The Salvation Army: Charitable So Long as You Live Exactly as they Say?
A woman from Texas has alleged that the Salvation Army refused to allow her to be part of a housing program essentially because she, a trans woman, had not undergone sex-reassignment surgery.
Jodielynn Wiley was forced to leave her former place of residence in Paris, Texas in February after receiving death threats and finding the police attention to her situation was seriously lacking due, at least in part, to anti-trans bias.
Wiley found temporary accommodation with a friend in a Social Services center run by the Salvation Army while she waited for enrollment in a housing program, but time was ticking as emergency shelters only allow people to stop for a certain period of time — in this case, 30 days.
When the opportunity to join the Salvation Army’s two year housing program presented itself in April of this year, it should have been a good thing. However, Wiley soon found herself having to face probing and dehumanizing questions. She alleges that when she had her interview with her Salvation Army case worker, the woman asked whether Wiley had undergone genital surgery during her transition. When Wiley answered no, she alleged the case worker “rudely” told her that she was therefore disqualified from the program.
“After I said no, she said ‘Well, that’s why we can’t give you a room,’” Wiley said. “It was putting me in an uncomfortable situation and very rude.”
Wiley said her counselor chimed in about there being a waiting list for the same program, but Wiley questioned that because two women who arrived at the shelter after she did had already been placed in the program.
“They then tried to say there’s a waiting list,” Wiley said.
Local trans rights group Trans Pride Initiative sat in on the meeting by phone and has apparently corroborated this version of events. Both Wiley and the group maintain that Wiley’s gender background was never hidden from the staff, and yet suddenly these extraordinary conditions were being placed on Wiley before she could be admitted into the program. As we have previously outlined, the full spectrum of gender affirmation surgeries may not be medically necessary for all trans people. They are also incredibly cost prohibitive.
Wiley has filed a complaint over what she contends is clearly discriminatory treatment. Does she have a claim?
Dallas does have an overarching nondiscrimination ordinance that is gender identity inclusive (oddly, under a sexual orientation provision) but there are exemptions for housing and accommodations that are sex-segregated and where facilities will be shared, such as bathroom facilities. The room that Wiley applied for was a women only space — obviously Wiley qualifies, yet it appears that technically under the ordinance the Salvation Army staff might have believed they could discriminate on grounds of, well, genital status. That, if true, is as disgusting as it is devious.
The complaint, which now rests with the Fair Housing Office, is doubly important therefore to see if there is a loophole in the law that must be closed, or whether the existing ordinance is being interpreted in such a way that is incorrect and discriminatory.
It should be noted, though, that a Salvation Army spokesperson has actually acknowledged that, if true, the treatment that Wiley received would violate the Salvation Army’s own nondiscrimination policy. Blake Fetterman, of Carr P. Collins Social Service Center, is quoted as saying, “What you describe is not in keeping with our nondiscrimination policies,” she said. “Clients receive services and placement with their self-identified gender.”
Fetterman says that questions regarding gender affirmation surgery should not be part of the raft of questions case workers ask. Fetterman, while saying she trusts her staff are getting this right, does however contend that any breech of their own nondiscrimination policy should be handled internally.
Until the investigation into this complaint is through, it’s important to be cautious about how we interpret these events: it may very well be this was an isolated incident and one that, having been brought to the Salvation Army’s attention, will now be rectified going forward. However, this isn’t the first time the organization has been caught out for anti-LGBT discrimination.
As some LGBT rights advocates have repeatedly noted over the years in very worthwhile public awareness campaigns, the Salvation Army demands celibacy from gay Christians and, as a self-described Christian organization, maintains things like children are best served in a two-parent heterosexual outlook. Not only this, but it has actively lobbied against LGBT-rights protection measures in the UK, the United States and Australia, among other nations.
The Salvation Army has always contended that it will serve people regardless of their LGBT identity, and such charges have even prompted the Salvation Army to create a page on its website dedicated to “debunking the myth” of LGBT discrimination.
However, critics say that while the organization may be a positive force in some respects, this doesn’t cancel out its discriminatory policies or its apparent will to ensure that a country’s laws keep discriminating against LGBT people. Indeed, it seems difficult to reconcile the Salvation Army acting surprised when discrimination against LGBT people does occur when its very policies seem to allow that discrimination to flourish — discrimination that can be particularly injurious to the transgender community.
While there are several high-profiled trans people who have broken through the challenges they have faced to climb to the top of their respect professions, the community is adversely affected by job and housing discrimination, often due to a lack of local and state level protections (despite federal law being very clear on gender discrimination). The National Transgender Discrimination Survey identifies that shelters aren’t even necessarily a safe-space of trans people with over half from the national sample saying they had been harassed by shelter staff. Nearly 30% reported being turned away entirely.
Fortunately, this story does have a happy ending for Wiley. She has found accommodation through the Trans* Pride Initiative’s “Shared Housing Project” and is, by all accounts, now in a safe space.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.