Pete Buttigieg is still very much in the presidential race. As some of his contemporaries drop out, the candidate, who is one of the first queer candidates to make a legitimate bid for the Democratic nomination, is pressing forward. But this week, a recent campaign stop highlighted a concern some have with the now-former mayor of South Bend.
On Friday, Buttigieg and his camp headed to Los Angeles to tour the Imperial Bridge Home Project, a shelter for those who may be homeless. And while the fight to end homelessness is one many can get behind, this facility is operated by the Salvation Army, an organization that has a decades-long recorded history of enacting and enabling homophobia and transphobia.
“One thing that I think is important to acknowledge is the progress, and we had a specific conversation here, for example, that transgender people who are experiencing homelessness are supported just like anybody else,” Buttigieg told NewNowNext when asked about his support of the organization. “I’ve been very encouraged to see that and want to make sure I’m acknowledging growth in the right direction.”
The appearance isn’t Buttigieg’s first time working with the Salvation Army by any means. Photos and social media posts show that he has done so since at least 2013, returning to work with them in 2015 and 2017.
Over the past few years, the Salvation Army has worked to repair its image. For some time the organization called accusations of homophobia and transphobia a myth, but in an email interview with Out in November 2019, the director of communications referred to them as “isolated incidents that do not represent our values.” Those “isolated incidents” include one branch pushing to keep homosexuality illegal in New Zealand, requesting an exemption to offer benefits to same-sex partners (they ended up turning down $3.5 million dollars in contracts and allowed the closure of programs for the homeless and senior citizens as a result,) referring online visitors to conversion therapy groups, as well as reportedly not allowing some trans and otherwise queer folks to make use of their services. These “isolated incidents” reach as far back as 1986.
While on the tour, NewNowNext reports that Buttigieg asked how the organization housed transgender individuals who said the facility is segregated into men’s and women’s dorms, adding that trans folks can be housed according to their gender identity. Bathrooms are gender-neutral.
Homelessness is a project dear to Buttigieg. His campaign noted to NewNowNext that while he was mayor of South Bend, homelessness fell by about 25%. Outside of the appearance though, protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement protested the candidate, accusing him of “using the shelter for a photo-op to falsify Black support.”