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LANZI SETTLES SUIT AGAINST BOY SCOUTS IN SEPARATE ACTION, UNITED WAY YANKS FUNDING


6/15/01
By JUNE RICH
SANTA BARBARA NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER

As it nears its one-year anniversary, a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing the Boy Scouts to exclude homosexuals continues to reverberate in Santa Barbara County.

Most notably, Len Lanzi, the former head of the Scouts in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, has settled his lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America, which fired him after he revealed he was gay at a government meeting. Mr. Lanzi, 38, is believed to be the highest ranking Scout in the country to come out as a homosexual since the court ruling on June 28, 2000.

Mr. Lanzi would not comment on the the details of the confidential settlement.

The suit, filed in December, alleged breach of contract, defamation, employment discrimination, emotional distress and wrongful termination. He sought compensation for past and future earnings, as well as punitive damages.

Before Mr. Lanzi was fired, he was first pressured to resign quietly from his 13-year reign as head of Los Padres Council of the Boy Scouts, and even asked by the head of the local board of directors if he could change his sexual orientation, the suit said.

Mr. Lanzi is now working as the interim executive director of the Community Kitchen in Santa Barbara, after a similar stint at Court Appointed Special Advocates. In the long-term, he is considering running for the 3rd District county supervisor's seat.

"It's very preliminary," Mr. Lanzi said. "Word got out because I've been talking to some of my mentors in the community about what it would involve, what kind of impact it would have on my life. But I think politics is something I would enjoy, the public service end of it anyway."

In other related news, the United Way of Santa Barbara County has announced it will not fund the Boy Scouts this year -- a $56,000 loss that is a first in a 70-year relationship. The United Way was roundly criticized last year for continuing to fund the Scouts.

"It's been our long-term policy that we will not decide for people what's a right or a wrong charity," said Paul Didier, the head of the United Way. "Money is designated to organizations every year that some people might find distasteful."

The change does not affect the United Way's program with about 450 employers throughout Santa Barbara County, where employees divert a portion of their paycheck to the United Way for various charitable causes.

Mr. Didier noted a sharp rise in "negative declarations" due to the Scouts controversy, with donors earmarking $73,000 worth of contributions to go to any group but the Scouts last year.

In previous years, negative declarations totaled less than $100, he said.

The rejection of the Boy Scouts' $56,000 grant application, he said, was based on two factors: The application was disorganized and inaccurate, due probably to the transition that occurred after Mr. Lanzi's departure; and the United Way didn't want the Scouts controversy to hurt other groups for whom it raises money.

"Their impact in the community was primarily positive last year," Mr. Didier said. "Though it was sort of a national controversy last year, it didn't really affect us locally. This year, the Boy Scouts' position (on gays) has turned them into a divisive and polarizing group. There are certain issues that tear us apart, and that's definitely happened with the Scouts this year."

Will the United Way fund the Scouts in the future, should the controversy die down?

"I can't imagine the Boy Scouts keeping their policy, and not being controversial," Mr. Didier said. "I mean, ultimately, we will be responsive to our donor base. If our donor base said, 'We want you to support the Scouts,' then we would do it. But I can't see that happening."

On a third front, a Santa Barbara man is trying to overturn a county resolution that condemns the Boy Scouts' policies.

The resolution, adopted March 3, states that "the Board of Supervisors does hereby find the discriminatory policy and actions of the National Organization of the Boy Scouts of America incompatible with the anti-discriminatory policies of the County of Santa Barbara and insupportable by the County of Santa Barbara."

Michael Warnken, a 25-year-old Realtor, wants to start a petition to put the resolution to a vote. Mr. Warnken, who has no affiliation with the Boy Scouts, said the supervisors did not express the opinion of their constituents, which is their charge.

"This is a good group that's being hurt by the power of the county," Mr. Warnken said. "The Scouts believe it's morally wrong to be gay. I don't believe that, but (the Scouts) have the right to believe that."

As part of the process, Mr. Warnken submitted his petition application to county attorneys for legal review. The county referred his request to Superior Court on Thursday, for a judicial ruling to determine if his idea is a proper use of the initiative process.

"Initiatives are typically used to make local laws, to have some kind of effect in the real world," said Joe Allen, a senior county attorney. "It's never been used before to tell the supervisors that they expressed the wrong opinion. It seems he may have chosen the wrong vehicle for this. His petition would require the county clerk to put this on the ballot, but we can only do
that if it fits within state election code."

Mr. Allen said he expected a court hearing today or Monday.

If the case turns into a protracted legal battle, Mr. Warnken said he might abandon it to other local groups that have expressed an interest in the case. He would not name the groups.



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