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Editorial: United Way vs. discrimination


An editorial: The Capital Times (Madison, WI)
February 18, 2002

As federal, state and local governments are squeezed by budget pressures that make it difficult to meet the pressing needs of area children and families, the United Way of Dane County regularly steps into the void. More than a conduit for charitable giving, the United Way is now a defining player in shaping community and social programs in the region. That is an awesome responsibility, and one that the United Way has struggled to perform appropriately. As such, the United Way has worked hard to become a more engaged, activist and genuinely responsive player in the public sphere. A part of the organization's growth has been reflected in its commitment to inclusiveness. When the United Way adopted a policy requiring agencies it funds to make services available to all people in the community, regardless of sexual orientation, the organization placed itself in the mainstream of Wisconsin and Dane County. Wisconsin was the first state in the nation to enact a law bann! ing discrimination against homosexuals and bisexuals and Dane County has long been a leader in opposing anti-gay bias. Now, however, the United Way faces a difficult test of its commitment to reflect the values and goals of the community it serves. The Four Lakes Council of the Boy Scouts is a premier United Way agency. But is also an affiliate of the national Boy Scouts of America, which says "an avowed homosexual cannot serve as a role model" in Scouting. The national leadership has ordered that this position be adopted and practiced by all Scouting agencies in the United States. While they oppose the stance of their national leadership, Four Lakes Council officials admit that they would be required to practice discrimination against gay and lesbian leaders and gay Scouts were the issue to arise. Given that, the Coalition for an Inclusive United Way and other groups say that funding of the Four Lakes Council must be discontinued. United Way of Dane County President Leslie Ho! ward asked a year ago that the agency be given time to work with the Four Lakes Council to help develop diversity projects and to move it toward an anti-discrimination position. Four Lakes Council executive director Chuck Dobbins has worked closely with Howard in this regard, and he has gone out of his way to meet with those who would like to see the United Way sever its ties to the Scouts, including members of the Coalition for an Inclusive United Way. Like Terry Shockley, the new president of the Four Lakes Council board, Dobbins is a good man who has made it clear that he disagrees with all forms of discrimination. However, Dobbins, Shockley and other well-intentioned area Scouting leaders have not been able to move the national Scouts, and they are not willing to risk stating officially that their council will not discriminate. Thus, the Scouts and the United Way need to part company, at least for the short term. It would probably be best for the Scouts to announce that th! ey will find other sources for the roughly $135,000 they receive annually from the United Way. Otherwise, the United Way of Dane County should follow the lead of other United Way agencies in Wisconsin and make the break. After the break, we would hope that Dobbins, Shockley, Howard and members of the Coalition for an Inclusive United Way would keeping talking, keep working with one another and, ultimately, move the Four Lakes Council to take the explicit anti-discrimination position that would get it back under the United Way umbrella. Until that position is taken, however, the United Way of Dane County cannot credibly continue to fund the Four Lakes Council.

Published: 8:53 AM 2/18/02



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