Scouts use 'Don't ask, don't tell'
Approach allows council to sign United Way anti-bias policy
By JESSICA McBRIDE
Last Updated: Aug. 24, 2002
Boy Scout officials in Milwaukee say they have found a way to honor both the Boy Scouts of America's ban on homosexuals and the local United Way's policy against funding groups that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
In the U.S. military, they called it "Don't ask, don't tell."
The same approach, local Scout officials confirmed Friday, allowed them to finally sign the United Way of Greater Milwaukee's policy, adopted last year. Then, Boy Scouts of America's Milwaukee County Council signed its funding agreement only after crossing out the sexual orientation phrase.
But if local Scout officials learn that a member or leader is gay, they would ask that person to leave the organization.
That left one local gay leader to suggest the Milwaukee County Council appears to be trying to have it both ways, as the ongoing national debate about funding Boy Scouts groups continues.
The Boy Scouts receive more than $650,000 - about a quarter of their annual budget - from the United Way, the largest single donor to the local Scouts. Most of its contribution goes to programs aimed at inner-city youths.
Leaders in the United Way and Boy Scouts said the Scouts signed the policy about two weeks ago after two years of "meaningful" dialogue involving the organizations and the gay community.
But the leader of a local gay and lesbian organization who has been active on the issue questioned the sincerity of the move because the Milwaukee County Council was not also rejecting the Boy Scouts' national rule banning "avowed homosexuals" from leadership roles.
Michael Childers, Scout executive for the Milwaukee County Council, said Friday it can meet the apparently conflicting rules because it does not ask members or leaders whether they are homosexual.
If the local council otherwise learned that a member or leader was homosexual, Childers said, it would let that person go to comply with the national policy.
Asked if that wouldn't then violate the United Way policy, Childers said it wouldn't.
"It's not like we're trying to discover it or make it an issue," he said of homosexuality.
Neil Albrecht, executive director of the Milwaukee Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Transgender Community Center, called the comments "discouraging and disheartening."
"It should be alarming to the United Way," he said. "I would question the sincerity" of signing the United Way policy.
Gregg Shields, national spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, said the organization was not concerned that the Milwaukee County Council had signed a non-discrimination policy regarding sexual orientation, although he said only a few of the 320 councils nationwide had done so. He said Childers called him Friday to say the local group would be complying with the national policy.
"The national policy is that the Boy Scouts of America have always stood for and taught traditional American family values," Shields said, "and an avowed homosexual is not a role model for those values, and accordingly we don't extend leadership to homosexuals. We don't force these values on anyone. We are a volunteer organization."
Asked how a group could honor that and the United Way's non-discrimination rule at the same time, Shields said, "That would be for the United Way to decide."
Sue Dragisic, United Way of Greater Milwaukee president, refused to even confirm that the Boy Scouts had signed the non-discrimination policy.
Vince Martin, the chair of the United Way's board of directors, said the board was "clearly pleased" that the local Scouts council signed.
"The national policy (of the Boy Scouts) and the reaction of various groups to it has caused a lot of stress in a lot of areas," Martin said. "The United Way seeks to serve the broad community."
The United Way's policy says no funds shall be used for "any program or agency that discriminates in the provision of services on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, handicap, sex, or sexual orientation."
Even before the Boy Scouts signed, the United Way had agreed to include them in its fall campaign because there had been "very, very meaningful discussions on this subject in the past two years," Martin said.
The Milwaukee County Council had written to the national organization about the "strain that the issue has created in our community," urging the national leaders "to reflect upon these concerns in its continuing review of Scout policies."
Before amending its non-discrimination policy last year, the United Way had created a task force to explore the local debate over its funding of the Boy Scouts. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the Scouts could exclude gays, prompting institutions across the country to look at their relationships with the Scouts and, in some jurisdictions, pull funding.
The Milwaukee County Council was one of a growing number of Scouting groups questioning or even condemning the national policy. United Way leaders locally have insisted that non-compliance with the new non-discrimination policy would be dealt with swiftly; Martin reiterated that Friday and also said the efforts of the task force continued.
Despite his criticisms, Albrecht did call the Milwaukee County Council action a good first step.
"To really be an inclusive organization or to be perceived as an inclusive organization, they really need to make a concerted effort at a public statement affirming the acceptance of gay people," he said.
Don Layden Jr., the volunteer chairman of the board of the Milwaukee Scout council, said Friday that he personally disagrees with the national Boy Scouts' stand on homosexuals.
"I think ultimately the Boy Scouts will change their national policy," he said.
Asked about Childers' remark that an avowed homosexual Scout leader would be asked to leave the organization, Layden said he would not discuss hypotheticals.
"The Boy Scouts in Milwaukee County don't discriminate," he said, "and in fact, we have had many gay Boy Scouts and leaders in Milwaukee that have provided leadership in Milwaukee."
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