The Salvation Army has a new campaign where it “debunks the myth of LGBT discrimination.” They want people to believe that they aren’t anti-gay or bigoted. Here is what they had to say on their website:
“For years, Facebook posts, forwarded emails and rumors have been leading some people to believe that The Salvation Army does not serve members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. These accusations simply aren’t true….Many people – including those in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community – support us with time and financial resources because of a common cause and commitment…More than 20 percent of all residents staying at The Salvation Army’s youth homeless shelter in St. Paul voluntarily identified themselves as gay or lesbian.”
Salvation Army should be applauded for what appear to be positive steps in the right direction, assuming the changes they are trumpeting are genuine. I sincerely want to support this organization because it undoubtedly does some good work. However, the organization still has a way to go before I can tell people to drop change in their bucket.
For example, I discovered today that the Salvation Army refers clients to as least two “ex-gay” ministries. The first group in question is Harvest USA, which was an Exodus International affiliate (formerly the world’s largest ex-gay group), before Exodus disbanded. According to Harvest USA’s website:
Harvest USA began in 1983, as an outreach ministry in Center City, Philadelphia to the homosexual community to provide hope in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The ministry reached out to men and women who heard the gospel and desired to leave behind the gay lifestyle.
The second group in question is Pure Life Ministries. This is the sexual addiction group where “ex-gay” activist Michael Johnston was sent after attorney Michael Hamar and I caught him having bareback orgies with men. (Johnston is now an employee of this ministry) Here is what the group is saying on its website:
Whether you’re addicted to masturbation, ensnared in Internet pornography, struggling with homosexuality, or merely battling an onslaught of impure desires, you’ve come to the right place.
How can the Salvation Army expect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people – and the people who love and support them – to donate when the organization gives referrals to noxious ministries that try to pray away the gay?
Salvation Army needs to retreat and get its act together. Either they are a pro-gay organization that supports equality or they believe that homosexuality is a sickness that can be cured. They can’t have it both ways, and even the greatest PR pros in the world won’t be able to square this circle.
It is inexcusable – even cruel – for Salvation Army to refer vulnerable addicts to abusive programs that will further diminish their self-respect and self-esteem. Pure Life and Harvest USA promote junk science and witch doctor practices that place the mental health and well being of LGBT clients at risk.
The American Psychiatric Association states in its position statement, Psychiatric Treatment and Sexual Orientation: “The potential risks of ‘reparative therapy’ are great, including depression, anxiety and self destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self hatred already experienced by the patient.”
How can the Salvation Army be pro-gay, if they are sending people to hellholes that lead to “depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior?”
My guess is that the Salvation Army’s leaders acutely understand that overt homophobia no longer sells in much of the country. They turn on the news and notice that sixteen states allow gay couples to marry. This number is only going to climb, with lawsuits pending in several states. Salvation Army can’t afford to be viewed as a backward and bigoted organization, because it would cost them a significant amount of money. Additionally, their reputation would take a severe hit, tarnishing their brand, particularly among youth who are repulsed by anti-gay propaganda.
The Salvation Army’s new campaign is refreshing, but it is merely spin if upper management still believes that being gay is a sin. Given the level of duplicity, I don’t want to hear from this group’s PR specialists. I want to hear where the organization stands directly from National Commander David Jeffrey.
If the top brass cannot unambiguously articulate strong support for LGBT people, than I would recommend that the pubic find more welcoming charities in which to place their hard earned money.
I look forward to the day when I can feel good about hearing the Salvation Army bell during the holidays. However, until this organization’s actions match their words, their shiny, new message is nothing more than PR bells and whistles.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”