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United Way of Ulster County Stopped Funding The Local Scout Council Because of the Boy Scout's Policy of Discrimination, Kingston, New York

Boy Scouts lose funding for barring gays

By Jesse J. Smith , Freeman staff 02/25/2004

AS PRESIDENT Bush announced on Tuesday that he would back a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages, the issue of gay rights played out locally with an announcement by the United Way of Ulster County that it would end a 40-year partnership with the Rip Van Winkle Council of the Boy Scouts of America because the council declined to sign a non-discrimination statement that included the words "sexual orientation."

The decision to pull the scout council's funding followed six months of discussions with the Rip Van Winkle Council's leadership in an attempt to draft non-discrimination policy acceptable to both groups, said Stacy
Rein, the local United Way president. "We were really trying to meet them halfway," Rein said. "You don't end a 40-year partnership just like that."

Rein said the United Way decided in May 2003 to require its 16 member agencies, including the Rip Van Winkle Council, to sign a non-discrimination policy that specifically mentioned sexual orientation.

The decision, Rein said, came after an earlier request for each member agency to submit its own non-discrimination policy resulted in a variety of statements, not all of which were acceptable to the board. The scout council declined to sign the United Way's non-discrimination statement but offered a revised document, which the council said was "more universal" and would "cover all types of discrimination without mention of any
special interest." The revised document said membership in scouting activities would be open to all boys and girls of applicable age "without regard to any classification." Also, it said, the scout council "prohibits job discrimination and ensures equality of opportunity in all aspects of employment." The policy, however made no mention of volunteer scout leaders who are not employed by the council, a role from which admitted homosexuals are barred, according to national Boy Scout policy.

A 2000 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Boy Scouts of America a private organization with the right to set its own standards for membership and leadership, including the right to bar admitted homosexuals
from serving as scout leaders. That policy now applies to all of the scouts' more than 300 local councils. "We believe an avowed homosexual is not a role model for the values espoused in the scout oath and law," the
national organization has said. Rip Van Winkle Council Executive Jeff Rand declined to explain the council's policy on homosexual members over the phone, saying it was "not a simple question." He also declined to
characterize the dispute with United Way as specifically related to the issue of sexual orientation. "We have a difference of opinion over statements of non-discrimination," said Rand, who added that the Rip Van Winkle Council has a history of and commitment to diversity and non-discrimination. Rein, however, said homosexuality was the sticking point in negotiations between the United Way and the Rip Van Winkle Council, which comprises scout troops in Ulster and Greene counties.

"The problem words (in the United Way policy) were 'sexual orientation,'" Rein said. "They could not sign a policy that mentioned it." Rein said the United Way of Ulster County will continue to fund scouting programs
through December 2004 - to the tune of about $30,000 - because the group was included in last year's fund-raising campaign. Rand said the United Way's contribution accounts for about 6 percent of the scout council's annual budget and that the council will seek donations from the public to cover the shortfall.

It is not yet known whether the council will continue to receive financial assistance from the United Way of Columbia and Greene Counties, which has funded summer camp programs for scouts in the past.

"No decision has been made," said Jack Corrigan executive director of the Columbia-Greene chapter.

©Daily Freeman 2004

Reader Opinions
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Name: Robert Raketty

Date: Mar, 01 2004

It is difficult to read some of inflammatory language of your readers. It is important to separate the situation from the people involved. It is not the Gays nor atheists (who are also barred from the Scouts) who are to blame for the loss of funding to the Rip Van Winkle Council.

The national organization is at fault for continuing to require local councils to practice discrimination. It would make much more sense to allow local troops to decide who is an appropriate Scoutmaster for their community, on a case per case basis.

The national policy applies to youth as well and the website of Coalitions for Inclusive Scouting ( clearly documents that. In addition to the emotional harm this may cause youth who happen to be gay or atheist, bigotry is not one "traditional value" the Boy Scouts should teach our children.

According to medical research on male homosexuality, two and four percent of the male population is gay. So, the expected number of those active boy scouts who are gay or bisexual based on the 2001 enrollment numbers is between 66,500 and 133,000 -- roughly the population of Albany NY.

There is roughly a one-in-five chance that at least one member of the typical eight-boy patrol will turn out to be gay or bisexual, and if a troop has 30 active members, the chances are that at least one of the boys will be affected by these policies is between 45% and 70%.

I applaud the the United Way of Ulster County for taking a principled stand on this issue. It serves the community well when well respected organizations send the message that just because one is gay or atheist, doesn't mean you can't be "morally straight" and "clean."

The national organization has an opportunity here, they can acknowledge the diversity of the human family or continue to reject it. However, if they choose the latter, they would be doing a great disservice to young people.

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