Pete Buttigieg Just Campaigned at a Salvation Army Shelter in L.A.

The organization has been widely accused of homophobia for years.

On Friday, January 10, in Los Angeles, presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg sticks out his hand and introduces himself to a young man living in a cubicle at the Imperial Bridge Home Project.

“Hopefully, we meet again,” Buttigieg says. “Hopefully I have your vote, too.”

At the other end of the cavernous sleeping quarters for homeless Angelinos, Leo Butler, another resident, admits that he doesn’t know who the candidate is.

“I just came here to support the facility,” Butler tells NewNowNext.

Residents like Butler are excited to tell share their stories about the new shelter, which opened two months ago as part of a citywide initiative to tackle the homelessness crisis in L.A.

Kate Sosin

While the campaign stop may have warmed the hearts of some Bridge Home residents, it’s likely to raise eyebrows among many of Buttigieg’s strongest supporters: The facility is run by homophobic Salvation Army.

Salvation Army has a decades-long history of discriminating against LGBTQ people in its shelters and opposing equality at the local, national, and even international levels. Bil Browning, editor in chief at LGBTQ Nation, says that the organization presented him and his boyfriend with an ultimatum two decades ago when they tried to gain access to a location: Break up or forgo shelter.

Salvation Army has worked to repair this image, claiming over and over that it is not anti-LGBTQ. Two years ago it opened an LGBTQ shelter in Canada. However, that opening came on the heels of a Human Rights Commission complaint against the organization regarding its intake procedures for trans clients.

Buttigieg previously irked LGBTQ advocates late last year when two-year-old photos of him volunteering for Salvation Army surfaced on social media.

During a tour of Bridge Home Project on Friday, Buttigieg specifically asked Salvation Army officials how they housed transgender individuals. While the facility is segregated into men’s and women’s dorms, bathrooms are gender-neutral.

“Everyone is welcome,” Lt. Colonel John Chamness told the Democratic candidate as they toured the men’s dorm, adding that trans people can opt to be housed according to their gender identity.

Kate Sosin

When asked why he had decided to make a stop at the organization given its anti-LGBTQ history, the former South Bend mayor defended his choice.

“One thing that I think is very important is to acknowledge progress, and we had a specific conversation here about making sure, for example, that transgender people who are experiencing homelessness are supported just like anybody else would be,” Buttigieg tells NewNowNext. “I’ve been very encouraged to see that and want to make sure that I’m acknowledging growth in the right direction.”

Buttigieg points out that he is obviously passionate about LGBTQ equality—but he’s also passionate about ending homelessness.

Kate Sosin

“Anybody who shares that passion—I think that we can work together,” he adds.

Outside the event, however, some activists had a different take. A handful of protesters from Black Lives Matter South Bend and Black Lives Matter L.A. marched up and down Imperial Highway for the better part of two hours protesting Buttigieg’s visit, accusing him of using the shelter for a photo-op in order to falsify black support. They called for answers regarding the death of 44-year-old Anthony Young, a South Bend resident who froze to death in late December while Buttigieg was still mayor.

Buttigieg’s campaign notes that while he was mayor homelessness fell by about 25% and the poverty rate dipped by 38.7%.

But rather than engaging with the crowd, Buttigieg climbed into a black SUV. Police parted protesters as his car pulled onto Imperial Highway.

Editor’s Note: This piece was updated to reflect additional comments from the Buttigieg campaign on homelessness and poverty rates in South Bend.

Kate Sosin is an award-winning, trans-identified news and investigative reporter.