It’s almost Christmas again, and this is when the Salvation Army sets up booths all around shopping malls in North America to solicit donations. I know many in the LGBTQ community have misgivings, or mistrust, or downright hostility towards the organization—or more accurately, the church, but I digress—often for the right reasons (e.g. their policies in the United States regarding gays, same-sex marriage, transgender rights etc), but sometimes for the wrong reason also (e.g. being duped by doctored photographs of volunteers protesting gay rights). It’s sufficed to say that “Sally Ann” does not have a stellar reputation among the transgender community.
But before we paint everyone in the Salvation Army as bigots, I want to share some of my experiences. For years, I volunteered with a Salvation Army group that runs an outreach program to sex workers in Toronto. One area that we target is Homewood Ave., which is where most transgender sex workers work. And the reason that we specifically target them is because the incredible suffering that they face. Most transgender sex workers we meet are from Caribbean countries. They come to Canada—often illegally—to escape persecutions, violence and harassment against them, the extend of which we’d never see in the US or Canada. Once they’re here, they have little job prospect aside from the little bit of money that they make as prostitutes. So we help them leave the sex trade, and to find temporary housing, immigration lawyers etc. In the time that I was in the program, I have never felt that their gender and sexual orientation was discriminated against.
It’s one thing to outreach to the sex workers, but it can be totally something else to have a trans woman among the ranks of the volunteers. So I should point out that I myself never was looked down upon. I was welcomed into the tight-nit group of volunteers just like all the women (and a few selected men) and I was valued just like everyone else. The work that I have done had been empowering to say the least.
I can’t say if my experience with the Salvation Army is typical among all the volunteers who are not anglo-saxon-English-speaking-white-Christian Americans/Canadians, but I would like to think that if we in the transgender community get angry by people assuming that we’re the worst kind of freaks and perverts, we probably shouldn’t do the same and assume that they’re all the same homophobic and transphobic bigots just because they’re part of the Salvation Army.
I think that’s enough ranting for one day.