CLOVIS -- Many
United Ways across the country have found themselves on the spot
following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld the Boy
Scouts of America's right to reject homosexual leaders.
In cities and towns nationwide, donors,
civic leaders, elected officials, and others have called on United
Ways to take some kind of action, such as withholding funds
from the Boy Scouts in protest of its policies toward gays
or reaffirming their support of local Scout councils.
The issue has put many United Ways
at ground zero for local debates on gay rights, charity
independence, and what it means to be a community-run and -financed
In some places, resolutions have been
easily achieved. But in other communities, bitter divisions have
emerged. In many cases, reaching a decision has meant maneuvering
through a minefield of competing interests as each United Way
tries to balance its own antidiscrimination policies against its
desires to limit the damage to Boy Scout programs and the
young men they serve.
The stakes are high. United Ways
account for roughly 35 percent of Boy Scout private donations
over all, based on 1996 information, the most recent data available.
United Ways are not alone in their reviews
of Boy Scout giving: Corporations, schools, religious groups,
individuals, and parents have also been placed in the position
of deciding whether to continue to support a highly esteemed organization
that excludes gay members.
"There is no question this Supreme Court
ruling has created a situation that is complex and painful for
everybody around the country, and that certainly does include
United Ways," says Elinor J. Ferdon, chairwoman-elect of the United
Way of America's board of governors.
Greg Shields, national spokesman for
the Boy Scouts of America, says his organization is frustrated
that some United Ways have shied away from continued support.
"We don't force our beliefs on anyone; we simply ask that our
values be respected and tolerated," he says.
"It's ironic in our pluralistic society
that some who champion individualism, tolerance, and diversity
don't practice these principles themselves."
A survey by The Chronicle of Higher
Education of the nation's 400 largest United Ways found
that at least 50 have taken steps to create, revise, or newly
apply their antidiscrimination policies in recent months.
Among the actions taken: At least 25
United Ways -- in places as varied as Allegan, Mich.; Bloomington,
Ind.; and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. -- have decided to drop local
Boy Scout organizations from their rosters of United Way member
agencies, meaning that the groups will no longer receive money
from the United Ways' general or unrestricted funds.
All or almost all of those United
Ways continue to permit donors to earmark their money for
the Boy Scouts. An additional eight United Ways plan to
limit their Boy Scout donations to Learning for Life, a
subsidiary of the Boy Scouts that operates in schools and
is not bound by the Scouts' policy on gays.
At least seven United Ways are
changing their pledge forms to allow donors who give to a United
Way's general fund to specifically prohibit their money from
being used to support the Boy Scouts.
A few United Ways have passed new or
strengthened existing antidiscrimination policies to include sexual
orientation as a criterion, but those groups say they do not plan
to make charities' support of the policies a condition for receiving
The United Way of Bay County,
in Bay City, Mich., says its board has asked local Boy Scout
leaders "to pursue policies that are consistent with your
mission to prepare young boys to be principled, educated, tolerant
adults of tomorrow" and not to make decisions about whom they
hire or serve based on sexual orientation.
"We ask the Lake Huron Council to
send this message to their national organization on our behalf,"
says a spokesman for the United Way.
"We would like, and truly believe, the
national Boy Scout organization will ultimately change
their policy." Several other United Ways have revised their antidiscrimination
policies or plan to beef up enforcement, but it is too early to
tell what impact that move will have.
For example, at the United Way of
Central Iowa, in Des Moines, the local Boy Scouts and
other member charities have until the beginning of next month
to decide whether to sign the United Way's new antidiscrimination
At many United Ways, however, unequivocal
support for the Scouts is just as strong and heartfelt. At least
27 United Way boards have taken a formal stand in recent months
to ensure future allocations to the Boy Scouts.
And many others say local support for
the Boy Scouts and its policies runs so strong that no
formal review has been necessary. For example, in response to
questions from The Chronicle, the United Way in
Jackson, Mich., wrote: "Our community is a very conservative one.
The values that the Boy Scouts reflect
are considered by most in our area to be morally correct. Ultimately,
we decided that we are a vehicle for the public to contribute
to the charity/issue of their choice.
As such, we are obligated to offer options
in funding, and are not responsible for deciding the moral correctness
of their gifts." The United Way of McHenry County, in McHenry,
Ill., says that responses to a letter it sent to its donors after
the Supreme Court decision stating that it would continue financing
the Boy Scouts "ran 20 to 1 in favor of the Boy Scouts."
John O'Hagan, head of the United Way,
says the letter also "sparked a 20-percent surge in giving" from
donors who did not contribute through a workplace campaign, including
many donors who had not given in the past year or more.
Mr. O'Hagan says that, although some
donors also decided to withhold donations because of the decision,
he believes those losses "were modest."
Many other United Ways are planning to
take up the issue during meetings scheduled through June. Some
1,400 United Ways raise money for charitable causes around the
country. 'I Owe Scouting' Pressure on United Ways to take a stand
on the Boy Scouts has come from a variety of sources.
Scouting for All, a charity
in Petaluma, Calif., that was cofounded by Eagle Scout Steven
Cozza, 16, organizes efforts to persuade the Boy Scouts to rescind
its policy on gays.
The charity specifically encourages scouts
and others to ask United Ways and corporations throughout
the nation to withdraw support from the Scouts, and provides suggested
form letters on its Web site.
"It's an educational process for many
United Ways," says Scott Cozza, Steven's father, who is
president of Scouting for All and a former scoutmaster. "It takes
time, because United Ways have to change not only their
attitudes but their behaviors.
If we educate them with a compassionate
heart and in a loving way, things will begin to happen. In fact,
long story short: It is happening."
