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Activist groups, including Scouting for All, urge President Obama not to accept the honorary Presidency of the Boy Scouts of America until they stop discriminating.

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Heart of Florida United Way, Orlanda, FL

Orlando Sentinel, January 12, 2001 Orlando, FL, 32801

Boy scouts, United Way face off on gays again

Gwyneth K. Shaw of the Sentinel Staff

Heart of Florida United Way has demanded a pledge from its 78 member agencies that they won't exclude gays -- and all but the local Boy Scouts have said yes.

The Scouts are standing alone against the region's largest charity, bound to a national policy that bars "avowed homosexuals" from its ranks of members, volunteers and troop leaders.

The Central Florida Boy Scout council says it "may not" be able to comply with the new United Way policy barring discrimination by its agencies.

Without a major shift from one side, the Scouts stand to lose $300,000 in annual donations from United Way, about 10 percent of the group's budget.

"Our policies are what they are. Compromise will have to be reached on the United Way side, and we're optimistic that it will be," Tico Perez, president of the local Scouting council, said Thursday. "In the same breath, of course, we're making plans in the event that doesn't happen."

In late August and September, when the United Way board was considering a nondiscrimination policy that includes race, gender and sexual orientation, the mantra was: "It's not about the Boy Scouts." That's not the case anymore.

"Now that we know that all of our agencies can comply except one, obviously our focus shifts to the Boy Scouts," said Brian Quail, president and CEO of the local United Way, which serves Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties.

"The question is: Where do we go from here?" he said. "Can we find some middle ground?"

Given the sharp conflicts in the language of the two policies, that seems unlikely. On the form sent to each agency, United Way asked a simple yes-or-no question.

But the Scouts chose a third option, fudging the compliance issue and attaching a letter detailing the policies of the Boy Scouts of America.

The move essentially threw the ball back to Quail and the charity's volunteer board, asking them to decide whether those policies jibe with the new United Way rule.

"We don't presume to know how they intend to apply their rules," Perez said. "We don't know what they're going to do, and we certainly wouldn't self-exclude. We think the community should have the opportunity to fund us."

A committee of volunteers from the Scouts and United Way will meet the last week of this month, and both sides are obviously hoping to avoid an acrimonious split that would leave everyone wounded in the eyes of the donation-making public.

A final decision must be made by the end of March, when United Way prepares its list of eligible nonprofit agencies for its fall fund-raising campaign.

What Perez wants is sort of a special dispensation from the United Way, something that would allow the Scouts to keep both their money and their policies. There are several possibilities, none of which are firm enough to handicap, he said.

With negotiations poised to begin, the question becomes whether the United Way's volunteer board will remain committed to the controversial policy or rescind it.

"I think based on the fact that our polls showed that it's only one agency that is potentially being affected, the board will continue to back the policy," said Kathryn Hoeck, an Orlando attorney who sits on the board. "I know we are willing to look at all available options -- short of changing our policy -- to see if we can work something out."

From the beginning, the debate has stirred emotions and hurt both sides.

During the initial flap in August, board Chairman John Lord quit after he was accused of pushing the policy because his son is gay. While United Way exceeded its goal in its fall fund-raising campaign, donations were down in some areas.

And a proposed merger between Heart of Florida United Way and its counterpart in Lake and Sumter counties fell apart late last year, at least partially because of the Boy Scouts issue.

John Provance, president of the United Way of Lake and Sumter Counties, said that ultimately, his board members felt they would be better off making their own decisions regarding raising money and giving it away.

In addition, he said, his group deals with both the Central Florida Scout council and another in Tampa -- meaning that cutting out the Scouts would eliminate two agencies. "We said we didn't have the problem," Provance said. "Why take the chance?"

Both Provance and Quail said the door remains open for the two agencies to merge, and that they will continue to do some fund raising together.

But now that the campaign is over, the focus has shifted firmly back where it was in September: whether United Way will continue to fund the Boy Scouts. The public pressure is likely to return as well.

Time-share mogul David Siegel, a United Way board member whose company donates huge amonts to the charity, said he's not yet prepared to direct his employees to donate elsewhere. But the current fight creates big problems for him.

"I think the Boy Scouts are like motherhood and apple pie, and we shouldn't do anything to hurt the Boy Scouts. I would have a problem giving support to United Way if they're not going to support the Boy Scouts," he said.

United Way board Chairman Jerry Hilbrich -- who moved up to Lord's spot after he -- said it's too soon to predict whether the charity and the Scouts will ultimately separate.

"I'm unwilling to give up without at least trying to reach some middle ground," he said. .

Barry Flynn of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report. . Gwyneth K. Shaw, who covers social services, can be reached at or 407-420-5540.




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