It’s nice to see politicians using their platforms to give back to their communities during the holiday season — except when they do it with organizations that historically exclude LGBTQ+ people.
The same day news broke that Kamala Harris would be dropping out of the presidential race, 2017 photos resurfaced of fellow candidate Pete Buttigieg spotted outside South Bend, Indiana restaurant PEGGS. Buttigieg was there for the Red Kettle Ring Off, during which local public officials collect donations for the Salvation Army — something he's apparently been doing for years. He also held a mayoral event at a Salvation Army center in South Bend last year.
Once Twitter got ahold of the photos, the roasting began.
The gesture would be super nice of Buttigieg if the Salvation Army didn’t have a well-documented history of discriminating against LGBTQ+ people in need. In the 1990s, the Salvation Army dodged a San Francisco ordinance requiring government-affiliated businesses to offer benefits to workers with same-sex partners by citing exemption on religious grounds. In 2012, Salvation Army spokesperson George Hood claimed that same-sex relationships go “against the will of God.” The organization has also referred website visitors to conversion therapy groups and circulated internal memos opposing marriage equality.
In an interview last month, communications director David Jolley told Out that the Salvation Army has “evolved [in its] approach” to serving the LGBTQ+ community. “As we build and remodel emergency shelters and transitional housing across the country, we consider ways to help LGBTQ+ individuals feel safe and cared for,” he said. Jolley cited a Las Vegas dorm that exists exclusively for transgender individuals, a San Francisco detox facility for patients with HIV/AIDS, and the organization’s work with transgender sex trafficking victims in Baltimore.
And while that’s all admirable, it’s still fighting against decades of persecution and intolerance justified by religion. Even famously homophobic chicken peddlers Chick-fil-A recently severed its relationship with the Salvation Army, and when you’re gay and less sensitive about anti-queerness than Chick-fil-A, that’s pretty bleak.
Maybe Pete Buttigieg should have supported an organization that was created to cater to the needs of queer people — there’s plenty of them!
Note: This story has been updated to add further details about Buttigieg’s Salvation Army visits.