Salvation Army Remains on Wash. High School Campus
A Mill Creek, Wash., school will continue to raise money for the Salvation Army in spite of a teacher’s complaint that the charity’s policies are anti-gay.
Since 1995, the student body of Henry M. Jackson High School in Mill Creek, Washington has organized and conducted a food drive for the Everett Salvation Army. An Everett School District employee filed a complaint three years ago against Jackson’s choice of the charity that would benefit from the funds raised.
That employee is Greg Stair, a fine arts teacher at Everett High School and a teacher’s union representative serving on the Everett Public Schools District Equity and Access Advisory Council. As a gay man who advises for his school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, he believes the Salvation Army discriminates against the LGBT community. Stair fails to see why the organization is allowed into a public school system.
"The Salvation Army has a disturbing policy in regards to the LGBT community," Stair told EDGE last December. "As the Everett High School GSA advisor I think we need to set a good example for our students. This is not the example I want my students to see."
Stair bases his views on the Salvation Army’s belief statement on homosexuality.
"Sexual attraction to the same sex is a matter of profound complexity... Scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex," it reads. "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. There is no scriptural support for same-sex unions as equal to, or as an alternative to, heterosexual marriage."
Still, after three years and significant heartache for Stair and his GSA students, the Henry M. Jackson High School ASB has once again decided to continue donating food and proceeds to the Everett Salvation Army.
"The decision by the ASB makes me feel like I’m not worthy of being a full person, like my relationship with my partner of 17 years is somehow less meaningful to my employer than if I had been partnered with someone of the opposite sex," Stair told EDGE.
The three-year battle to expel the Salvation Army from Jackson has been a grueling one.
ASB organizations in schools across Washington State are governed by students who have leadership positions that afford them to make decisions about student-led projects like the one in Mill Creek. Students’ participation in the project is voluntary, and no grades are given or tied to an academic requirement. In other words, aside from generating complaints (both formal and informal), Stair’s hands are tied.
Stair admits he is not an advocate for the process in which the high school ASBs run.
"I’m against it," he said. "Students should not have been given the option to decide to violate the district’s non-discriminatory policy, and ignore the separation of church and state. I think the ASB has taken the school in a direction that comes into direct conflict with the inclusive direction the school district has stated they want to pursue."
Unfortunately for Stair, the students were given the choice and, even after meeting with Jackson GSA, they decided to go with the Salvation Army yet again.
"At the meeting with the GSA club, the students of both groups had a civil, candid conversation about our thoughts about the Salvation Army," wrote Stephanie Banning, the 2010-2011 ASB president, in a letter to the student body and school district officials. "The GSA had previously discussed the issue on their own, and they had come to a conclusion and suggestion for ASB: that Jackson’s food drive remain benefiting the Salvation Army."
According to Banning, the GSA noted that "although there are discriminatory statements about homosexuals on the national organization website, the local (Everett) chapter does not discriminate in practice, nor in theory on their own website."
In the end, Jackson’s GSA decided that the good that the Salvation Army does for the less fortunate outweighs the negative statements. The group ultimately decided that the food drive is about helping other people defeat hunger, not about a sentence on their website.
"The students in the club all felt comfortable working on the food drive with the Salvation Army," concluded Banning.
Stair was not a part of the meeting and said he is unsure what happened in that discussion.
During the meetings in which Stair was involved, he suggested that Jackson’s ASB request that the Everett Salvation Army write a statement on their website separating themselves from the national organization. He cited examples of a similar case concerning the United Way and the Boy Scouts of America as a precedent. In addition, he asked that the Everett Salvation Army state that all money from Jackson stays at the local chapter.
"When ASB first discussed this possibility, we thought it would be a good solution," said Banning. "After greater discussion, however, the Jackson ASB decided it was not fair for them to "force this ultimatum on the Salvation Army."
"We already found that the Everett chapter of the Salvation Army does not discriminate in practice, nor do they have discriminatory statements on their own website," said Banning.
Stair is unimpressed. And he ultimately feels let down by the school district for even allowing the students to choose from a number of charities -- one of which is the Salvation Army.
"I hope the process I have endured with this issue never happens to a student," he told Seattle Gay News. "I have been delayed for three years, I have had my professional integrity put into question by administration at Jackson High School, I have been put into the position of either dropping the issue or outing myself in front of students and staff, and I have dealt with harassment in the workplace. These things are not okay."