By now, the vision of a coat-clad volunteer standing in the winter cold ringing a hand-held bell and holding out a kettle to collect money for the Salvation Army charity is as familiar a scene at Christmas as pot-bellied men in red suits and fake white beards bouncing little boys and girls on their knees at the mall.
But this year, in an ironic twist that seems to be lost on the group's leaders, the Salvation Army is asking everyone to give when it is in the business of taking away.
The Salvation Army is the country's largest charity.
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Recently, the national offices of the Salvation Army stopped dead in its tracks a new policy by the organization's western division that would grant benefits to the domestic partners of Salvation Army employees. The group's leaders instead codified a different national policy that usurped a regional division's ability to determine its employee coverage. Furthermore, the group's national office announced that benefits were limited solely to heterosexual spouses and their dependent children.
Upset by the Salvation Army's discriminatory policy...and its heavy-handed approach to squashing progressive regional leadership on the issue...several activist groups have been dropping something other than dollar bills in those famous collection kettles this year.
Instead of money, many activists are encouraging gays and lesbians and their supporters to drop a message to the group. Dubbed a "reminder bill," this message ( much of it printed on mock "queer dollars" ) states: "I would have donated $5 dollars, but the Salvation Army's decision to discriminate against gay and lesbian employees prevents my donation now and in the future. Change your discriminatory policy."
The plan to deliver a message instead of money to the Salvation Army was the brainchild of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG. It is a smart idea in many ways. First, it tells the Salvation Army that it can't expect people to give to an organization that is so blatantly biased against gays and lesbians. And it allows many people who are not normally good at confrontation to be activists and get their voices heard in a simple but effective and dignified manner. And, hopefully, it will send a signal to the Salvation Army that its bigotry is costing it money.
But since the message campaign got under way, another group has proposed a slight modification to the note.
A Washington, D.C.-based organization that calls itself Equal Partners in Faith is encouraging people to drop the Salvation Army a modified message: Rather than telling the Salvation Army you're not giving money this year, pledge to give the group a donation when...and only when...it changes its anti-gay policy.
Equal Partners in Faith describes itself as a national network of religious leaders and people of faith who "oppose the manipulation of religion to promote inequality and exclusion."
While I think both ideas are good ones, the modified action suggested by Equal Partners in Faith has a few benefits. It still shows the Salvation Army that we and our supporters are out there. It still sends the group the message that their discrimination is wrong. And it still allows a wide group of people to participate in this kind of action.
But as Equal Partners in Faith points out, making a future pledge promises to give money rather than take it away. It promises to reward rather than to punish.
Furthermore, it puts the onus directly on the Salvation Army: Donors are telling it plain and clear that the money is there, waiting to be handed over, as soon as the organization does the right thing.
With a group like the Salvation Army that is so heavily religiously influenced, it's arguable whether either action will result in an immediate change of policy.
But there is much to be said for trying positive encouragement, by showing an organization that if they support us, we will support them. There's certainly little to lose by the approach suggested by Equal Partners in Faith.
The important thing, of course, is to let the Salvation Army know that its policy of discrimination is unacceptable. Regardless of whichever of the approaches best suits your temperament, I hope you'll choose one and drop a message to the Salvation Army in a kettle near you.
Bah humbug to the Salvation Army's bigotry.
To print off a copy of the protest "Queer dollars," go to: http://hometown.aol.com/aracleveland/queerdollar.html
To print off a copy of the pledge coupon, go to: http:// www.us.net/epf/Coupon.htm
Windy City Times has also been running fake bills for the Salvation Army in December. See samples this issue.
Dahir receives e-mail at MubarakDah@aol.com