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Activist Groups Urge Obama to Reject Boy Scout Honor

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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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Steve Starkey, Executive Dir. of the Wisconsin Community Fund Asks United Ways not to be fooled by the BSA Rhetoric

An Opinion Piece
The (Madison, WI) Capital Times
April 11, 2001

United Way gets it wrong

By Steve Starkey
Executive Director, the Wisconsin Community Fund

Last week, after months of consideration, United Way of Dane County announced its decision to continue funding local Boy Scout troops. This action came despite the local United Way's own non-discrimination policy requiring funded agencies to offer services to all people in the community, regardless of sexual orientation.

The United Way believes that this is a reasonable compromise. It says it was placed between the proverbial rock and a hard place in weighing conflicting community values.

At the Wisconsin Community Fund, we disagree with both the United Way's decision and its rationale for making that decision. Continuing to sanction discrimination was the wrong thing to do, and the wrong statement to send to our community.

The local Boy Scout Council is violating this community's trust by perpetuating the discriminatory policies of its national organization. Every indication is that the national Boy Scouts are not about to move on this issue.

United Way President Leslie Ann Howard told The Capital Times, "They (the Boy Scouts) are taking enough steps toward changing their policy that we feel we can stick with them while they are making progress toward becoming more inclusive." We disagree. While they've talked a good game, little of substance has occurred. It has become increasingly apparent that the local
Boy Scout Council's hands are tied, and it is unwilling to stand up to the national organization.

As the Girl Scouts affirmed long ago, there is no rational basis for excluding youth from Scouting on the basis of their sexual orientation, nor is there any basis for excluding qualified Scout leaders for the same reason. The local Boy Scout Council claims that it employs a kind of "don't ask, don't tell" policy now, so it's not an issue here. That kind of avoidance thinking, as proven in the context of the U.S. military's policy toward gays, only makes things worse, not better.

In a situation already ripe with hypocrisy, the local Boy Scout policy involves asking Scouts and their leaders to contradict their fundamental Scouting values of honesty and integrity. Young men have a right to be true to who they are, and Scouting leaders should not have to tell lies about their significant partners and families. As long as these discriminatory policies exist, these problems won't go away.

The United Way says that the best interests of youth are at the base of its decision-making process, but what are they saying to our community's youth? Gay youth and children in gay families already face daunting challenges without having institutional discrimination against them sanctioned by respected community organizations such as the United Way and the Boy Scouts.

The detrimental effects of homophobia and rigid gender roles diminish all children. At a time when our schools and community leaders are attempting to get at the roots of these prejudices, what kinds of contradictory messages are being conveyed by this decision?

Because of our long history of support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities, we would be glad to participate in further dialogue on this important issue. We hope to help bring about a solution that is beneficial to the whole community.

The Wisconsin Community Fund supports community activism that creates progressive social change. "Activism is not issue-specific," writes author June Jordan. "It's a moral posture that propels you forward from one hard hour to the next. You assume responsibility for the privilege of your abilities. You reach beyond yourself in your imagination and in your wish for understanding and for change. You do not turn away."

Rather than making a decision that was consistent with its expressed values as reflected in its own policies, we believe that the United Way did choose to turn away.

We hope that the Boy Scouts, the United Way, and the rest of the Dane County community will find common ground, and will move beyond the polarization that has surrounded this issue. At the same time, we encourage everyone who believes in social justice to look closely at opportunities for giving that move us forward in our quest to make a better world.


Steve Starkey is the executive director of the Wisconsin Community Fund. For the past 19 years, the fund has awarded grants to hundreds of progressive statewide groups working for social and economic justice.




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