QUEERTY EXCLUSIVE

Officer Speaks Candidly About Life And Struggles As A Bisexual Man Inside The Salvation Army

Screen shot 2014-12-23 at 3.59.36 PM“I am a bisexual Salvation Army officer [who’s] still in the closet,” Patrick (not his real name) tells Queerty in an exclusive interview.

Patrick reached out via email earlier this month after reading our story on the Salvation Army’s video defending the charity’s past treatment of the LGBT community. He provided the previously unreleased internal documents that exposed the discriminatory practices within the Salvation Army.

“Despite all of this negative information you have received concerning how the Salvation Army treats the LGBT community,” he says. “I enjoy the ministry we have. I love helping people out. I’m not in it for the money. I’m here to serve God by helping others. That being said, if I were to [publicly] go against my superiors, I would be terminated immediately and be left homeless.”

Patrick offers insight into what it’s like as working as an LGBT officer within an an organization that he describes as “at a crossroads” between antigay activism and an acceptance of equality.

Here’s what he had to say:

How long have you been involved with the Salvation Army?

I’ve been an officer in The Salvation Army for over 10 years, but less than 20. For officers, this means they haven’t quite reached the “Long Service Award.” I come from a long line of family members — over four generations — who have grown up in the Salvation Army. It runs in the family. I’m over 40 years old, but only recently came to terms with my bisexuality.

What is the atmosphere like for LGBT officers?

LGBT officers are under scrutiny. There is a lot of fear.

As a Salvation Army officer, I am forbidden from having a boyfriend. I cannot marry a man, even if it is legal in the state where I reside. I cannot officiate as an ordained minister at a same-sex wedding. I cannot wear my uniform at a same-sex wedding. I cannot allow a same-sex wedding to take place in our sanctuary.

Officers who are out are expected to remain celibate. Just how our headquarters goes about verifying this celibacy is beyond me. Most other LGBT officers have been dismissed and have had their ordinations revoked for being in a relationship outside of marriage between a man and a woman.

Why did you decide to provide Commissioner Paul Seiler’s memo?

I feel that this needs to be an open discussion within the Salvation Army. No one has a chance to give his/her opinion. Decisions are made from the top with little input from those out on the field. Those of us with more liberal tendencies are told to be quiet or to find another church to worship at. This is never done on an official level, but will often be done in one-on-one discussions. We are told that we knew what we were getting into when we joined the Army. We shouldn’t expect change.

The whole incident with Major Andrew Craibe from Australia [Craibe advocated for homosexuals to be “put to death” in 2012] forced the Army to quickly distance itself from that mess. However, even though he had expressed himself wrongly, he represents the prevalent thought within the Salvation Army: that LGBT people are choosing their lifestyle and they need to stop. We officers [who don’t believe that] are in a most perilous situation. We cannot go against our superiors publicly because that would show disloyalty and we would be terminated.

Are there people within the organization who are trying to change things?

There is a progressive movement within the Salvation Army, but it is being repressed at every opportunity. The fear that we have as officers is that we are not allowed to voice differences within our organization for fear of being labeled disloyal. This disloyalty normally results in either punitive appointments such as being relegated to an assistant officer or being put on probation. Our military hierarchy promotes efficiency, but restricts our freedom to speak openly and without fear of punishment.

Of course, there is precedence for this. Our own founder, William Booth, forced out two of his own children, Ballington and Herbert, for their questioning his authority.

Why do you think the Salvation Army is so hesitant to accept LGBT people?

I think it’s a financial issue. In the early 2000’s, the Salvation Army in California made a move to extend health insurance benefits to same-sex couples who were employed by them. This caused an outrage from other Christian groups. I think that the Army thinks if they were to fully embrace the LGBT Community, they would lose support from their conservative donors. However, if they are openly hostile to the LGBT community, they risk being called bigots and losing support from the younger generation, which tends to be more accepting of the LGBT community.

What did you think of Jennifer Byrd’s, communications director for the Salvation Army, response to the memo?

I noticed that Ms. Byrd omitted some key points. She doesn’t even address the apparent disparity between “sexual orientation is not a sin” and the fact that officers can only marry or officiate for ceremonies of the opposite genders.

