BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
Color Splash star David Bromstad is red-faced after a Salvation Army fundraiser he's set to host Oct. 18 in Wilton Manors erupted into a national gay-rights controversy.
"I know why people are mad at me and I’m OK with that," said Bromstad of Bal Harbour, an HGTV personality honored in June as man of the year by the Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
"We knew it was going to be a little bit controversial with the Salvation Army, but we did some research and we felt the Salvation Army was trying to clean up its act and make amends toward the LGBT community," Bromstad said.
For more than a decade, LGBT activists around the world have been critical of the Christian, church-based Salvation Army, which until a few years ago called for gays and lesbians to be celibate.
In 2011, Salvation Army apologized after a media relations director in Australia said gay people should be put to death.
"We acknowledge that because of our size and scope, occasionally one of our millions of employees and volunteers might say or do something that does not reflect our values. We address these incidents as soon as they arise," reads a statement still on the Salvation Army website. "The Salvation Army believes that all people are equal, regardless of sexual orientation or any other factor, including race, gender and ethnicity."
The Salvation Army says it is actively seeking to mend fences with the LGBT community. Each year before Christmas, gay activists take to the Internet and ask that people not put money in the Army's ubiquitous red kettles.
"The idea that we are homophobic and anti-gay is just not true," said Ron Busroe, the Virginia-based church's national secretary for community relations and development.
"We don’t discriminate in delivery of services and we don’t discrimination in hiring," said Busroe, who from 1988-94 was area commander for Salvation Army of Broward County.
One touchy point: Salvation Army offers domestic partner benefits only where required by law.
The Broward chapter recently hired Bromstad to host a fundraiser at The Venue, also known on weekends as The Manor, a gay nightclub on Wilton Drive. The event will benefit Plymouth House, Salvation Army's Fort Lauderdale shelter for homeless families.
"They reached out to us with a hand, with an olive branch," said Bromstad, 40. "This was our chance and this was my chance to reach our hand back, to extend the hand from the LGBT community and let’s engage and teach and train. We need to support and educate and love one another."
Bromstad declined to say how much Salvation Army would pay for his appearance at the fundraiser, but that he planned to donate the fee to several LGBT nonprofits, including Safe Schools South Florida.
Before this year's Christmas season, Salvation Army planned to release a video featuring testimonials from gay and lesbian beneficiaries. On Tuesday, the church shared the video one month early with the Miami Herald as proof that it's trying to change.
Blake Fetterman, director of the Salvation Army's Carr P. Collins Social Service Center in Dallas, is featured in the video.
“Come here. Spend some time here. See how we provide services," she says. "Listen and learn from our staff. Talk to our clients. They will tell you that we do not discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity. It’s just -- we don’t do it.”
Gay activists are divided whether Bromstad is doing the right thing.
"I disagree with his decision to join this fundraiser," Zach Magee of Mississippi posted on Bromstad's Facebook page. "I don't believe any bridges are being built. In fact, this feels much more like a slap in the face to those in the LGBT community that are working so diligently, through multiple channels, to achieve our full federal equality that we so rightly deserve."
Others say they stand behind Bromstad and the fundraiser.
"We support David’s outreach completely," said Tony Lima, executive director of SAVE Dade. "Only with engagement and dialogue, even with those that disagree with us, is how we’ll reach complete equality."
Gay journalist Bil Browning was featured in a 2011 New York Times article about LGBT people and the Salvation Army.
Two decades ago, Salvation Army had denied shelter to him and his then-boyfriend unless they broke up and left the "sinful homosexual lifestyle," according to Browning, who runs the Bilerico Project news blog.
Browning now believes Salvation Army is trying to redeem itself and that engaging Bromstad is a positive move for both.
"My answer to David Bromstad is good for him. You never get anywhere without reaching out," Browning told the Herald.
"They are a church, like most, that are struggling with the issue of gender identity and sexual orientation," Browning said. "So many of their leaders come from the poor and uneducated that they’ve helped, that kind of reflects in their positions.
"As the struggle is happening in America, it’s therefore happening in the church," he says. "I think they're going to change. I think they're making the rights steps toward change. It's a slow process to change institutional religion."
Below, David Bromstad is honored as Businessperson of the Year at the 2013 Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce Yellow Gala: "I'm officially the gayest person in the world. And I'm proud of it!"