Michail Takach
Out Look

A Hard Reign of Prejudice Coming?

Trump could open door to discrimination against LGBTQ people.

By - Jan 24th, 2017 11:11 am
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Washington DC FDR Memorial. Photo by Michail Takach.

Washington DC FDR Memorial. Photo by Michail Takach.

As I write this column, a dense fog has fallen over Milwaukee. It’s an appropriate mood for the murky future we now face.

Many Americans approached the inauguration of Donald Trump with anxiety and apprehension. People are worried: about the economy, about international relations, about healthcare, about decades of hard-won social progress being reversed, and for many reasons more. If there was any solidarity to be found this past weekend, it wasn’t at the Inauguration. It was found in streets across America, as millions of people joined the women’s marches in protest against discrimination.

After months of hearing we had nothing to worry about, we’re witnessing an unapologetically anti-LGBTQ presidential cabinet take shape. People with deeply exclusionary beliefs could soon manage every aspect of American lives — education, housing, transportation, health and human services, intelligence, justice – which could be devastating to the people they were appointed to serve.

We now hear people actually saying, “we don’t have to be politically correct anymore,” as if they’ve been excused from human decency. At the same time, our exiting president stated yesterday that LGBTQ civil rights progress will be impossible to reverse because American society has changed.  

That’s true – to some extent. We now believe that normalizing discrimination isn’t normal. We expect our leaders, companies and community organizations to demonstrate fair and equal treatment to all citizens. Even the most noble of brands have experienced tarnish and turmoil for not living up to our expectations.

The Salvation Army is a perfect example. Founded in 1865 by Minister William Booth, the Salvation Army is a 501c3 non-profit serving 31 million people each year at over 7,500 branches nationwide. From every dollar, 82 cents are reinvested in community programs in every U.S. ZIP code. The year-end Red Kettle Campaign provides not only winter meal and housing assistance, but also year-round emergency services.

So, why has such a long-respected organization spent the 21st century defending its mission and purpose? Why has it been criticized on the right for its tolerance while simultaneously condemned on the left for its intolerance?

In recent years, the Salvation Army has struggled to reconcile its historic Bible-based message with a modern mission of meeting all human needs without discrimination. This is a religious organization that faithfully believes in the biblical definition of marriage as one man and one woman. At the same time, the organization states that no one will be turned away for identifying as LGBTQ.

That vision, however, has been somewhat inconsistent with the reality:

Protester at Salvation Army site. Photo from Twitter.

Protester at Salvation Army site. Photo from Twitter.

As a youth, journalist Bil Browning and his boyfriend were denied assistance at a Salvation Army shelter unless they agreed to break up. They slept on the street instead. There are reports of clients being rejected for being “sexually impure,” being sick with AIDS, or refusing to pray in exchange for assistance.

By ordinance, San Francisco requires city contractors to provide spousal benefits for same-sex and opposite-sex partners of employees. In 1998, the Salvation Army of the United States declined a $3.5 million city contract, resulting in a reduction of homeless and senior services. In 2004, the Salvation Army threatened to close homeless services in New York City for similar reasons.

In 2001, the Salvation Army attempted to broker a deal with the Bush administration to allow federally-funded religious charities to be exempt from anti-discrimination ordinances. The Human Rights Campaign responded, “Gays and lesbians are taxpayers, too… Their money should not be used by religious groups to fund discriminatory practices against them.”

Although the Salvation Army is opposed to the death penalty, abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia, the leader of an Australian branch of the group implied in 2012 that gay people should be put to death. “Members do not believe, and would never endorse, a view that homosexual activity should result in any form of physical punishment,” responded the Salvation Army.

In 2012, a Vermont case worker from Green Bay, Wisconsin was fired immediately by the Salvation Army when she was found to be bisexual, on the grounds that her behavior was incompatible with the beliefs of the organization. Gays, lesbians and bisexuals can only serve if they remain celibate.

Until 2013, the Salvation Army website actually read, “Scripture opposes homosexual practices by direct comment and also by clearly implied disapproval. The Bible treats such practices as self-evidently abnormal.” The site also advertised links to websites advertising therapy that promised to turn gay people straight.

