not discriminate for any reason.

We would love to have you at the Santa Shuffle. If for any reason, you decide the Santa Shuffle is not for you, obviously that's fine, but I am glad that you asked this question, and I hope that I have helped shed a little light on the matter.

Have a good evening,

Daniel Bonner
Communications Specialist
Maritime Division
Public Relations and Development
Well then.

I feel like I'm back to "Who do I believe?"  I doubt if they really are a homophobic group that Daniel would have written that in an email to me.  He is after all a Communications Specialist in the Public Relations and Development department. But he talks a good talk and makes it sound like they are very inclusive.

I still don't know if I'm going to enter the race and I rarely make cash donations to anyone standing outside a store, bells or no bells, so I don't think that habit will change.

Who do you believe on this one?  Do you know anyone who is an active member of the Salvation Army?  Do you know anyone who has ever been helped by them?  Have you ever personally been discriminated by them?

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