Boy Scouts council in Central Kentucky loses United Way money over ban on gay adult leaders

gkocher1@herald-leader.comOctober 23, 2013 

After more than 50 years of support, United Way of the Bluegrass has suspended nearly $100,000 in annual funding to the Boy Scouts of America's Blue Grass Council because of national scouting policy to not allow gays to serve as adult leaders.

The Boy Scouts National Council voted in May to allow openly gay youth to join but maintained its ban on gay leaders.

In addition, parents and leaders in scouting locally and across the country have told the Blue Grass Council and Boy Scouts of America they "weren't quite comfortable with openly homosexual adult leadership," said scout executive Chip Armishaw.

The Blue Grass Council, which has a $2 million annual budget, receives $96,000 a year in funding from United Way of the Bluegrass, said Dan Koett, chief marketing officer for the council. United Way of the Bluegrass was the largest single donor for the council, according to a letter the council sent to families involved in scouting.

Armishaw said the 5 percent loss in funding "is a hurt. I'm not going to lie to you." But he said the organization will work to close the funding gap through donations.

"We're going to walk on faith that the scouting community will close ranks behind us and support us," Armishaw said. "They always do and we know they will come to us in our time of need."

The Blue Grass Council was informed about the suspension on Friday and did not receive its October payment from United Way, Koett said.

The suspension in funding will affect scouting services in Anderson, Bourbon, Clark, Fayette, Jessamine, Madison, Montgomery, Scott and Woodford counties, Koett said. About 5,000 young people are served by scouting in those counties, he said.

Over the last three years, United Way of the Bluegrass has allotted $9 million to 82 agencies and more than 100 initiatives in those same counties.

United Way of Franklin County, United Way of South Central Kentucky, United Way of South Eastern Kentucky and United Way of Mason County continue to fund the Blue Grass Council, Koett said.

Bill Farmer, president of United Way of the Bluegrass, said everyone who passes a background check to become a scout leader should be "eligible and able to do so."

"Based on their policy, as we understand it, an openly gay male can serve in the Boy Scouts, become an Eagle Scout and well-decorated, and at the time that he graduates from high school, he is ineligible to serve as a troop leader or scoutmaster," Farmer said.

If the Boy Scouts of America changed its policy on adult leaders, United Way funding would resume, Farmer said. But Armishaw said the Blue Grass Council has no control over the national policy.

Farmer said United Way's decision came after United Way evaluated how it handles non-discrimination issues with its partner agencies in the region. The United Way non-discrimination policy says that agencies receiving grant funds must "afford equal opportunity and equal treatment to all persons in all employment matters and service provision without regard to race, color, religion, gender, gender identity, national origin, age, military or veteran status, sexual orientation, pregnancy, ancestry, disability, or any other protected category."

Farmer said this policy "is comparable to non-discrimination policies for businesses and governmental organizations across the commonwealth."

The Blue Grass Council agreed to and signed on to this non-discrimination policy in September, Farmer said. But given the Boy Scouts of America's stance on adult leaders, United Way doubted whether the regional scouting organization could adhere to the policy or enforce it.

Armishaw said the Blue Grass Council thought opening doors to gay youth meant that it could continue its partnership with United Way, "but in their eyes that didn't go far enough."

"We have a great relationship with the Boy Scouts," Farmer said. "We disagree on this one issue."

Armishaw said the Blue Grass Council is "very appreciative of the past support that United Way of the Bluegrass has given us."

"Our partnership over a half century has really allowed us to positively impact hundreds of thousands of youth," he said.

The Boy Scouts Blue Grass Council serves more than 10,000 children in 55 counties in Central and Eastern Kentucky. In the letter to parents, the council said it is "deeply disappointed by this decision, which effectively brings to an end a long-standing relationship which has played a critical role in providing a character-based program to many thousands of local young people for decades."

The letter goes on to say that the loss of funding "will have serious implications for the future of Scouting in our region and ultimately young boys and men are the ones who will suffer the consequences if these funds are not secured from other sources."

The letter asks families to contribute donations to the Blue Grass Council. "We also encourage those who have traditionally given to Scouting through their company by way of the annual United Way of the Bluegrass giving campaign to consider making that gift directly to the Blue Grass Council ..."

United Way of the Bluegrass has suspended funding to agencies in the past, Farmer said, but that was typically over fiscal mismanagement.

The issue of United Way funding for Boy Scouts over policies in regard to gays has come up before in Central Kentucky.

In September 2000, the United Way of the Bluegrass board upheld its executive committee's decision to continue funding the Boy Scouts, even though the Boy Scouts excluded gays. The board also declined to issue a stronger statement against the Boy Scouts' position.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June 2000 upheld the Boy Scouts' right, as a private organization, to exclude homosexuals.

The policy the United Way board approved in 2000 "requires United Way-funded agencies to have a non-discrimination policy in accordance with federal, state, and local laws. As with any of our funded charities, United Way cannot become involved in setting policies for Boy Scouts of America."

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @heraldleader

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