(Editor's note: Last week's SDGLN Poll asked the question: Do you give to Salvation Army despite its anti-gay beliefs? The results, which are not scientific, reveal that 37% of readers say that they give to Salvation Army, while 63% say they don't give to Salvation Army because of its policy on homosexuality. This commentary by Sean Sala offers another perspective on why the LGBT community should help this well-known charity known for its red kettles at Christmastime.)
The Salvation Army has recently come under fire due to its status as an "evangelical" entity within the not-for-profit community. There have been multiple calls from coalitions across the nation saying that the LGBT community should not give anything to support this "biased organization."
I am all for boycotting groups that are unjust or promote campaigns of inequality that hinder the growth of freedom for LGBT people. I often admire stories from the past, recounting people like Harvey Milk who led some incredible boycotts that made industries think twice about attacking or belittling gay people.
Today, I think Doug Manchester wishes he had a time machine after his Manchester Hyatt hotel in San Diego lost millions of dollars following his promotion for the passage of Proposition 8, which took away marriage equality in California.
But, in the name of tactful and thoughtful battling, we must remember that the nation, especially today, is watching the gay community with eagle eyes because our civil-rights battle is one of tremendous debate on the national stage.
So think about this example.
A nice Christian woman is making a pie at her house. Christmas music playing, and there is a glowing Christmas tree nearby. Then, her television breaks to the evening news, in which a news anchor announces that "gays and lesbians are boycotting the Salvation Army because they are a Christian organization."
The woman has been a church attendee her entire life. She is married and has three kids in college, and loves her country and her God. Also, a close friend of hers had recently been supported by the Salvation Army when she was hungry and in need.
To this woman, when she hears about this boycott, she does not hear a champion declaration: "Harvey Milk brings beer industry to its knees.” Rather, she hears: "Gays are boycotting a wonderful organization that feeds thousands of people and has saved probably thousands of lives from utter desolation."
In her mind, we fulfill that magical stereotype of “crazy, gay liberals.”
She is turned off by this boycott, she registers to vote and votes "yes" on an anti-gay initiative.
Now let’s look at another woman’s case.
She stands outside the San Diego Civic Center on a chilly Thanksgiving morning. As she adjusts the Salvation Army button on her blue uniform, she feels the tremendous fulfillment that almost 1,000 homeless people and families will get a Thanksgiving meal and have a holiday in an economic climate that has devastated the nation.
As families begin to line up in droves, she sees children smile and senior citizens anticipate the meal ahead of them.
Then a young man approaches her.
Upon introduction, she learns that he is a volunteer for the Carl DeMaio mayoral campaign. As they converse, she reveals her respect and admiration for DeMaio, such as how he has stood by the Salvation Army for years and how much he has done to help the homeless.
Then the subject of sexuality comes up, as it likely does in the minds of many.
Does she see a bleeding, screaming, "crazy gay liberal?"
No, she sees a commendable, smart man say that his sexuality is a non-issue when discussing the treatment of the homeless.
The woman then tells the young man, "DeMaio is the right person for San Diego." To her, she saw the good in the gay, not the labels on the tables.
That young man I’m talking about is me.
In our conversation, she tells me that she was a conservative. Once again, I was shown the power of change that the gay and lesbian community can make if we pick our battles right, roll up our sleeves and instead of boycotting, we live by example and measure the weight of our message.
Our message is so important especially in this day and age. While I don't claim to know everything, I do know this:
At the Salvation Army’s annual Thanksgiving Dinner, I saw children fed. I saw mentally impaired homeless men and women smile simply because they could have a small carton of milk. I was among a group of 10 gay men who volunteered for the event. I confess that the event was one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done in my life. People at the event saw gays helping to feed the homeless.
To some, seeing that is life-changing. The stereotypes they hold will disappear now that they have seen us as people. My friend and my pastor Richard Mcullen of the progressive Mission Gathering Church in North Park says it well:
"I absolutely believe we should donate to the Salvation Army! The only way we're going to overcome evil (those who are bigoted and prejudiced) is by doing good! And definitely do not boycott, we have to put aside some differences for the greater good ... they literally feed hundreds of thousands of people this time of the year. Justice will prevail!"
In this time of our civil-rights struggle, there is a time to fight and a time to serve. This season, give to the Salvation Army and when you do, tell them you are LGBT.
As a matter of full disclosure, SDGLN Publisher Johnathan Hale has a personal relationship with Carl DeMaio. Their relationship in no way impacts the editorial decisions made by Ken Williams, SDGLN Editor in Chief, and does not influence our political coverage. All candidates are allowed to submit two pieces per month for our Commentary page. Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @KenSanDiego on Twitter or at (877) 727-5446, x713.