Although the Salvation Army has made an effort to reach out to the LGBT community over the past year, problems still persist, according to activists.
The problems stem from the international scope of the organization and the fact that each territory of the Salvation Army U.S. operates with some autonomy. Some locations only have facilities that separate people based on their gender and this impacts who can and can't have access to the Salvation Army's shelters and housing programs.
This past spring the Carr P. Collins Social Service Center shelter in Dallas provided Jodielynn Wiley, a trans* woman, with emergency shelter. However, when she interviewed for the transitional housing program she was told that she was disqualified. According to news reports, Wiley claims she was told she was disqualified since, when asked by a caseworker whether she'd had gender-affirming surgery, she told them that she hadn't. Wiley contends that the caseworker changed her story saying that there was a waiting list for the program.
"The shelter in Dallas felt they did everything they could to help Ms. Wiley. The fact that she was not provided transitional housing, had nothing to do with her being transgender. It was an issue of vacancy," said Jennifer Byrd, Salvation Army U.S. director of communications.
"She stayed at the Salvation Army shelter long beyond the normal allotted time. It was when she was going to be moving into permanent housing situation that the situation arose," said Lt. Col. Ron Busroe, Salvation Army National community relations and development secretary. "It wasn't that the Salvation Army told her that she couldn't go into the permanent housing facility it was the fact that other women would be staying there so that's what created the conflict. I'm not saying that there isn't a problem. The issue is the other clients who would be staying in the same housing facility since there aren't individual bathrooms."
"Questions regarding gender-affirmation surgery aren't included in the questions case workers ask at the Dallas facility and shouldn't ever be included," said Blake Fetterman, director of operations at the Carr P. Collins Social Service Center. Fetterman noted that any breech of their own nondiscrimination policy has been investigated internally and they found that the staff didn't express to Wiley that she wasn't eligible for housing services due to her surgery status. Fetterman noted that the city closed out the Fair Housing complaint filed by Wiley with a finding that reasonable cause didn't exist to show that discrimination had occurred.
"There is no national policy related to transgender people. In all HUD-funded projects [the federal Dept. of Housing and Urban Development] we do adhere to their guidelines," said Busroe. "In areas where there is only dormitory style housing we may not be able to accommodate transgender clients due to the safety of those clients."
"We operate family shelters here. Our shelters house family units however they self identify as a family unit," said Scott Justvig, Salvation Army's Chicago Metropolitan Division executive director of development and communications. "The rooms are self contained and include a bathroom so the family unit can stay together and feel safe."
Justvig noted that as far as he is aware there isn't any discrimination against the LGBT community within the Chicago Metropolitan Division of the Salvation Army.
The Salvation Army has had a rocky relationship with the LGBT community in the past. However, the organization seems to be shifting in an LGBT-friendly direction, at least within the United States. The organization added an LGBT-specific page to its website last year, "The Salvation Army and the LGBT Community" ( www.salvationarmyusa.org/usn/nodiscrimination ). The page outlines the ways the organization is LGB friendly, however, it doesn't specifically state how trans* people are treated when they seek shelter nor does it state anything about gender identity as it relates to hiring practices.
"What prompted it was the fact that over the past few years there's been a lot of information about the Salvation Army discriminating against people from the LGBT community on social media and we really weren't responding to that," said Busroe. "It was growing exponentially every year so I felt like we needed to say this is who we are so that's why we did it."
"In local communities we are working with the LGBT community on how we can better serve people from the LGBT community who present themselves to the Salvation Army for services," said Busroe. "Specifically relating to the transgender community we are working in communities across the country on how we address this, work through this and be more sensitive to the needs of the transgender community."
How does this shift in policy translate internationally since the Salvation Army operates in countries that aren't LGBT-friendly?
In an email to Windy City Times, Salvation Army International Communications and Literary Secretary Major John Murray said, "The Salvation Army operates in 126 countries worldwide. Each territory operates independently within the context of local laws and government policy. Regardless of where we minister, all people are served with compassion and grace just as Jesus Christ did. Today, Salvation Army territories are regulated by international operating policies administered through the organization's International Headquarters in London, UK. The Salvation Army understands that every country we operate in is unique and has different laws and regulations regarding the LGBT community. The Salvation Army is respectful of the cultures and laws in the countries where we minister. Unfortunately, the reality is that The Salvation Army works in countries that are not friendly towards LGBT people or don't recognize the LGBT community at all. With this in mind, The Salvation Army is committed to serving all people in need, with love and compassion, while adhering to the laws of each country."
"Discrimination of any kind is inconsistent with our mission statement and we certainly want to deal with it," said Busroe. "If you feel like you've been discriminated against we would like you to get in contact with us."