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Gay groups boycott Salvation Army red kettle drive

Tim Boyle / Getty Images

Salvation Army bell-ringer Debra Vazquez works near her red donation kettle Dec. 20, 2005. in Park Ridge, Ill.

The Salvation Army’s annual red kettle fundraising campaign is not getting a ringing endorsement from gays and lesbians.

Gay-rights groups are urging a boycott of donations to the iconic holiday bell-ringers, saying the Salvation Army has a history of discriminating against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people -- a charge the charity denies.

“As the holidays approach, the Salvation Army bell ringers are out in front of stores dunning shoppers for donations. If you care about gay rights, you'll skip their bucket in favor of a charity that doesn't actively discriminate against the LGBT community,” Bil Browning, editor-in-chief of The Bilerico Project, a national LGBT blog, wrote in a recent post titled "Why You Shouldn't Donate to the Salvation Army Bell Ringers."

"While you might think you're helping the hungry and homeless by dropping a few dollars in the bright red buckets, not everyone can share in the donations. Many LGBT people are rejected by the evangelical church charity because they're ‘sexually impure.'”

“We are urging a boycott of the Salvation Army because it uses its selective interpretation of the Bible to promote discrimination against LGBT people in employment benefits and leadership positions within the Army,” Andy Thayer, co-founder, Gay Liberation Network, told msnbc.com in an email.

"Of all the very many, often bizarre, prohibitions mentioned in Leviticus, the Army chooses to single out and promote the few prohibitions against gays, which suggests to us that it is bigotry, not literal Bible belief, that motivates their actions."

The Salvation Army, a charitable evangelical Christian organization that provides aid and services to the needy, denies that it discriminates against anyone.

"Nothing can be further from the truth," Lt. Col. Ralph Bukiewicz, divisional commander of the Salvation Army Metropolitan Division, told msnbc.com on Wednesday.

The charitable organization notes that its services are available to all who qualify, without regard to sexual orientation.

“In our policies, in our practices, in our programs and in our eligibility for any service within the Salvation Army, there is not a request for any details concerning sexual orientation,” says Bukiewicz.

Gay-rights advocates contend the organization has a history of lobbying for “anti-gay” policies and legislation. As an example, Browing says that in 2004 the Salvation Army threatened to close all their soup kitchens for the homeless in New York to protest the city's decision to require vendors and charities doing business with the city to adhere to the state’s civil rights laws forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Gays and celibacy
On its national website, the Salvation Army says it holds "a positive view of human sexuality" and does not consider same-sex orientation "blameworthy in itself.”

The position statement on homosexuality goes on to say: “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.”

Browning says the Salvation Army has denied services to LGBT people unless they renounce their sexuality or end their same-sex relationships -- a charge Bukiewicz denies.

"I've seen the discrimination the Salvation Army preaches first hand,” Browning wrote. “When a former boyfriend and I were homeless, the Salvation Army insisted we break up before they'd offer assistance. We slept on the street instead and declined to break up as they demanded.”

Browning, Thayer and other gay-rights activists are urging people to ignore the sidewalk and storefront red kettle bell-ringers and instead redirect their holiday donations to other charities.

Bukiewicz says the campaign by gay-rights groups is based on “erroneous understanding.” He notes their boycott actions in previous years haven’t put a crimp in holiday donations.

Last year, Salvation Army raised a record $142 million during its Christmas appeal campaign, the most noticeable component of which are the red kettles. That was a 5 percent increase over the previous year.

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