August 15, 2012; Source: Patriot-News

Opponents of the Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) reaffirmation of a policy to exclude gays as scouts and scout leaders have spoken out, as have supporters of the Boy Scouts, who stand by its right to set its own rules according to the moral and ethical standards it chooses. But the BSA decision puts other organizations that deal with the Boy Scouts in an awkward position. Do continued dealings constitute a tacit affirmation or at least acceptance of the BSA’s discriminatory policy? Given that the Boy Scouts have long held this position on gays and lesbians, does the simple affirmation of this policy compel others—such as charities, funders, and governmental agencies—to alter their relationships with the Boy Scouts? What is the equation for weighing the benefits of Boy Scouts programs against the harm of a policy rooted in discrimination based on sexual orientation?

One group of funders that has to figure this out are the various United Ways across the nation, which typically include the Boy Scouts as one of the charities eligible to receive United Way funding distributions. David Wenner of the Patriot-News reports that the United Way of Carlisle and Cumberland County in Carlisle, Pa., will not exclude the Scouts from its array of potential grantees. The executive director of the area’s local United Way said that donors who don’t like the Scouts’ position excluding “open or avowed homosexuals” can simply designate their moneys to go elsewhere.

It may be different for other United Ways. The executive director of the United Way of York County, Pa. acknowledged that his agency has a policy of “not partnering with organizations that discriminate based on sexual orientation.” The York County board will discuss this issue at its meeting next month, but the ED suggested that there might be a “gray area” for continuing to fund the Boy Scouts. In any case, it will likely be a slow decision for the board because of the thousands of scouts who would be affected by a decision not to fund and because the relationship of the Boy Scouts and the York County United Way has been ongoing since 1921.

Before the BSA’s July announcement, the United Way of the Capital Region in central Pennsylvania had been looking for the last two years at issues concerning the Boy Scouts and was considering a policy that Wenner described as “allow(ing) local Scouting groups to set their own policy” (sic). However, he reports that after the BSA’s reaffirmation of its stance against gays, the United Way of the Capital Region issued a statement indicating that the BSA policy appears to run counter to the United Way’s anti-discrimination policy, but no firm funding decision has been made. The regional BSA has said that it is bound by the organization’s national-level policy, though, akin to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” it doesn’t “proactively inquire” about the sexual orientations of scouts and scout leaders.

Meanwhile, the United Way of Lebanon County, Pa., which has a stated policy of not partnering with organizations that discriminate, is continuing to fund the Boy Scouts. According to Executive Director Mark Hoffman, the organization believes that its anti-discrimination “policy is broad enough” to keep the Boy Scouts in the list of preferred organizations to be funded. Hoffman says that his United Way doesn’t “micromanage” grant recipients’ policies like the anti-gay policy of the BSA.

Just from these Pennsylvania examples, it would appear that some United Ways are faced with the quandary of losing a longstanding relationship with the Boy Scouts or violating policies that prohibit partnering with organizations that discriminate. Are the United Way anti-discrimination policies real and heartfelt, meaning that an organization that excludes “avowed” gay people is out of compliance, or are the policies simply politically correct window dressing to be discarded if and when the issue is too uncomfortable for United Way leaders and board members?

What is the official position of your local United Way regarding continued funding for the Boy Scouts after this line-in-the-sand position excluding gay people from scouthood? –Rick Cohen