In 2014, Jodielynn Wiley sought refuge at a Dallas shelter after receiving death threats for being transgender. She was turned away after refusing to discuss whether or not she’d had full gender confirmation surgery.

After marriage equality laws gains in many states in 2014, the Salvation Army reminded officers (in a famously leaked memo) that they were prohibited from marrying same-sex couples at any time, or attending same-sex weddings in uniform. Either offense would result in immediate termination. The Salvation Army also joined evangelical leaders in declaring same-sex marriage a threat to religious freedom.

Last year, a high-ranking U.K. official stated that LGBTQ officers were still not welcome in the Salvation Army. “You could volunteer for us, you could come to our church services, but if you want to become a solider in the Salvation Army, you have to commit to what we believe,” said Commissioner Clive Adams.

By the 2014 holiday season, outrage had kicked into fourth gear. People began harassing the bell ringers themselves, not realizing that many were recruited from within shelters and were not Salvation Army policymakers. Online campaigns on NoRedKettles.com, Red Kettle Menace and Reddit made a deep dent into seasonal donations.

In response, the Salvation Army launched a public relations campaign confirming it was neither against LGBT people, nor funding anti-LGBT causes. “People who come to us for assistance will be served according to their need and our capacity to help – regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation,” reads the LGBT Community page on the Salvation Army website.

The Salvation Army also created Echelon, a young professionals group focused on critical community action.

Echelon Milwaukee. Photo courtesy of Echelon Milwaukee.

Echelon Milwaukee. Photo courtesy of Echelon Milwaukee.

“Echelon’s main focus from Day One has been to create as much impact, awareness and goodwill as we can, with the most talented, committed and passionate members out there,” said Brandon Tschacher of Echelon Milwaukee, which launched in 2014. “It takes big dreamers combined with those willing to pound the pavement to get something done, our group is lucky to have a mix of both.”

Through events like Dinner in the Alley, Served, food drives and shelter makeovers, Echelon has become a progressive and positive front face for the Salvation Army organization. I applaud them for taking this stand.

We’re now seeing the group evolving and changing, and their efforts have paid off. Last week, the Salvation Army of Milwaukee County reported it raised $4.2 million during the annual Red Kettle Campaign – surpassing its annual goal through the hard work of 1,280 individuals and 30,000 hours of bell ringing.

The Salvation Army story shows how America has changed. We’ve become very comfortable holding brands, individuals, and non-profit organizations accountable for taking socially responsible and morally defendable actions. But imagine a world where there are no such accountabilities, expectations or guarantees. Imagine living in an America where the Bill of Rights is subject to individual interpretation.

That’s the goal of the First Amendment Defense Act, first introduced in June 2015, which literally grants the freedom to discriminate. The act would not only prohibit the federal government from taking action against anyone accused of discriminatory practices, but would allow the accused to sue the government for interfering with their right to discriminate. Valuing personal beliefs higher than the law of the land, this legislation would render civil rights laws unenforceable.  Corporations – regardless of for-profit or non-profit status – could essentially do whatever they wanted, invoking a mission statement defense.

The everyday lives of LGBTQ Americans, along with other minority groups, would be immediately destabilized. Whether applying for a home loan, interviewing for a new job, making a purchase in a local store, hailing a taxi, hiring a repair service, or even seeking emergency medical care or police protection, individuals would always have to wonder if they’ll be rejected due to some real or perceived “objection.”

This isn’t science fiction. This isn’t paranoia. This could easily become standard operating procedure. Certainly there are many members of the Trump administration who would support such an approach.

“The First Amendment Defense Act invites widespread, devastating discrimination against LGBT people,” said Jennifer Pfizer, law and policy director at Lambda Legal. “It is an unconstitutional effort to turn back the clock. Heads will spin at how fast constitutional challenges will fly into court.”

Twenty-five years ago, MTV asked “what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real?” I think we’re finally getting the answer.

