It's about that time of year. The red Salvation Army kettles are going up, complete with migraine-inducing bells clammering nonstop in front of retailers, beckoning people to donate their change to help the poor. It's also the time of year when people are going to start posting and reposting articles about the Salvation Army's deplorable record when it comes to LGBT people. This will be followed by nauseating rebuttals insisting the Salvation Army doesn't discriminate, tears from people who volunteer for them because their feelings are terribly hurt by our lack of support, and endless hearsay by people who know a guy who knows a guy whose cousin was helped by the Salvation Army once and by gum it saved her life that winter. I'm also anticipating having to convince my college's queer group for the third year in the row not to involve themselves with the organization because regardless of personal opinions it's really fucking insulting to other queer people.
First, a quick fact, and if you think that this is arguable it's clear I already can't help you: The Salvation Army's very belief system is by its design anti-queer. It doesn't matter if they decided to selectively stop enforcing some of their more bigoted local policies because of the backlash they've gotten for it. The Salvation Army is still a militant, proselytizing Christian group whose main purpose is saving souls, not saving lives. They use the imagery of the military for the same reason other Christian groups use the imagery of the Crusades: They are proudly owning a violent, colonizing history.
This is still true even if they never again in any of their affiliates insist a trans woman be housed with cis men, a gay couple be housed separately, a Pagan or Jew should be fired, or that they should be exempt from the same laws as every other business. Although, let's be honest here: Their track record with these things is so abysmal I'm just waiting for this year's Salvation Army scandal.
Here's the thing that we need to be talking about regardless of whether or not they ever discriminate against: It's really scary that Christian organizations have such a monopoly on necessary care and aid. The fact that so many cities are relying on proselytizing Christian organizations--whether we're talking about charities, hospitals, even seemingly-benign gestures like using churches as voting locations--that's really scary and it's scary that so many people will not acknowledge how scary that is. It's scary to me as a Pagan, a trans person, a queer person, basically as a person whose very existence runs counter to basically everything the Salvation Army and in fact Christianity in general stands for.
When food for the poor is delegated to Christian organizations, poor people are forced to go through Christian channels just to eat. You can argue all damn day about how they totally don't discriminate, but you're still being forced through a toothpaste tube of Christian propaganda to get something you and your family need to survive.
When housing for the poor is delegated to Christian organizations, poor trans people are often forced to choose between the likely unsafe situation of being housed based on assigned sex, trying to stay in the closet (not a possibility for many of us), or not having shelter at all.
When healthcare is delegated to Christian organizations, people often don't get lifesaving abortion care, birth control, or transgender hormone therapy. Many Christian hospitals and healthcare systems simply don't do these things, don't refer people for them, don't acknowledge that they are necessary.
And most horrifyingly, it creates a setup that reinforces the idea that aid is something people need to earn and deserve, and places the definition of said earning and deserving in the hands of an oppressive majority religious institution. The Salvation Army's guiding principles, for example, have everything to do with how Jesusy they are and how hellbound everyone else is, with not one of their core beliefs having anything to do with charity. And that organization--that horrid, bigoted organization--is the arbiter of who is able to get the things they need just to survive. And this looming fact is true regardless of whether or not they ever actually discriminate again.
In the United States especially, people have a ludicrous, irrational love of the Salvation Army because our mythology is already tailored to suck in this earn-and-deserve ethic. It would be so much better, especially for oppressed people, if this responsibility was shifted to a taxpayer-funded government effort (or at least a secular effort), but instead people choose to pump thousands of dollars into literal churches instead. And don't you dare tell me that poor people always have the choice to just go somewhere else. Because of the Salvation Army's prevalence as a cultural icon, they're often the only reasonable place for a family to go to get food, holiday gifts, housing, or other aid. In fact, in the city I used to work, more local charities often have no choice but to refer people to the Salvation Army when the soup kitchen lines get too long.
And that's my position on this matter. I give zero fucks whatsoever if the Salvation Army is nicer to queer people than they used to be. They're still a militant Christian organization, their funding bloated by people who donate for practically no reason other than nostalgia and ubiquity, that is standing as the sole arbiter of aid for a lot of people, and that's fucking horrifying.