I actually followed up with her on that. I asked her to explain how that wasn’t discriminatory and she wouldn’t give me a clear answer. She just kept saying it was a “theological issue.” She also did not address trans people at all.

Yes, what about the case of trans people? If someone has made a transition from one gender to another, can that person marry someone of the opposite gender, or should they remain celibate, too?

In regards to celibacy, nothing is done to help LGBT officers or even laypeople remain in a state of celibacy. There are no workshops held. It is generally not addressed at camps, conferences, youth activities, etc. There is a huge silence in those regards. So I think it’s hypocritical for them to say that sexual orientation is not sin, but even though it’s not a sin, you can’t express your sexual orientation. It’s also hypocritical of them to offer no support to any LGBT person.

If you’ll notice between the lines, the hope is that these people will simply choose not to worship at the Salvation Army. Sort of like Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation” theory. In those regards they have had many “successes.” I know so many people in the LGBT community who have been hurt by the Salvation Army and forced to leave as members in our church.

What do you make of the media’s response the leaked memo?

In viewing all of the recent newscasts that have come out because of your article, I am struck by this one fact:  Most people do not realize that Salvation Army officers are not employees. Because of this fact, the Salvation Army can state truthfully that they do not discriminate in their hiring practices. It’s a stupid regulation that we have, but all Salvation Army officers are technically considered self-employed. I receive an allowance and housing (parsonage).

Given everything, why do you stay? Why not find another church? Why not go some place more accepting?

I stay is because I believe in the mission of The Salvation Army: to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name without discrimination. If I focus just on that one particular aspect of negativity, I would miss out on all the positive things we actually do. Right now I won’t leave unless that terminate me as an officer.

However, with the Salvation Army “hunkering down” on some of these issues, it has become more and more difficult to function.

Related stories:

Here’s The Internal Document The Salvation Army Doesn’t Want You To See

Salvation Army Says “No, Seriously. We’re Not Antigay. Now Give Us Your Money, Please. God Bless.”

Salvation Army Media Director: Gays Should Be Put To Death

Graham Gremore is a columnist and contributor for Queerty and Life of the Law. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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26 Comments

  • Ottoman

    “That being said, if I were to [publicly] go against my superiors, I would be terminated immediately and be left homeless.” – that’s pretty much the same reason why domestic abuse victims stay in bad relationships.

  • jockjack5

    No reflection on this officer, but I have often wondered about the goings-on at those homeless shelters late at night, and if any of the “guests” ever felt the Hand of God during their stays. ;/

  • Jonty Coppersmith

    I@Ottoman:

    I don’t think gay people staying in the Salvation Army is quite the same as victims of domestic violence staying in bad relationships. I have way more sympathy for those subjected to domestic violence. They often stay because they are convinced that they will be killed if they leave, and very often they are correct in that understanding.

  • aliengod

    If this poor mistreated man finds it so difficult being an officer with the Salvation Army, I’ve got a solution for him; leave! The Salvation Army does a lot of good for people. What’s with all the bashing lately?

  • GayEGO

    But the Salvation Army is not a church and should be getting donations from all of humanity. Now, they have likely reduced their donation income not only from churches but also LGBTs and their supporters.

  • Nikkidane

    The Salvation Army does a lot of good so I will continue to support them unless there are other community outreach programs that I can donate clothes to. I think they , as are other Christian Churches, are evolving slowly towards being LGBT inclusive. I’m glad that people make us aware of the homophobic practices that still exist.

  • unclemike

    “That being said, if I were to [publicly] go against my superiors, I would be terminated immediately and be left homeless.”

    I don’t understand this–does the Salvation Army own his apartment building? Hold his mortgage? Is he a paid employee of theirs? If I worked for a place that wouldn’t allow me to marry or have a relationship, I would have left long ago.

  • Hermes

    @jockjack5: That comment is incredibly uncalled for and inappropriate. If you do not understand the tendency to give without expectation of return – you should not make fun of it or comment on it, but rather accept it.

    Blessed be,

    Hermes

  • Hermes

    @GayEGO: Actually, they are a church.

