Pete Buttigieg participating in the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Kick-Off – Photo: City of South Bend.
Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is being attacked for previously volunteering with the Salvation Army, which has rankled some LGBTQ activists who have characterized some of the organization’s past actions and comments as “anti-gay.”
The story exploded over social media after the LGBTQ publication Out published a story critical of Buttigieg’s involvement with the organization during his time as the mayor of South Bend, Ind. The story also included pictures from 2017, when Buttigieg was volunteering as part of the Red Kettle Ring-Off, an annual competition in which South Bend officials compete with officials from the town of Mishawaka to see who can raise the most money for the Salvation Army in a 12-hour period.
“I know the photos are two years old, but still, I can’t help but wonder if Mayor Pete just looks at what LGBTQ activists have been working on for years and then chooses to spite it (e.g. Salvation Army, Chick-fil-A, queer media in general, etc.),” tweeted Zach Ford, the press secretary for the Alliance for Justice, who linked to the Out story.
Other users piled on, with one tweeting: “hard to imagine a more succinct visual metaphor for ‘I will gleefully work for the active destruction of my people if it makes me seem an iota more electable’ than Buttigieg photo-opping with the notoriously anti-queer Salvation Army”
“Apparently race issues aren’t the only thing @PeteButtigieg is slow to grasp,” a third wrote. “What is his excuse for not realizing the Salvation Army is homophobic?”
Activists’ chief criticism of the Salvation Army is rooted in recent history and the organization’s alleged alignment with Biblical principles. In 2012, an Australian spokesperson for the organization suggested in an interview that the organization, in adherence with Scripture, supports the view that gay people deserve to be put to death for homosexuality.
Two years later, the Salvation Army was again in the headlines after several homeless transgender women reported that they had been turned away when seeking shelter because they had not undergone gender confirmation surgery. (A spokesperson for the organization later acknowledged that the refusals violated its own nondiscrimination policies.)
The organization has also been accused of refusing to comply with nondiscrimination laws or ordinances requiring the extension of benefits to same-sex spouses of employees, and offering links to organizations that espouse gay conversion therapy on its website, reports NBC News.
Recently, singer Ellie Goulding threatened to withdraw from performing during the Buffalo Bills-Dallas Cowboys prime-time football game on Thanksgiving — which was serving as the kickoff for the Salvation Army’s annual Red Kettle campaign — after some of her fans and social media followers raised questions about the Salvation Army’s past anti-LGBTQ stances.
In response, officials with the charity distanced themselves from any past controversies, noting in an interview with The Dallas Morning News that the charitable organization’s mission statement explicitly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. The organization further noted that it does not require transgender individuals to have undergone surgery to be housed at its shelters, has evolved on the issue of same-sex spousal benefits, and has even taken transgender people into account when remodeling bathroom and changing spaces in its shelter to afford its clients more privacy.
Buttigieg addressed the criticism he had received during a town hall in Henniker, N.H., on Thursday.
“We were raising money to help poor people, and there’s a lot of questions and disagreements that I have with any number of organizations that I will also partner with in order to do something good,” Buttigieg said. “That’s the case with the Salvation Army red kettle ring off that I participated in as mayor.”
Supporters of the mayor also defended him from criticism, arguing that he’s being unfairly held to a higher standard as the first openly gay Democratic presidential candidate than some straight politicians. For example, President Obama invited Salvation Army leaders to the Oval Office in August 2014, and both Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren have worked closely with the organization but have not received the same amount of criticism.
“Whoa…I don’t know if Mayor Pete can recover from this oppo hit which shows him [checks notes] collecting money for the poor,” the right-wing political and communications consultant Frank Luntz tweeted.
Other Twitter users lambasted the secular left and so-called “woke” activists who have waged campaigns against Democratic politicians who are insufficiently “pure” or “progressive” (and many of whom have been previously critical of Buttigieg for his record on issues of racial justice).
“Boy… out magazine really got Mayor Pete on this one. Great oppo research. Being a long time LGBTQ activist… at this point all this “gotcha” bs and purity test snatch game between us liberals — is getting exhausting. It’s petty and destructive. But thanks any way,” one user wrote.
“Seems to be how the wokest of the woke distinguish themselves now,” openly gay conservative commentator Chad Felix Greene tweeted, linking to an article in The Federalist titled, “LGBT People Rage At Pete Buttigieg For Not Being Gay Enough.”
“Buttigieg being slightly uncomfortable with his gayness (if that’s even true) is extremely representative of the real experiences of gay people in this country,” wrote another Twitter user. “Why are hyper woke gays like this? Not everyone has the luxury of a fully self-realized gay experience in DC or NYC.”
Still another user summed up the controversy as follows: “OMFG ‘photos surfaced’ of Mayor Pete standing in the cold asking for money for those in need and this is a freaking oppo dump?! People have lost their damn minds.”
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