Major Sherry McWhorter, volunteer Lisa Melendez and her daughter, Jenni Ragland and Major Nila Fankhauser at the Pride Festival 2015.

Alaska Division turns heads at PrideFest

The Salvation Army reaches local LGBT community at Anchorage Pride Festival.

By Sonya Senkowsky – 

For the second consecutive year, Salvation Army representatives reserved an information booth at Alaska Pride Festival, the annual event for Anchorage’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community.

Staffed by Divisional Headquarters officers, volunteers and Community Relations and Development staff, the booth offered information, cold water and and freebies. And just like last year, the plain white booth amid a sea of rainbows was greeted with more curiosity than concern—for the most part.

“I didn’t expect to see you here,” said one of the day’s first visitors. “How would The Salvation Army respond to someone who is LGBT seeking social services?” she challenged. And: “Would you hire someone who’s gay?”

The Salvation Army is a church that will not compromise its theology. However, it will and does hire LGBT employees, she was told. And, just as Jesus would, it serves all, without discrimination.

By the time she left the booth, the conversation had taken a new turn. The woman shared that she worked for a local healthcare provider for cancer patients. She had previously not been referring LGBT clients to The Salvation Army. Now, she would consider it an option. “And I’ll probably feel like I can drop things off at the store now, too,” her partner added.

Most conversations were more routine, centering on the materials available on volunteering and emergency preparedness, as well as The Salvation Army’s social services, homelessness prevention, Meals on Wheels, and Emergency Disaster Services. Free beaded earrings made by a volunteer served as a popular conversation-starter, drawing in those who might not otherwise have stopped. At least a couple dozen people signed up to volunteer or receive information.

“That’s success,” said Jenni Ragland, director of service extension and Emergency Disaster Services. “In another year or two, I’m hoping it’ll move on from wondering why we’re there to people looking for us.”

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