    Hermes

  • Hermes

    @aliengod: The Salvation Army is a faith organization – a denomination. The struggle within its ranks is the same as the struggle within the ranks of many denominations. Yes, it does a lot of good – so do a LOT of other religious organizations and non-religious organizations – some of them fully accepting of all people, others not so. Do you not think Catholic Family Charities, whose yearly giving dwarfs the Salvation Army, does a lot of good? Just in the area where I live there are a half dozen shelters that they run, a rehabilitation program for youth, a battered women’s shelter, etc. The Episcopal Parish I was in when we lived in NYC slept homeless men to the transept aisle every night during the winter, with a single Anglican nun who stayed with them and spent the night in prayer (the Episcopal Church is fully affirming as a denomination) and so on and on. So right now the Salvation Army is struggling with the issue of human sexuality within its ranks, an honest discussion of that struggle is not a bashing, its an honest discussion. Please, either get an actual factual grip on what the discussion is, the nature of the Army and the nature of the theologies involved, or don’t engage in the discussion. Thank you for your consideration.

  • Arconcyyon

    The exercity is vist is point home club´s ilgbtt yes dont´s no ! Bissexual and close is home point is ! Welcome and welcome that is active is big pic big pic sex bibilionryn´s.

  • jlfbman

    Another hypocritical religious organisation. They demand loyalty from their officers and give none in return. Plus the issue of money. Losing donors if the Army were to openly support LGBT officers??

    Get out and find yourself in the world at large. Allowing yourself to be abused and used and not acknowledging your true self is the same as self abuse.

  • jockjack5

    @Hermes:

    My, but we are a busy little beaver, and all atwitter with multiple comments in the span of several minutes.

    Relax and take a deep breath.

    My comment was made with tongue-in-cheek and was mildly poking fun at this poor officer who is in obvious conflict with his career.

    I actually feel it very admirable and a blessed calling to help the unfortunate, but your frantic admonition(s) to us are rather unseemly and controlling.

    Let go and let God my friend.

    Peace be with you.

  • Chris

    @Hermes: For someone who calls himself “Hermes” to tell people to “get an actual factual grip on what the discussion is, the nature of the Army and the nature of the theologies involved, or don’t engage in the discussion” strikes me as more than slightly self righteous. [although I do like the alliteration in “actual factual.”]

    People learn through these forums; and who else but a messenger from the gods to learn them?

  • KM201

    This guy, among many others, is exactly why not only we have such a hard time advancing equality, but also women’s rights and un-Christian science practices that benefit humanity. Give up your faith and focus on the people you serve. You don’t need Jesus to be a moral person and help the poor and down trodden. You can do that without religion of any kind backing you up. Start your own if necessary, but don’t make excuses for why you stay when you’re aiding the work of bigots around the world. That is the truth and no excuses on Hermes, or anyone else’s end, will change that fact.

  • TundraMichael

    “I believe in the mission of The Salvation Army: to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name without discrimination.”

    If he cannot find an organization that does that without being discriminatory, he’s just not trying.

  • Aromaeus

    No sympathy for this guy at all.

  • BeauBoi69

    I posted my own story of working for the Salvation Army on a other story and won’t repeat it here; they discovered I was gay (and married to a man) and effectively drove me out by making my work-life miserable. I could have stayed and made then fire me (I was an actual employee, not an “officer”) but didn’t feel that it would be worth the hassle that would result from it.
    What I found most offensive were the underhanded things they did trying to get me to quit. The Major who was over our location and the my manager (the Major’s Lap-Dog) lied to me and a out me, they threatened me, and encouraged other employees to treat me disrespectfully…..real “Christian” behavior, yes?

  • martinbakman

    @aliengod: In the past, they’ve been one in a long line of faith based Organizations that scare up a lot of $$ donations from folks by scaring them about the dangers of the gay agenda, the threat to the children, and how gays are sucking at the devils teet. Beyond that I’m sure the Salvation Army is fabulous. But even if they have softened their dogma, I can never un-hear the bullshit they’ve preached against me.

  • OzJosh

    The Salvation Army has been shown to discriminate against gay people, and, as a Christian organisation, plays an active role in oppressing gays. Moreover, the current Royal Commission into Institutional Sexual Abuse in Australia has found that the SA has an appalling record of sexual abuse. Abusers within their ranks were protected and the abuse systematically covered up for years, resulting in the victims being doubly abused. Anyone who supports the SA is aiding oppression and abuse, as is anyone who supports other abusive and oppressive religious organisations.

