The holiday season brings many parties and activities for folks to attend and celebrate with family and friends. One of those activities in Phoenix is the Greater Phoenix Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce's Festival of Trees. Trees, wreaths and menorahs are decorated and raffled off to raise money for a local youth organization and Equality Arizona, an LGBT political organization. Seems like a great event for the LGBT and allied community to get behind.
Until this was posted on their Facebook page
Wonder Man (@wondermann5) did a great post a few weeks ago titled "How Does the Salvation Army View Gays." The short version is - Unwed folks shouldn't have sex. Therefore, gays having sex can't be a part of the Salvation Army. (Don't ask me what happens in states that have marriage equality).
So why would a Gay and Lesbian organization be "honored" to have the Salvation Army joining their event? Also, why would it be one of very few announcements for the event unless they thought it would add "honor" to their event by having a national organization participate? Well many others had similar questions. After a few comments were left on that Facebook post this response was given
Hey this looks good. Reaching out and opening doors, hmmmm that could work, right? Then about a week later after getting a few more negative comments this was posted
So the Salvation Army staff is excited to be a part of the event. Good to hear. This reaching out stuff is really working. Right up until three days later when an article hit Echo Magazine. This article really brought it to the community's attention and individuals were calling for the chamber to pull the Salvation Army tree from the event. Within two days of the article hitting, the Chair of the GPGLCC, Tony Felice sent this email:
As some of you may know there is some unrest in our community about the Chamber accepting an Angel Tree from the Salvation Army for our Festival of Trees event tomorrow. Some in the community have demanded we pull the tree from our event.
The tree was inadvertently offered to us and one of our board members who happens to be straight, accepted the tree without knowing that the Salvation Army is an anti-LGBT organization. You should know that our Chamber is comprised of about 40% straight allies. Not all of them are aware of the social issues we face. As a community, we are dependent upon the support of our straight allies in order to advance our causes. We simply do not have the numbers to do so on our own. So, when things like this happen we have to be flexible and understand we are all in this together.
To be clear, we are not partnering with the Salvation Army in any way. Nor do we support or condone their anti-LGBT stance or activities. We are not donating any money to them nor is the Angel Tree to be raffled off. Angel trees, which also can be found in Valley shopping malls, are covered with the names and gift wishes of needy children. Anyone can choose to take one of the angels, shop for that child and drop off their donation at various locations. We don't know, but some of those children may grow up LGBT. The tree is for children, not the organization.
I have talked to those who are angry and I understand their frustration. I have urged them to turn that anger from us and direct it towards those groups against us.
I have decided as the Chair to not pull the tree from our event. Ultimately, as the leader of the Chamber the responsibility falls to me and weighing all advice, counsel and demands that is my decision.
1n10 will bring their own Angel tree to the event and be displayed. Our guests can choose whether to support those trees instead of having that choice taken from them. If they chose to make a donation for a child, please urge them to tell the Salvation Army they have done so as a LGBT person. Now that sends a great message to be sure.
I believe that during this time, the holidays, it is important to extend an olive branch, even if it is to those like the Salvation Army who are against our community. Our community is about love and tolerance. By pulling the tree it sends the wrong message. Do I think some will be mad? Absolutely, but in end, I believe it is the right thing to do.
-Tony Felice, Chair
For me possibly the most offensive thing that has happened in this was in the one sentence I highlighted in the letter. So the GPGLCC goes from statements of "trying to open doors" and that the "Salvation Army's staff is very excited" to "the tree was inadvertently offered to us" and one of the straight board members accepted the tree.
Wait, I'm confused. How can you be opening doors when the Salvation Army gave it to you by accident and the person that accepted it just said ok? There is no education being done at that point. I am sure the Salvation Army is now aware that this is an event put on by a Gay and Lesbian organization, but that is more because of the community's opposition to their participation and them being forced to be educated than the GPGLCC doing the education at the beginning.
But the bigger issue is why is the sexual orientation of the person that accepted the tree made an issue? There are many in the LGBT community that are unaware of the Salvation Army's policies. Why bring it to light that the person is straight? The tone of that paragraph really struck me. It basically said - "Hey it wasn't us gays - the straight guy did it. But be nice because we need their support so just smile and move on." Way to throw the ally support right under the bus. I found that whole paragraph to be condescending to any ally. The line that says, "So, when things like this happen we have to be flexible and understand we are all in this together," basically said to me when the straight folks don't get it we just need to shake our heads and move on. Again this confuses me. An ally wants to stand with us. They want to get it. The letter states the GPGLCC does not "support or condone their anti-LGBT stance or activities." Then how are they allowing one of the Salvation Army activities to be held at their event? It would seem to me like the straight board member would prefer the ideals of the GPGLCC were upheld instead of being patted on the head and then thrown under the bus.
Oh and by the way, those Facebook posts have been deleted. Makes it easier to send that letter if you don't have anything else contradicting you I guess.