Are there issues with the Salvation Army? Yes. Does the local agency do its best for LGBTQ people? Also yes.
Within this diverse queer community, an annual holiday season tradition is being created. Mirroring retail, the push to accelerate our yuletide giving begins to surface earlier and earlier with each passing year. Here in Dallas temperatures have just dipped enough to bring us out of the heat advisories, so it’s time to deck the halls and settle back for a warm winter’s nap.
And as usual, ’tis the season to pass judgement on the Salvation Army’s abhorrent treatment of the LGBTQ community.
Within the past five years, both the Washington Post and the Advocate have presented very reasonable views on this religious organization’s efficacy in administering to the needs of homeless LGBTQ. In both articles, the accusations that the Salvation Army discriminates against us was presented, and those arguments are not without merit.
Religion and this community will always be in a convoluted relationship,with individuals that have chosen to live their lives openly and with integrity pitted against a system of belief garnered from spiritual teachings interpreted to reflect the prejudices and fear of the practitioners. No doubt, a portion of the Salvation Army’s “soldiers” believe that homosexuality is a sin, and every person’s natal gender assignment is sanctified by God.
So the question is, can someone who holds dear those values and beliefs truly deliver the Salvation Army’s services and outreach to hungry and homeless LGBTQ? I say yes. It’s possible.
It’s likely that, without any supervision or training including cultural competency, these individuals probably deliver those services while being inappropriate and condescending to queer people. But that’s not limited to the Salvation Army or any other social services agency. Still, in 2019, some 50 years after the birth of the LGBTQ civil rights movement and all the subsequent visibility, we are subjected to such behavior daily.
This happens because companies, both big and small, do not train their employees on dealing with the LGBTQ community, and they do not monitor those employees’ interactions with LGBTQ customers. Even major companies vetted by queer indexing continue to fail.
Most LGBTQ folks treat this discourtesy as if it is business as usual; yet, we take issue with the Salvation Army?
Could our persistence with this tribal tantrum directed at Salvation Army be some healthy outcry from us demanding we be shown respect? Would it not be more effective if we individually began addressing this disrespect in our own daily encounters? Companies — all companies — have to be held accountable. Venting your frustration at the errant worker serves no purpose. Demanding to speak to a supervisor and following up with calls and/or letters to the company has a positive influence.
Everything that is out there concerning the Salvation Army indicates that the organization is considering our criticism about how we are treated. That culture is adapting to the reality that we deserve dignity when accessing their services.
Can a religious organization guarantee that everyone in their employ adhere to those tenants? Not really. Religion is always the go-to for justifying poor behavior. But the Salvation Army is making it clear in all of their public declarations that the LGBTQ community is included in its mission and that they care about us. There is recent effort showing that employees are being educated and held accountable.
Like so many others, every year I used to trot out the same kind of cautionary advice about this organization, attempting to steer others away from donating during the holiday season.
Thing is, I was wrong. At least, as far as the work being done by the Salvation Army in North Texas goes, I was wrong.
Two years ago, a former employee challenged my position on the issue after seeing my posts on social media. This individual had become a licensed counselor for battered women and worked at the Salvation Army. She invited me to meet with the local executive director, Blake Fetterman. I did, and I can tell you, Blake is the real deal. Under Blake’s leadership, the Salvation Army here in Dallas provides the highest level of compassion for LGBTQ people. She claims that the national organization is catching up with the level of care offered here and that national leadership supports her entirely.
Over the years, I have worked with several good people that represented terrible organizations. Unfortunately, the good work they accomplished always evaporated when the individual left. But Blake has held her position for nearly 10 years now, which is a good sign. Every queer-affirming homeless project (like Oak Lawn Methodist Church) in the area supports Blake and the Salvation Army. Trans leadership attests that its shelter is the safest environment for trans women.
Due to its religious affiliation, Salvation Army will never be the perfect option for us as LGBTQ people. But it is the best solution we have now. And Blake and her team promise that those in our community that need Salvation Army’s services will be helped.
I believe that we get lost in our own privilege sometimes when we start talking about this topic. We fail to realize that a homeless person cares far more about being dry, safe and warm than they do about our armchair political correctness. Several of us in this community have developed relationships with Blake Fetterman. I invite you to get to know her, too, and I urge you to support her work.
She is doing a stellar job protecting our most marginalized people. If we truly care about them, we must bend and work with the Salvation Army. If people cannot stretch like that, then maybe we can just silence the rhetoric while someone else helps.