  • aliengod

    @Hermes: Good grief! Did you even read what I wrote? Perhaps you missed the sarcasm in my first sentence. Or maybe you’re just an idiot. Not sure.

  • DJ

    Thanks for the article. I found it a very interesting perspective. My parents are TSA officers and they serve as the National Commanders of the organization. Basically that makes my father the most senior officer in the USA. I am not in anyway associated with the Salvation Army. I grew up in the organization, but I have since distanced myself from the organization. First don’t attack this officer or think he can just leave. He mentions that he is a 4th generational salvationist. That means he also grew up in the organization. I suspect the majority of his family are in some way associated with the Army. So think of the impact that has had on his life. And yes as an officer of the salvation army he is not an employee and the army does provide him housing. So yes he would be made homeless if he were to be terminated and I don’t suspect he has a lot of money to just take on a new life without some level of support. Because he does not make a lot of money. I assume he is a Captain or possibly a Major. Either way not a big difference in salary. I think he is very brave. He must be going thru an immense struggle. I understand when he mentions he doesn’t want to miss out on all the positive things the Army does. I know they have a horrible track record for our community and yes you can support another organisation. But if you grew up in this organization and you dedicated your life to helping others the choice is not so black and white. I too love what the Army does for people. But I absolutely hate the Army as a church. The church dominates every aspect of the Army. I might have followed in my father’s footsteps but the church I grew up in left a sour bitter taste in my mouth. I have distanced myself from the organization as much as possible. My family live and breath the Army so it is not an easy distance and yes I read these threads in the hope that one day the organization will realize how much hurt and pain it causes so many people.

  • Maleko

    @Aromaeus: No, no sympathy for him because he is in a crappy position of his own making. He has choices, choices that he makes all the time; he chooses to stay the same rather than do whatever it takes to give himself more choices, positive choices. Until he choses to make a positive choice and live his life, all of his life in full where he can address all of his needs, wants and desires so he can come to self realization, he will life his miserable life, being miserable all the time and it’s is all of his own choosing. He can change today if he so chooses. I do, however, have considerable empathy for this man, who can’t see a more positive future. Some of us had a very difficult time with coming out because the life we leave is obviously a hard thing to do; but we did it, we made the choice and we made it work.

  • 1EqualityUSA

    Thanks for the article, it’s a real eye-opener. The militaristic structure, duh, “Army” took on a different feel for me. All our lives, from childhood up, we’ve heard, “The Salvation Army.” We’ve put money in the kettles as children and were intrigued by the spectacle. My brother called them the “Starvation Army.” This is what we referred to it for as long as I can remember. The structure of the organization has a Bread King quality to it. Is it really salvation when carrots are dangling in front of the officers’ noses, with the threat of the street? I hardly think Christ would operate like this, knowing that every living human being has need of transformative information. I would surmise that fear operates in the hearts of the upper echelons. Guarding their organization is likely their motive and the last thing they want is controversy. Christ guarded nothing. There’s the difference.

  • ronsfo

    Change is slow, I witnessed LGBTQ discrimination in SA rehab program in San Francisco of all places in the 90s.

  • georgespeaks

    To the officer In the interview: I applaud your bravery. You should consider a transfer to the Sal Army Western Territory. The progressive movement is larger than you think. I believe the organization (at least within the United States… I cannot speak for the other 126 countries), is at a point of change (or maybe real conversation), especially with the more senior (older) leadership retiring. We are seeing a new regime of Salvation Army officers who grew up in a much different society than their parents or mentors, etc., so inclusiveness is a no brainer. Fear of the unknown is no longer a factor because mainstream society has helped remove any false stigmas, and allowed so many LGBT Christians to finally be themselves. The result? Children, relatives and friends of SA officers are coming out. And now officers are beginning to get it because it’s no longer “us vs. them,” but their own flesh and blood.

    Is the organization as progressive as some churches? No. But there is a great deal of positive conversation happening that will lead to good change down the road (how soon? Time will tell). It will be interesting to see how this interview impacts the conversation. Thank you.

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