Meanwhile, a Wisconsin businessman is
doing all he can to promote continued support of the Boy Scouts
in his city. In January, the United Way of Greater Milwaukee
formed a committee to study all sides of the controversy and report
to its board in June.
Richard L. Blomquist, chief executive
officer of Associates for Health Care, a for-profit company
in Brookfield, Wis., that donated $6,000 to the Milwaukee United
Way last year, is worried that the United Way could eventually
decide to withhold some or all of the more than $650,000 that
it currently provides each year to the Scouts' Milwaukee County
The council relies on that money for
a quarter of its budget. If the Milwaukee United Way cuts off
funds to the Scouts, Mr. Blomquist says his company will stop
donating to the United Way.
In the meantime, he has mailed letters
to 100 area business executives asking them to contact the United
Way to support the continued financing of the Scouts. Mr. Blomquist
emphasizes that his company does not allow discrimination of any
kind and that he has no prejudice against gay people.
But he says the United Way would be wrong
to say goodbye to the Scouts, which he says should not be punished
for setting its own criteria for leadership.
For Mr. Blomquist, the matter is laden
with loyalty. He joined the Scouts after his parents divorced
when he was 10 years old, and he credits the organization with
helping him during a troubled time. "I owe Scouting," he says.
"They were there for me, so I feel it's
important that I be there for them." Scouts Not Panicked Nobody
on any side of the debate wants to destroy the Boy Scouts,
says the man who argued the case against the Scouts' policy at
the Supreme Court.
Evan Wolfson, of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund,
says the Scouts could avoid all the controversy by simply changing
its policy on gays.
He says the United Ways that have already
decided to cut off money to the Boy Scouts mark "just the
beginning" of the total number that may ultimately take such action
to make their point.
While such steps are painful for the
Boy Scouts, Mr. Wolfson says, the overall debate over the
Scouts' policy is healthy for the country.
"Because scouting is so much a part of
American life, non-gay people are finally really getting to see
what antigay discrimination looks like up close," he says.
"Fair-minded Americans who are not gay are
reacting against that discrimination, and that's really great."
The Boy Scouts of America itself is not panicked about
the number of United Ways that have cut off money to Scout councils,
says Mr. Shields, the group's national spokesman.
He says that United Ways that are taking
such action represent "a very small percentage" of the total.
While the Scouts are worried about the serious financial problems
faced by those Scout councils that will suffer a cutoff or reduction
in United Way funds, "the vast majority of United Ways
are sticking with us," says Mr. Shields.
"In fact, they are supporting us quite
vociferously and quite strongly." A Loss of $150,000. One
council that is feeling the loss of United Way money is
the Connecticut Yankee Council, in Milford, which expects
to lose at least $150,000 -- or 8 percent -- of its annual budget
as 9 of its 14 United Way supporters withdraw funds because
of the Scouts' policy on gays.
Although those United Ways still allow
donors to designate the Yankee Council as the recipient of their
gifts, the Scouts group expects a big shortfall in United Way
dollars, most of which had been used for programs in urban areas,
says Douglas L. Krofina, the council's scout executive.
"United Ways have every right, even though
I don't agree with them, to do with their philanthropy and their
giving as they so choose," says Mr. Krofina.
"But they are missing the point of the
Supreme Court decision: that we have a constitutional right to
set our standards of values and beliefs and to assemble with people
who share the same values and beliefs, even though it may not
be politically correct for a portion of the population."
Many Connecticut residents who learned
about the plight of the Yankee Council through news accounts
have responded by mailing the council checks "for $50, $100, even
$500, saying that they are upset with the way the United Way is
treating the Boy Scouts," says Mr. Krofina.
But that's not
enough money to ease the crisis, he says, especially because the
council also will lose at least $100,000 from major corporations
-- such as Pitney Bowes -- that have withdrawn support in the
wake of the Supreme Court ruling.
"The funding person from one company
came to me and said, 'Until the national organization changes
its policy, you will not get any more money from us,'" says Mr.
Krofina. "I said, 'You have every right to do that, but remember,
if you have any intention of ever influencing the national organization
in changing its policy, this action by you will sever that chance.'
" To try to avoid budget cuts, the Yankee
Council is making an emergency appeal for contributions, asking
parents, Scout leaders, and executive board members for help as
well as starting a "friends of scouting" group to hunt for funds.
Says Mr. Krofina: "We have a lot of people
looking, but to make up that amount of money -- that's tough."
Difficult to Win Just how much of a difference the debate over
the Scouts will make to the nation's United Ways is unclear.
In some cities, United Way officials
have strived to find middle ground between people on opposing
sides of the issue. In Orlando, Fla., for example, the United
Way backed off of a plan to cut off all donations to the Boy
Scouts and instead adopted a plan that gives the Scouts their
own spot on the donor pledge form for earmarked gifts. The
United Way of Jackson County, in Medford, Ore., has come up
with a different approach, cutting the local Boy Scouts'
funds by 15 percent this year, from $40,962 to $34,818, as a way
to encourage the local Scout council "to engage in the national
debate regarding their policy" on gays. "
A lot of United Ways have made all-or-nothing
decisions on defunding the Scouts, but we wanted to allow the
integrity of both organizations to stand," says Dee Anne Everson,
executive director of the United Way.
Many United Ways in cities that are bitterly
divided on the Boy Scouts issue share the view that no matter
what response they choose, even if they do nothing, they will
upset some people.
Jill Figueroa, a spokeswoman for the
United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona, which starting
this year is requiring all the charities it supports to comply
with its antidiscrimination policy, says she has tried to emphasize
throughout the debate "that many people depend on the network
of United Way supported programs and services."
She adds: "Hopefully, those taking a
strong stance on either side of this issue will appreciate the
positive impact the collective United Way system makes in each
Letter to the Editor
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