The recent controversy over the Bush Administrations alleged promise to help the Salvation Army discriminate against gay employees in return for support for the Administrations drive to funnel tax dollars to churches and religious organizations vividly illustrates how dangerous the so-called faith-based initiative is to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Until the Salvation Army story broke, discussion of this danger had been virtually non-existent outside of the LGBT community and press. In fact, transferring federally funded social services to churches and religious non-profits will seriously threaten the progress the LGBT community has made on important issues, unless proper safeguards are put in place. But before getting to that, its worth taking a moment to briefly outline what the so-called faith-based initiative is all about.
Religious organizations like Lutheran Social Services, United Jewish Communities, and Catholic Charities have received government funding for social services for many years. What makes the Bush Administrations faith-based initiative different is that it seeks to change the rules to allow religious groups that receive government funding to discriminate and proselytize. Historically, religious groups have been required to abide by the same rules as every other government contractor - i.e., in return for public dollars theyve agreed not to discriminate against their employees and not to use government money to preach.
In a radical shift in federal policy, the Bush Administration now wants to allow churches and religious groups to receive taxpayer dollars without the strings that historically have been attached. The Administrations theory, unsupported by any hard evidence, is that religious groups do a better job than secular organizations or government at providing social services, and rules against discrimination and proselytizing need to be lifted to encourage religious groups to take over the job.
The LGBT community needs to be especially concerned about the Bush faith-based initiative. Our community has made the elimination of employment discrimination against LGBT people a top priority. The federal government and publicly funded positions account for a large share of this countrys labor market, and we have made much progress in winning workplace equality in this area. By contrast, every gay rights bill enacted thus far in this country has included a provision exempting religious groups from coverage. Therefore, organizations like the Salvation Army generally are not covered by these laws. So, if religious groups take over publicly funded positions and are not required to maintain a discrimination-free workplace in return for receiving taxpayer dollars, we will lose much ground in our fight for equal treatment on the job.
The faith-based initiative also poses a threat to our struggle to protect and empower LGBT youth. Last month the federal Centers for Disease Control announced that young African-American men who have sex with men, in some cities including Seattle, have an annual HIV infection rate of nearly 15 percent, and that one third of them are already infected with HIV. These numbers rival those found in sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time they were being announced, it became public that the federal Department of Health and Human Services was planning on funneling $4-million of HIV prevention money for minority communities exclusively to religious groups because these groups have access to the young people we are trying to reach. The program is being re-tooled because of political protest, but it is a warning sign of things to come. While churches might indeed be effective at reaching some young people, it seems highly unlikely that many of them can reach LGBT youth, given that many churches still cling to anti-gay beliefs, and even those that dont are unlikely to be able or willing to provide the frank and open sex education that lgbt youth need to avoid HIV infection.
The LGBT communitys stake in the debate over religion and public dollars is powerfully illustrated by the controversy currently swirling around the Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children. KBHC is the largest provider of state-funded services to at risk youth in Kentucky, receiving about two-thirds of its budget from the State. Nonetheless, KBHC fired Alicia Pedreira, a youth counselor with an outstanding job record, because she is a lesbian. The agency has publicly announced an across-the-board ban on gay employees because the homosexual lifestyle is contrary to Baptist values. While KBHC claims that it does not discriminate against LGBT youth, it also has made public statements supporting reparative therapy and announcing its belief that anybody can be converted to heterosexuality with prayer and counseling. The agencys HIV education program, to the extent it exists at all, provides no information to lgbt youth on safer sex practices. Lambda has joined an ACLU lawsuit challenging public funding of KBHC.
The Bush Administrations faith-based initiative, as presently conceived, is an open invitation to organizations like KBHC to take over government-funded social services, including HIV prevention. It also presents an opportunity for organizations like the Salvation Army to take taxpayer dollars while engaging in employment discrimination against LGBT people. A recent so-called compromise by Congressional Republicans on the employment issue in reality is just a smokescreen that will do nothing to prevent religious groups that receive taxpayer dollars from discriminating. Nor can we find much comfort in the tactical retreat of the Bush Administration in the Salvation Army controversy, which came only after initial statements sympathetic to the Armys anti-gay agenda by Vice President Cheney and other Administration officials.
A forceful response from the LGBT community is critical. Our community must fight to ensure that the concerns of LGBT people are not ignored in the misguided rush to turn over government services to churches and religious organizations. To be fair to all Americans, including LGBT people, tax dollars must go only to organizations that pledge to treat all employees fairly and to provide all clients with appropriate services, nor religious moralizing. Public Funding of Religious Groups 07/11/2001 http://www.lambdalegal.org/cgi-bin/iowa/documents/record?record=872