A local group fundraising for the Salvation Army in the Moscow Walmart parking lot Friday ended efforts early after the store’s management asked them to put away a gay pride flag they had on display.
The group, Food Not Bombs of the Palouse, left the site about two hours after fundraising efforts began, organizers said, after a Walmart manager made it clear — because of customer complaints — that the flag would have to be placed out of sight or the group would have to leave.
“She said ‘You don’t have to leave, you just have to take that … ’ you know, pointing at the flag, ‘down,’ ” Food Not Bombs organizer Henri Sivula said. “We basically were like, ‘Well … if it goes, we go.’ ”
Sivula, who describes Food Not Bombs as an “LGBTQ-plus affirming organization run by and for LGBTQ folks from the beginning,” said the event was meant to promote unity and solidarity between two local organizations that help the less fortunate.
Salvation Army Service Extension Director Shaun Jones said the organization’s contract with Walmart stores actually clearly stipulates that only Salvation Army approved signage is allowed to be on display.
He said Walmart was within its rights to ask Friday’s bell ringers to put away any additional signage just as it would be appropriate to request the same of a sports team or fraternity who had volunteered to represent the Salvation Army.
Sivula acknowledged the Salvation Army has had a complicated history with LGBTQ issues. Chick-Fil-A recently discontinued charitable contributions to the Salvation Army in an effort to distance itself from criticism for supporting groups perceived to have controversial stances on LGBTQ rights. However, Sivula noted the organization has been working to change that perception and its local presence has been largely inclusive.
Sivula said because of this reputation, there was need for a local show of solidarity so that people in the LGBTQ community who are in need could feel welcome to seek the Salvation Army’s services. While any funds raised would have gone to the Salvation Army, Katie Drymon, the organization’s center coordinator for Whitman County, said every penny would have directly supported local charitable efforts.
“That was kind of Henri and I’s idea, to show that in our community we work together … as a community to help our community,” Drymon said. “We’re just trying to show people that we can work together and it not be a head-butting session like it has been in the past.”
Jones said despite criticisms that the group is noninclusive, commitment to nondiscrimination is in the Salvation Army’s mission statement and the group helped 23 million people last year in the U.S. alone regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. He said the purpose of the event was to help those in need in the community, not to show solidarity. He said “I think the solidarity piece comes from the working together.”
“We’re welcoming to all. I think anybody and everybody that wants to work with the Salvation Army is welcome. We want to be inclusive and help people out and work together,” Jones said. “There’s always ways of doing that in the proper manner and, again, we go by the letter of the contract and the letter of the contract would be the proper manner.”
The Salvation Army will continue to fundraise at the Moscow Walmart through the month of December.
Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to email@example.com.