By: Amber Leventry
The clanging sounds of handbells outside of store fronts and grocery stores are getting louder as each day brings us closer to Christmas. It’s the Giving Season and the volunteers standing next to the Salvation Army red kettles multiply this time of year with the mission to bring in as many donations as possible for those in need. But the Salvation Army has a long history of anti-LGBTQ discrimination, and as much as they depend on the kindness of others, their policies have divided those willing to be generous.
I am queer, a mama to three kids, and outspoken about the rights I and my family should have. Regardless of my sexual orientation, biological connection to my children, or what conservatives and various religions say, I deserve to feel respected, protected, and equal. I would be completely validated if I said I will never support the Salvation Army, a non-profit that has unapologetically closed shelters, fired employees, and turned away individuals because of their sexual orientation. I could easily find another charity without this harmful history that does similar work for families and individuals in need.
Yet on my refrigerator is a tag with a teenage girl’s name on it who needs boots, mittens, and a coat. The child is being helped through the Salvation Army’s Christmas Assistance program.
This is the third year we have selected a child’s name hanging from a Christmas tree in one of our favorite, local, queer-friendly businesses. When the business first chose to be a host to the Salvation Army angel tags, the owner asked if I was okay with their decision. Because I and many of her customers and employees identify as LGBTQ, she felt like she had to explain her reasons for supporting an organization which has discriminated against people similar to those she values and loves.
I was not conflicted. I did not need an explanation. There was a baby who needed diapers and formula. When I picked that tag, I chose to support that child, not the Salvation Army. Last year I picked a boy who needed clothes and wanted tickets to the movies so he could join his friends when they went out on a Friday night. This year, I and my partner will be sure a girl has items to keep her warm throughout another cold Vermont winter.
I could easily look at the logo on the tag and say no, I won’t help because of politics. It would be easy to ignore a piece of paper because I am offended by what the Salvation Army has done to my fellow LGBTQ family members. I could easily put my own needs and desires above someone else’s. But the fixer, the helper, and the healer at my core push me above the obvious reasons to not support this organization. My belief in kindness and humanity will not allow me to turn my back on someone because I do not agree with the messenger who delivered their request for help.
I do not know the circumstances in which these children’s names have been written on a tag. I don’t know why one family needs more help than others. I do know that the children in these families have nothing to do with any of it. A child is not to blame for their parent’s choices or needs. Much like refugees being turned away because of fear, or soldiers being shamed for fighting in wars they would rather avoid, children are not to blame for an organization’s bigotry. The innocent should not be the target of my anger.
Ideally, I and everyone else would stop contributing to companies and organizations that oppress and discriminate those undeserving of both. Collectively we would stand together, facing only the most politically correct, ethical, and fair businesses in an effort to tell all others that humanity will not stand for injustice. Our efforts would force them out of business or force them to change their ways. I want that. I long for that. I should be the first one in line to do that.
Instead, I choose to be a part of what the Salvation Army’s motto, Doing The Most Good, actually means. It means each year more than 30 million Americans are given meals, clothing, or shelter. Those 30 million people include a variety of races, ages, and, yes, members of the LGBTQ community. The Salvation Army has a long way to go to change the minds of those who only see the anti-sentiments, but their website now includes language, updated policies, and testimonies of gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals who are living happier and healthier lives because of the Salvation Army.
My support of the Salvation Army’s good means looking through the ugliness and messiness of ignorance. It means looking at the faces of reality and opening my heart to the individuals in the middle. Their good gives people hope. It gives parents a break. It gives children the joy of Christmas morning. Some may say I am part of the problem, not the solution. But I am also the change I want to see in the world, and the world needs more kindness—even when kindness comes where it is not expected.
I choose to take a tag with the red kettle on it because a child deserves to be warm.