News: Gays Need Not Apply

Boy Scout policy raises anti-discrimination questions

Sep 28, 2000 at 2:06 pm
Jymi Bolden

Doreen Cudnik, executive director of Stonewall Cincinnati, says the Boy Scouts of America should embrace diversity.

In an era when few question the value of diversity, the Boy Scouts of America have won a major victory in their battle to control who can join the youth organization.

A 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision in June recognizes the Boy Scouts' right to exclude gays, lesbians, atheists and others the organization deems morally unsuitable. The court decision is leading some organizations with non-discriminatory policies, such as the United Way, to consider whether they should still fund the Scouts.

About a dozen of the 1,400 United Way chapters have reduced or eliminated funding for Boy Scouts because it excludes gays, lesbians and atheists, according to United Way of America spokesperson Philip Jones. Each chapter's board decides for itself.

Cincinnati's United Way & Community Chest (UWCC) isn't one of the dozen, and doesn't appear likely to become the 13th. UWCC serves Northern Kentucky and Boone, Hamilton, Clermont and Brown counties with a $58.1 million grant budget, emphasizing programs for children. That includes a $1.1 million annual grant to the Dan Beard Council, the local 13-county district of the Boy Scouts of America.

Dan Beard, a Cincinnati native and outdoorsman, helped found the Boy Scouts in 1910. A bronze statue of Beard stands next to his boyhood home in Covington, on Third Street near the Licking River.

Although many United Way boards across the country are talking more about discrimination since the Scouts' court victory, Carol Aquino, UWCC's vice president of communications, isn't aware of any discussion by the local board.

Some United Way chapters have anti-discrimination policies covering sexual orientation, but UWCC does not. UWCC's policy forbids discrimination for age, race, sex, color, religion, national or ethnic religion or handicap — in short, the classifications included in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The United Way funds programs — not the organizations that run them, according to Aquino. But Doreen Cudnik, executive director of Stonewall Cincinnati, a local gay-rights group, takes issue with that stance.

"I would say that it sounds to me like they're splitting hairs," Cudnik says. "They have supported (the Scouts) in a big way."

Cudnik isn't asking United Way to immediately suspend Boy Scout funding. But she does want donors to take a hard look at their non-discrimination policies and ask if there's a conflict.

Cudnik was a Campfire Girl when she was 8 or 9 years old, before she knew she was gay. She really enjoyed the necklace making, camping and other group activities.

"I loved it," Cudnik says. "It was a great thing to be involved in ... Every kid should have access to that without discrimination."

Gregg Shields, Boy Scouts of America's national spokesman, says the Scouts have always taught traditional family values. Each member must take the Scout Oath: "On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight."

The Scout Law is a 12-point guide stating, "A Scout is reverent toward God" and "faithful in his religious duties."

"The point is we feel that an avowed homosexual is not a role model for the values we teach," Shields says. He also says keeping gays out of the Scouts is akin to keeping a Jewish temple from being taken over by Christians.

The Scouts have been fighting for 20 years for the right to decide who can join; other cases have included atheists who wanted to remain Scouts.

"In every case, the courts agreed with us," Shields says.

Recent years have been some of the best for the Scouts. Membership increased by 7 percent in each of the past three years, to 6.2 million, Shields says.

John C. Young, the Dan Beard Council's scout executive, says that, by a 5-1 margin, most people agree with the Scouts' stance. He only knows of two parents out of 60,000 members who withdrew their kids, but others might have done so without saying. But he has no doubts the Boy Scouts made the right decision.

"There's no hesitation on my part," Young says. "I wouldn't be working for the Boy Scouts if I didn't think their position was right."

Although a dozen United Ways have changed their funding policies because of the Scouts, the issue still seems to be playing out around the country.

The board of the United Way of Martin County, in southeast Florida, is keeping its $36,000 grant to the Scouts intact. Executive Director James Vojscik says funding a group is not an endorsement of its policies and procedures.

"It's very possible in the future the board will look at (the funding policy) and say it should be changed," Vojscik says.

The United Way/Capitol Area in Austin, Texas has allowed donors to exclude organizations from their donations since they set up a new contribution system in 1992. Cincinnati's UWCC doesn't have such a system.

Besides United Way, many other organizations give to the Boy Scouts, including Fifth Third Bancorp, which gave $500,000 to the Dan Beard Council in 1999 to help redevelop the Scouts' outdoor educational facility in Clermont County.

The subject of discrimination came up briefly about two weeks ago at a meeting about grant recommendations. The bank's foundation doesn't have any specific anti-discrimination policies for grants, but is not blind to the issue, according to Lawra Baumann, vice president of the Fifth Third Foundation Office.

"Obviously, this is something we will keep our eyes open to," Baumann says.

While the Boy Scouts don't believe gays and lesbians are morally fit for membership, the Girl Scouts of America not only accepts homosexuals, but also non-Christians, according to Kim Danker, spokesman for the Great Rivers Girl Scout Council, which covers four Indiana and five Ohio counties, including Hamilton.

The Girl Scout oath sounds similar to the Boy Scout oath: "On my honor, I will try to serve God and my country, to help people at all times and to live by the Girl Scout Law." But their law doesn't specify religious beliefs, and Danker says non-Christian girls can substitute their god in the Girl Scout Oath. The Girl Scouts, founded in 1912, also welcome male leaders. The Girl Scouts want as many people as possible to participate, Danker says. She also says she doesn't know how the two organizations ended up taking such different paths.

Cudnik wishes the Boy Scouts weren't so worried about sexual orientation. She's worried the Boy Scout's rule sends a message of fear to parents: Don't let gay people around your kids, because they will force their sexuality on young people. As the aunt of two young girls, Cudnik also worries about children's safety and their role models.

"I completely understand that fear," she says. "(But) pedophilia and sexual orientation are two different things."

Shields says the Boy Scouts base their discrimination on moral character, not fear of sexual abuse.

"We make a distinction between pedophilia and homosexuality," Shields says.

The bottom line, he says, is the Boy Scouts just want the right to carve out their own place in America. Public-accommodation laws apply to hotels and restaurants, not private organizations, Shields says.

"We respect everybody's right to an opinion or a belief," he says. "We simply ask everyone to respect our beliefs and tolerate our values." ©