Categories: LGBT, Out Look, Politics

10 thoughts on “Out Look: A Hard Reign of Prejudice Coming?”

  1. Eric Euteneier says:

    There is a HUGE job ahead and its not just for the LGBTQ community, it will be for humanity as we know it.

  2. Jason says:

    This from the Hill, a liberal political website titled “Memo to the LGBT community”. In the 1980s & 1990s Trump donated heavily to charities that focused on the AIDS outbreak. When he floated a third party presidential run in 1999 he went on record saying he would consider adding sexual orientation to the Civil Rights Act. Trump is also believed to be the first private club owner in Palm Beach — in this case Mar-a-Lago — to admit a gay couple. This is not the resume of an LGBT foe.

  3. Vincent Hanna says:

    ’80s and ’90s? That’s a long time ago. What are his views now Jason? And why are you such a shill for him? In every post about Trump and even in posts not about him you carry his water no matter what. Why? You really think that highly of him?

  4. Jason says:

    Vince in the 1980’s a lot of Democrats were determined not to give any federal funding to AID’s research. Think about how many beautiful souls were consumed by this curable disease. Give Trump some credit for helping to save precious lives.

  5. Vincent Hanna says:

    Is that sarcasm? What are his views now Jason? And why are you such a shill for him? In every post about Trump and even in posts not about him you carry his water no matter what. Why? You really think that highly of him?

  6. Jaizon says:

    I’m not really seeing Trump’s support for LGBTQ people in his cabinet selections, sir. Tell me how, when and where he’s expressing his “support” for the LGBTQ community. I really need to hear and see it right now. ARTICLE: http://nymag.com/thecut/2016/11/so-far-every-member-of-trumps-cabinet-opposes-lgbt-rights.html

    As for his AIDS support in the 80s and 90s, well, it certainly seemed to be only at the most media-convenient and self-serving times, but does that surprise anyone? Trump wanted to be perceived as a champion for children with AIDS (a safer, more “innocent” cause in 1996 than helping gay men who were infected through methods perceived to be LESS innocent at the height of the crisis) and literally attached himself to someone else’s philanthropy JUST to get some press. That’s not support for PWA. That’s stolen valor, in my opinion, from those who actually stood up, spoke up and acted up as champions in the AIDS crisis. ARTICLE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-boasts-of-his-philanthropy-but-his-giving-falls-short-of-his-words/2016/10/29/b3c03106-9ac7-11e6-a0ed-ab0774c1eaa5_story.html

  7. Jason says:

    Jaizon, Peter Thiel is a big supporter of Trump and is a close economic adviser. Richard Grenner could be up for one of the top Ambassadorships and Mary Cheney endorsed Trump so she may fit into the Trump house. Trump as publicly stated that gay marriage is the law of the land. On a different note, I really don’t see why the LGBT community is more pro gun. If a segment of the community feels that it will be victimized more often then the rest of society, why not arm yourself?

  8. Vincent Hanna says:

    No doubt you do find it difficult to understand why more human beings don’t want to carry firearms everywhere they go. First you’d have to be human.

  9. Ashlii says:

    You might want to read this article before commenting like that. Maybe do a little homework on June 12, 2016. That experience might explain why the LGBTQ community doesn’t embrace guns. It was only a national historic tragedy, after all. The problem isn’t that there aren’t enough guns. There are 30 million in the US alone. The problem is that there are too many guns.

    And let’s be clear, no amount of guns are going to save us from the Freedom To Discriminate law. As you’ll find out when whatever bucket you can be dumped in, by a unfairly discriminating population, is the one not being served due to deep moral convictions.

  10. Tom D says:

    Jason, so what if Trump once supported the LGBT community?

    That was back when Trump said he was pro-choice and declared himself a Democrat when he registered to vote.

    (NY primary elections are “closed”, meaning that only people who have “enrolled” in a particular party are permitted to vote in that party’s primary elections. As recently as 2012, Trump was enrolled as a Democrat—thereby choosing not to vote in any Republican primary elections.)

    Bottom line: today’s Donald Trump holds very different positions than yesterday’s.

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