For United Way of the Capital Region President and CEO Joseph Capita, the attitude in the year 2000 was much different from now.
Twelve years ago, the Supreme Court heard a case of a gay Boy Scout leader who believed he was unfairly fired from the organization. The court fell on the side of the Boy Scouts of America, citing that as a private member organization, the Boy Scouts had the authority to hire whomever they wanted.
At the time, UWCR decided to not act against the Boy Scouts and its local chapter the New Birth of Freedom Council.
With the Boy Scouts’ recent reaffirmation of that policy in July, however, UWCR board members decided that they could no longer allow its support to continue. On Friday, the 33-member board nearly unanimously voted to not renew its partnership agreement with the New Birth of Freedom Council.
“Over the last 12 years, our community has changed, and although we accepted the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy as meeting our non-discrimination policy 12 years ago, we no longer believe we can accept that position as complying with our policies,” Capita said.
Capita said that the Boy Scout’s policy on homosexuality is noncompliant with the United Way’s non-discrimination policy.
“We realize that as a private member organization, the Boy Scouts can decide who they accept and don’t accept as members,” Capita said. “However, the undesignated money United Way distributes through its citizen review process is meant to serve all segments of our community. By deciding not to serve a portion of our community, the Boy Scouts are in conflict with United Way’s policies, which ensure access to programs and services.”
Last year, the Boy Scouts received $89,116 through UWCR’s allocation’s process, which represents 2.8 percent of the organization’s operating budget. In accordance with the current agreement, the organization will receive allocation funding through March 31, 2013. The council could be suspended beginning Jan. 1, 2013 until the organization is compliant.
Capita noted that though the New Birth of Freedom Council will not receive allocations from UWCR’s funds, area donors can still designate that their donations to UWCR be made to the Boy Scouts and UWCR will honor that request.
However, that vote comes as a disappointment for Ronald Gardner Jr., Scout Executive and CEO at New Birth of Freedom Council, which serves the Central Pennsylvania region. Gardner was out of state for a conference on Friday but sent out a statement via email.
“While we respect the UW’s right to express its opinion on this single BSA policy, the decision will adversely impact children in south central Pennsylvania and Scouting’s ability to teach vital lessons of service and leadership,” Gardner said. “While the council hopes to continue a dialogue with UWCR on this issue, our primary focus now shifts to addressing this significant gap in our budget so that we can continue providing meaningful programs to youth and the community.”
UWCR Board Chairman Robert Jones noted that he and the rest of the board are aware of the good that the Boy Scouts have accomplished in the area and nationwide. Jones himself was a Boy Scout, and he noted that it made the vote that much harder to make.
“This was an extremely difficult decision for our board,” Jones said. “We really value what they do in the community. But they aren’t in compliance with the policy on discrimination we have in effect.”
Gardner defended the Boy Scouts’ reaffirmed position barring openly gay scouts and leaders to join.
“It is important to note that the BSA membership policy has been in place for many years,” he said. “To be clear, the BSA does not proactively inquire about anyone’s sexual orientation, and the policy is not meant to be a commentary on social issues. Most of our youth members are under the age of 12 and the majority of parents we serve do not believe Scouting is the right forum for same-sex attraction to be introduced.”
Gardner also added that the council serves youth of all faiths, races and ethnic backgrounds.
The decision from UWCR doesn’t necessarily mean every United Way chapter will likewise take away its funding.
United Way of Carlisle and Cumberland County Executive Director Sherrie Davis said that each chapter can make its own decision on whether they want to continue funding the Boy Scouts. Davis noted that the Carlisle chapter hasn’t had any changes related to the New Birth of Freedom Council.
Whatever the other chapters of the United Way decide, Capita hopes that its decision may help stir the Boy Scouts of America into rethinking its position.
“We understand the Boy Scouts of America will discuss this issue at a national meeting this fall,” Capita said. “If the organization votes to change its policy at that time, there will be no interruption in the Boy Scouts’ partner agency status. We sincerely hope that happens. We continue to respect the impact the Boy Scouts have made on local youth. We sincerely hope we can work together again soon.”