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Actor Michael Sheen confronts Salvation Army over notorious anti-LGBT+ reputation

Emma Powys Maurice February 1, 2021
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Michael Sheen

Michael Sheen questioned the Salvation Army on its LGBT+ policies (Dominik Bindl/Getty)

The actor Michael Sheen confronted the Salvation Army on its notoriously anti-trans reputation after his recent donation was criticised by several LGBT+ fans.

The Good Omens star announced on Sunday (30 January) that he had sponsored Skewen Temple, a branch of the Salvation Army that is fundraising for flood victims in his local south Wales.

While Michael Sheen was applauded for helping those in crisis, his choice of charity was met with concern from his many LGBT+ followers, who were quick to remind him of the Salvation Army’s long history excluding queer people.

“I’m glad you’re giving, Michael, but as someone who can’t receive aid from the Salvation Army because I’m trans, I feel they’re not the best charity to give to,” said one. “Perhaps there are better alternatives?”

Michael Sheen, who has previously spoken in support of LGBT+ causes, took note of the criticism and reached out to the charity personally on Twitter.

“Hello Salvation Army,” he tweeted, tagging them directly. “I’ve donated to the Skewen Temple as they’re raising money to help those affected by the recent flooding.

“I’ve been told trans people can’t receive aid from you. Is that true and if so why? Thanks.”

The Salvation Army responded with a swift denial, insisting that it is fully inclusive – despite a wealth of evidence casting doubt on this.

“Following a series of social media messages it is clear there is some confusion and misinformation circulating about The Salvation Army discriminating against people in the provision of services,” Lieut-Colonel Dean Pallant, secretary for communications, told PinkNews.

“I restate our firm position that The Salvation Army sees the person and their needs first and foremost.

“Not only do we want to reassure people of our focus which is to help the most vulnerable people in society regardless of who they are but we also want to stop misinformation from preventing someone coming forward to us for help.”

Pallant described the Salvation Army as “an inclusive church and charity” that stands against homophobia and transphobia, and welcomes everyone regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Anyone who comes through our doors will be welcomed, respected and assisted, based on their need and our capacity to provide. The Salvation Army must always be an open, hospitable and inclusive place for everyone,” he claimed.

Salvation Army
The Salvation Army’s red collection buckets are a familiar sight on the streets at Christmas time. (Tim Boyle/Getty)

Salvation Army’s record of LGBT+ discrimination

The Salvation Army has been attempting to distance itself from its anti-LGBT+ reputation for years.

A spokesperson claimed in 2017 that the Christian charity had undergone “a paradigm shift” and “evolved on a number of issues“, but unfortunately actions speak louder than words, and the Salvation Army’s homophobia is well documented.

A 2011 report from the New York Times noted a statement on the Salvation Army’s website: “Scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex. The Salvation Army believes, therefore, that Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life.”

That language no longer appears on the website and there is now a page highlighting its LGBT+ commitments. However, the charity is known to have internal policies actively banning gay people from serving as officers unless they remain celibate – a policy which was defended by the UK Salvation Army chief as recently as 2016.

Meanwhile another Salvation Army boss in Australia has suggested that sexually active gay people should be put to death.

Several transgender women have also reported discriminatory treatment from the charity, with some claiming they were refused aid due to their gender identity.

One trans woman who was admitted to a shelter in Portland, Oregon, described the harsh conditions she faced there, including poor physical facilities and unchallenged prejudice from other shelter users.

The Salvation Army’s refusal to serve transgender people at its New York rehab centres was the subject of a legal battle against the NYC Commission on Human Rights in 2017.

They were found guilty of discriminating against transgender patients, and were charged with “gender identity discrimination” as well as “discriminatory housing policies”, which both violate the New York City human rights law.

In 2018 the Salvation Army warned its members not to discuss their opposition to LGBT+ rights in public, as further controversy could cause a “threat to our reputation”.

They were again forced to defend this reputation when the singer Ellie Goulding threatened to pull out of the NFL Thanksgiving show after learning it was sponsored by the Salvation Army. She called on the charity to make a donation to an LGBT+ cause as a gesture of good faith to the community.

The national commander of The Salvation Army insisted the homophobia claims were a “myth”, yet did not state whether he would agree to make a pro-LGBT+ donation.

Related topics: Salvation Army, transphobia

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