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Faculty urges United Way boycott - Hamilton College teachers upset with Boy Scouts' position on gays

Wed, Oct 9, 2002

CECILIA LE
Observer-Dispatch Driven by concern about discimination by the Boy Scouts, Hamilton College faculty members are encouraging the college to stop giving institutional support to the United Way of Greater Utica. The faculty passed the motion unanimously at its Oct. 1 meeting. United Way funds the local Boy Scouts chapter, as well as about 70 other nonprofit organizations. "A lot of us have been concerned and very upset about the Boy Scouts' explicit discrimination against gay boys and men," said government professor Stephen Orvis, who presented the motion. No attendance was taken at the meeting, but Orvis said more than 100 faculty were present. The college has about 150 faculty members. Don Shepard, program director of the Boy Scouts' local Land of the Oneidas Council, said the chapter does exclude open homosexuals, exercising a right the Supreme Court upheld in June 2000. "We as a private organization reserve the right to denote guidelines for membership," Shepard said. "Nowhere in our literature does it ask individuals, 'Are you gay,'" he said. "But if someone disclaims that they are openly gay, we would deny membership -- to members and leaders -- because of values we embody and try to portray." The United Way requires all the organizations it funds to sign a contract abiding to its diversity policy, which prohibits discrimination against groups such as homosexuals. The Boy Scouts, who receive $30,000 a year from United Way, signed the contract. Shepard said the Boy Scouts' attorney drafted an addendum to the contract, which says the group practices "nondiscrimination" by not asking its members' sexual orientation. "We mailed it back to them and heard nothing more," he said. But he cannot produce the addendum, and United Way Executive Director Scott Ferguson said he knows nothing about it. Nor would Ferguson comment on the Boy Scouts' admission that it excludes open homosexuals. "If any group violates any portion of the contract we have with them, our board would investigate and take appropriate action," he said. "But we have to have a complaint first." Contributors to the United Way may specify which agency is to receive the funds, as well as which agency is not to benefit.

"Because we allow people to designate what groups get funding, I would hope (opposition to a certain group) is not an excuse not to give," Ferguson said. Orvis said cutting funds to United Way is the best way to protest its funding of the Boy Scouts. "Symbolically, you're telling them what you oppose," he said. "As long as you're still giving, you're not making much of a statement." Hamilton College supports United Way through a payroll deduction program. Employees may designate an amount to be taken from each paycheck for donation to United Way. President Eugene M. Tobin, in a Sept. 6 memo to Hamilton employees, struggled to balance the college's commitment to diversity with the needs of those who benefit from United Way funds. "I deeply respect the opinions and actions of all Hamilton employees who disagree with the policies of the Boy Scouts," he wrote. "I am equally mindful of the thousands of Central New York residents who benefit from the services provided by United Way agencies, and I have seen firsthand what this support means to people who are homeless, infirm, in need or financially destitute." The college plans to continue the payroll-deduction program. Orvis said the faculty has organized an alternative giving campaign under which college employees are encouraged to give to United Way's beneficiaries, but not to the group itself. Shepard, from the Boy Scouts, said he hasn't spoken to anyone at Hamilton, but bears no ill will toward the protest. "We support our values, and Hamilton College seems to making public their values," Shepard said. "The only thing I can do is support them in that."



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