The heavily-gay run AID Atlanta, which stages the massive AIDS Walk and helps LGBT people with HIV, hired a new development director who spent years raising millions for the Salvation Army, an organization often criticized for being anti-gay.
AID Atlanta announced Thursday that it hired Joey Helton to replace Jon Santos as its development director. Santos and Tracy Elliott, the group’s former executive director, left the agency last year. Helton was a high-profile fundraiser for the Salvation Army, working for seven years as the organization’s divisional resource development director in Georgia and as regional resource development director for two other Southern states before that.
Helton (second photo) and his team raised more than $10 million for the Salvation Army, with Helton personally raising $3.5 million, according to AID Atlanta.
“Joey Helton’s experience, talent and expertise make him the ideal candidate to fill the vital role of development director,” says Cathy Woolard, a longtime LGBT activist and former elected official hired in November as AID Atlanta’s executive director. “Under his leadership, we are confident that our fundraising program will thrive in 2013.”
But the Salvation Army has a troubled history with LGBT issues. The Human Rights Campaign, where Woolard has long volunteered and served as a consultant, has chronicled the Salvation Army’s call for LGBT people to “embrace celibacy as a way of life” and a 2001 effort from LGBT groups to boycott it.
LGBT people are also “ineligible for full membership” in the Salvation Army. Last year, an official with the organization’s Australian branch agreed with scripture that calls for gays to be put to death. The group later apologized.
Last month, the Associated Students of the University of California passed a bill opposing Salvation Army donation boxes on campus over accusations of homophobic practices. Tony Perkins, the anti-gay leader of the Family Research Council, has defended the organization for its anti-gay practices and last summer, a former Salvation Army employee says she was fired after coming out as bisexual.
And in 2001, the Salvation Army was harshly criticized for secret talks with the Bush administration to allow government-funded charitable organizations to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
For his part, Helton says he’s looking forward to his new position with AID Atlanta.
“I’m thrilled to join the AID Atlanta team during this exciting time of growth for the agency,” Helton says in a press release. “I hope that my experience combined with the incredible community support for the cause will result in a fantastic year for the organization.”
Woolard and AID Atlanta’s board chair, Mark Rinder, could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday. A spokesperson for the agency did not respond to questions about Helton’s hiring.