Monday, December 12, 2011

Red Kettles and Rainbows: On Giving Responsibly

One of my most persistent holiday woes is the little red kettle and jingling bell in front of my grocery store. My distaste for this iconic part of the holiday season is motivated by far more than the Holiday Humbugs. To me, they do not represent a warm spirit of charity and altruism; they represent bigotry. The sound of that bell sends a chill down my spine invoking the oppression and intolerance alive and well in my community.
You see, The Salvation Army (TSA) does not approve of homosexuality. Thier official stance, quoted from is:
"Scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex. The Salvation Army believes, therefore, that Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life. There is no scriptural support for same-sex unions as equal to, or as an alternative to, heterosexual marriage.
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." 
They claim to "oppose abuse," but their hypocritical denial doesn't make the harm they do any less real. And their bigoted policies do harm, to their LGBT employees, to those they purport to serve, and to society as a whole. Even aside from specific instances of policy discrimination, the widespread acceptance of an organization espousing such values contributes to a society which tacitly allows for hatred as "just another viewpoint" and enforces a tolerance of bigotry in mainstream society. 

The annual and oft disputed boycot of the red kettles has become routine and almost tiresome. And despite our boycott, they break fundraising records almost every year. But the Salvation Army boycott is one we cannot afford to abandon.

I should be clear that I don’t wish that the Salvation Army did not exist. I don't want to put them out of commission, and I certainly don't want to hurt the people they help. The point of the boycott is not to destroy TSA, it is to make it clear to them that an attitude of bigotry is no longer acceptable, to their donors or to the society they purport to serve.

Giving to charity isn’t like other types of shopping. When it comes to buying a product, a company's social and environmental policies must be balanced with the price and quality of the product they offer. Sometimes we make compromises and buy from a company we don't agree with simply because we like their product. Usually, if we're willing to look, we can find a comparable product from a politically progressive and environmentally sound company, but it is unrealistic to hope that every dollar we spend will go to a company we whole-heartedly support. Giving to charity isn't about convenience nor is there a product to be purchased. There is no excuse to compromise. Charity is about supporting a cause and helping others. Supporting an organization whose policies and beliefs help to perpetuate a cuture of oppression and inequality goes directly against the spirit of giving, even if some of that organization's actions are indeed charitable. When you donate to an organization you throw your name and your voice behind everything that organization stands for. So do your research and make sure it is a cause you actually agree with.

There are plenty of great charities out there that don't support bigotry: try the American Red Cross, the Trevor Project, Save the Children, or your local shelter or food bank. You have options, so if you don't think same-sex sex is evil, if you don't think all queer people should live celibate lives, if you believe everyone has the right to marriage, choose a charity that shares those views. In short, if you are LGBT or especially if you are an ally (we love our allies!), then for G-d's sake, give responsibly this holiday season and don't put your spare change in the little red kettle.


  1. Hello Leah! I am one of Caitlin's good friends from college- we lived across the hall from each other freshman year and soon learned that we are like twins in many ways. She may have referred to me as her "supertwin". :) I just read your blog, and it's great! and I am a picky reader. I look forward to reading more soon!

  2. Hi Kaity! Caitlin has indeed called you her "supertwin," and I think we met at least a couple times at Bryn Mawr. I'm glad you enjoyed reading my blog, it's always nice to hear someone's actually reading what I write!