In the Spirit: Gay man recalls kindness shown by Salvation Army

In the Spirit: Gay man recalls kindness shown by Salvation Army


For 16 years, until his retirement in 2007, Bill Tangney drove a Union Cab in Madison. It was with some of those cab fares still fresh in his mind that he called me.

He had read the Dec. 22 column exploring the reasons why some people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and their allies choose not to donate to The Salvation Army’s annual red kettle campaign. Some people object to the national organization’s theology, which advocates celibacy for homosexuals, while others had heard stories of possible discrimination against gay and lesbian clients at a few chapters in the U.S.

Tangney said such articles “make the hair on the back of my neck stand up.” As a cab driver, he regularly picked up and dropped off people “of all stripes” at the headquarters of the Salvation Army of Dane County on East Washington Avenue, he said. Often, the Salvation Army authorized and paid for the rides to help people in crises.

Tangney, 69, of Madison, said he witnessed an organization whose services were available to all without discrimination. As a gay man himself, Tangney said he was sensitive to such issues. One incident in particular stood out, he said. “I could still drive you to the address.”

It was a summer day, probably 2005, and The Salvation Army sent his cab to an apartment building on Madison’s South Side. The fare was a man of about 30 who’d been physically assaulted and kicked out of his residence by his male partner, Tangney said. This was unusual, in that most of the people in need of emergency shelter for domestic abuse were women, he said. Also, the man had two cats.

Because of the cats, Tangney said he got more involved in the man’s life than he would have with a typical customer. He knew The Salvation Army could not accommodate animals in its emergency housing, so Tangney stuck around through the man’s intake process at The Salvation Army and ultimately ended up caring for the cats himself for two months.

The man never hid his sexual orientation or the details of his crisis with The Salvation Army, Tangney said. The Salvation Army provided him with emergency housing at a motel.

When Tangney saw the man again months later, his life was back together. “I hope The Salvation Army knows there are good outcomes for many of the folks they help in emergency situations,” Tangney said.

Director’s visit

UW-Madison routinely hosts thoughtful events on all aspects of religious life, often free to the public. One such opportunity arrives Jan. 29.

A Polite Bribe” is a new film by noted director Robert Orlando that is getting a lot of buzz nationally. It uses creative animation and interviews with top scholars to discuss the Apostle Paul.

The “polite bribe” in the film’s title refers to the monetary gift Paul was collecting from his primarily Gentile churches for the mother church in Jerusalem led by Jewish Christians, said Corrie Norman, a senior lecturer in the UW Religious Studies Program, which is sponsoring the screening. Biblical sources are silent about the fate of the gift and of Paul, but Orlando constructs a plausible historical scenario, she said.

The film gives faith communities and the broader culture today “much to ponder about challenges such as competing truth claims, money’s relation to power and polarizing leadership styles,” Norman said.

UW-Madison is among sites chosen for a preview screening prior to the film’s theatrical release, she said. The screening will be at 7 p.m. at Union South.

Orlando will take part in a pre-screening lecture at 4:30 p.m., which will be followed by a faculty discussion. The next day, Jan. 30, Orlando will appear at 9:30 a.m. at Mosse Hall to discuss the movie. All events are free. Details can be found at or by calling 608-265-1854.

You can reach reporter Doug Erickson at or 608-252-6149.

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