I guess I was just naive. Until I came out many years ago, and started working in the transgender and gay community, I just assumed that those purporting to do good to others just naturally had to be good people themselves. That's when I started learning about how insidious religious fanaticism can really be. And the harm that can be done in the name of godliness.
The Salvation Army is case in point.
I have had some strange experiences in my life, not all of which I am proud. Some of them I haven't talked about, not even with my best friends, or even thought about in many years. But they all contributed in some way to making me who I am.
For example, when I was a teenager, I wound up for a few days in a homeless shelter. I was a rebellious youth, who ran away from home, and found out that it was more difficult to live out on my own than I had imagined. Although I knew that I always had that rescue net of a home to go back to if I couldn't make it, I was determined to make it on my own. I chose the rescue mission instead of the rescue net.
And so I spent my first few nights in a shelter in a Southern town in the mid '60s, when towns were small and minds were smaller. The shelter was run by a Fundamentalist church, and the meager meals of black-eyed peas and grits were served up with a whopping big helping of preaching. Needless to say, attendance at the sermon was mandatory.
I only had to stay in that shelter for a couple of nights, and they were able to find me some work with a landscape gardener, doing manual labor planting trees along the parkway. It wasn't much, but the job that they found me gave me the means to make it back home, to the warmth and safety, and to the love of my parents.
I never forgot that experience. It made me conscious of the problem of homelessness. But beyond that it made me personally aware of the humanity of the people who through no fault of their own find themselves without a shelter, and who don't have a safety net as I did.
And so through the years, I have resolved to make contributions to those who care for the homeless. Including the Salvation Army. I certainly do not believe in their Fundamentalist ethic, but I looked past that aspect of their mission to the good that they were doing by providing shelter for those who needed rescuing.
Until a few years ago that is. That's when I started hearing about how the Salvation Army in San Francisco actually stopped serving meals to seniors rather than take city funds that came with a requirement of offering domestic-partner benefits to their employees. Their homophobia was so deeply rooted that they turned away millions of dollars from the city, and denied food to thousands of elderly people ... and so I stopped sending them contributions.
And then I started learning about how they have been discriminating against transgender people, several well-documented cases having occurred over the last few months. Last winter, two transsexual women were refused shelter and evicted from a Salvation Army refuge in Canada. And the same thing happened two weeks ago in Georgia.
And then ... the news breaks about the evil conspiracy between the Salvation Army and the White House to overturn decades of advancement in civil rights by sanctioning discrimination with federal funds. It is just evil!
Over the last few years, it has been hard to pass by those incessant bell ringers, and those tone-deaf trombone players, and those off-key carolers outside of Marshall Field's on State Street during the Christmas season. They were part of my childhood, and those ear-assaulting sounds were very nostalgic. Nothing about them has changed from the time when my mom would take me by the hand to look in wonder at the endless Toyland and the fantastical animated dolls in the windows.
Then it hit me ... those soldiers in the Salvation Army are in reality just leftover animatronics. They are the toys that time forgot, stuck in an anachronistic time-warp, forever destined to wear those same unfashionable maroon outfits year after year after year. Sure, they look like they are alive, but if you peer into their eyes, they are hollow. Soulless zombies. Observers of life, but somehow remaining unaffected by it.
How else could they be so cold and uncaring to deny those seniors a crust of bread? How else could they throw those women out in the street to face the ravages of the Canadian winter? How else could they be so blind to the fact that the world has moved on, and they are still in the land that time forgot?
Miranda Stevens-Miller can be reached at MirandaSt1@aol.com