Earlier this month, several gay rights organziations called for the boycott of the Salvation Army’s iconic red kettle drive, and instead to donate money to LGBT-friendly charitable groups. Of course, this isn’t the first time that LGBTQ civil rights organizations have called attention to the “homosexuality-as-sin” philosophy the Salvation Army espouses. It also isn’t the first time that the gay community has urged people, in support of LGBTQ rights and acceptance, to donate their money elsewhere during the holiday season. For any readers who might be unfamiliar with the Salvation Army’s stance on homosexuality, the following passage is an excerpt from the Salvation Army’s position statement on this issue:
“Scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex. . . . Likewise, there is no scriptural support for demeaning or mistreating anyone for reason of his or her sexual orientation. The Salvation Army opposes any such abuse. In keeping with these convictions, the services of The Salvation Army are available to all who qualify, without regard to sexual orientation.”
Essentially, by denouncing both homosexuality and mistreatment of others, the Salvation Army takes the position of “hate the sin, but love the sinner. “And because the Salvation Army swaddles their anti-homosexuality stance with some degree of compassion (note the above statements regarding mistreatment), the general public has reacted with some hostility to the red kettle boycott. Take this comment, for example, posted on MSNBC’s website by a self-identified “supporter” of LGBTQ civil rights:
“I support the right of homosexuals to marry and live their lives as they please. . .it hurts no one. But urging people to stop donating to a group that helps people in need, well, that seems stupid to me.”
And this comment, suggesting that the gay community is angrily targeting the “good guys”:
“The Salvation Army isn’t perfect, but it is widely regarded as one of the best-ran charities in the world and has been consistently ranked in the top 5 large charities for efficiency, low administration costs and for providing transparency and accountability for its fundraising efforts.”
And this – a statement that insinuates that, when you’re homeless and starving, sexual orientation doesn’t matter:
“I do hope you are never on the street hungry and broke. You would run to the nearest SA soup kitchen. When you go in, they ask for your name, and if you have a place to live, and if you are working. Then they feed you, give you a place to sleep if you need it. That’s all. No who do you have sex with, what church do you go to, or what political party do you vote for.”
But sexual orientation DOES matter. In 2007, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force issued a report titled “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth: An Epidemic of Homelessness,” a comprehensive review of the available academic research and professional literature on LGBTQ homelessness. According to the report, 26 percent of LGBTQ teens are kicked out of their homes upon coming out (or after being outed by someone else). LGBTQ homeless teens are at significant risk for mental health issues like depression and suicidality, substance abuse, risky sexual behaviors and “survival sex” (sex in exchange for money, drugs, food, clothes, or a place to stay), and victimization (LGBTQ homeless youth are 7 times more likely than their heterosexual peers to be victims of a crime). One in five transgender people need or are at risk of needing homeless shelter assistance. Obviously there are many factors that contribute to homelessness, but numerous studies indicate that homophobia is a significant force that drives LGBTQ youth out onto the streets.
Several studies, a number of which were cited in the Task Force report, indicate that LGBTQs commonly have negative experiences in the shelter system because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. To me, this isn’t surprising, given that we live in a homophobic and heterosexist society. However, the issue is likely compounded by the fact that many homeless services are run by faith-based organizations that oppose LGBTQ civil rights – such as the Salvation Army. Even if the attitude is “love the sinner, hate the sin,” I think it’s fair to say that LGBTQ homeless youth – particularly those who have been traumatized by the homophobia of their families – would rather starve, or sleep on the streets, or prostitute themselves for money or a place to stay, than stay in one of these shelters. They are, in a sense, chilly, inhospitable environments for LGBTQ youth. And this is why gay rights organizations have called for the boycott of the red kettle campaign.
“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn“(Luke 2:7). People who belong to historically marginalized groups know exactly what this feels like. In our culture, where homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, and heterosexism are in the water we drink and in the air we breathe, LGBTQs often feel like there’s no room at the inn. In my opinion, that’s a very powerful reality to reflect upon during this Christmas season. And it’s the change we can collectively work towards – a culture that embraces all people. A culture in which, when oppression comes knocking at the door, the “No Vacancy” sign starts flashing.
Merry Christmas, and peace on earth to all.