THE BLOG
08/20/2012 03:06 pm ET Updated Oct 20, 2012

The United Way and the University

My university and many others throughout the nation, for a number of years, have dedicated enormous amounts of time, energy, and resources annually to successfully promote and collect monetary donations for the United Way (UW), a global organization, which, according to its vision and goals statement, "envisions a world where all individuals and families achieve their human potential through education, income stability, and healthy lives."

The United Way Worldwide represents itself as "the leadership and support organization for the network of nearly 1,800 community-based United Ways in 40 countries and territories." Possibly the reason why so many colleges and universities have wedded themselves to UW could very well be that contributions to this single organization assist many worthwhile groups, which themselves help large numbers of individuals in real need.

While I find the goals of UW extremely laudable, I also find myself torn for a number of reasons with critical questions and deep concerns over our university's consistent and continuing support and focus on this organization.

Firstly, by concentrating our charitable fundraising efforts solely or primarily on UW, other equally deserving organizations are ultimately restricted in the donations they can receive. As the rationale goes, "Well, I have a limited amount that I can donate annually to charitable organizations, and I've already given this year to the United Way, so I can't give to other groups." A number of my family members have diabetes, and within the last three months alone, three of my close friends received a Stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis, and I am concentrating my efforts on raising funds for cancer and diabetes research and treatment. That has been my own personal decision.

Secondly, the other main concern I have is that UW distributes some of its donations to the Boy Scouts of America, an organization that has just this year reaffirmed its longstanding policy of rejecting for gay, bisexual, and transgender scouts (youth members) and scouters (adult leaders).

According to their past position on homosexuality: "Boy Scouts of America believes that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the obligations in the Scout Oath and Scout Law to be morally straight and clean in thought, word, and deed... " While no one is advocating same-sex sexual conduct between scouts or between scout leaders and scouts, their position statement confuses conduct with identity since the organization rejects membership also in terms of one's identity. In addition, no atheist or agnostic need apply either since the Boy Scouts of America "Anthem" proclaims that "The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God... The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members."

In June of 2010, the Chief Scout Executive and national president, Bob Mazzuca, convened a special eleven-member committee to evaluate the "anti-homosexual" policy for the purpose of determining whether it was in the best interests of the organization. The committee recommended that the policy continue. It concluded that the policy reflects the beliefs and perspectives of BSA membership. Mazzuca announced in a written statement on July 17, 2012 that "The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation with their family, with spiritual advisers, and at the appropriate time and in the right setting. While a majority of our membership agrees with our policy, we fully understand that no single policy will accommodate the many diverse views among our membership or society."

No one is disputing parents' and guardians' "right to address issues of same-sex orientation with their family [and] with spiritual advisers." Allowing gay, bisexual, and transgender scouts and leaders in the organization does not infringe on parents' and guardians' rights and abilities to discuss issues. In addition, since the organization comprises an estimated 2.7 million youth members ages seven to 21 plus another million volunteers in local councils throughout the U.S., I question whether BSA leadership actually undertook a scientifically valid and reliable poll of its full membership. Instead, eleven members of this "special committee" met secretly behind closed doors.

Recently BSA demanded the resignation of Jennifer Tyrrill, lesbian mom and scout leader of her son Cruz's den, from her post because as reported, she did not "meet the high standards of membership that the Boy Scouts of America seek."

What "high standards" has Tyrrill not met? Over the past year, while serving as den leader, the cubs in her den volunteered at a local soup kitchen, collected canned goods for neighboring churches to distribute in food baskets, and performed a conservation project at a state park.

The Girl Scouts of America and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America organizations proudly welcome and appreciate members and leaders of all sexual and gender identities. But how can a boy scout or scout leader truly adhere to the Boy Scout Law of being "trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent" when BSA clings to its blatantly prejudicial, discriminatory, and quite frankly, offensive "expressive message" on issues of sexual identity?

So, what are the options? I have come up with some, and I'm sure there are many more. Firstly, our university can continue to officially fundraise for UW as it has in the past with no changes. Secondly, individuals who donate to UW can designate that their contribution cannot be given in full or in part to BSA. Thirdly, while continuing to sponsor its official campaign, university officials as well as individuals can contact UW in writing stating clearly that they oppose BSA's policies and suggest that UW sever its relationship with BSA until it reverses its discriminatory policies. Fourth, the university can rotate each year the charitable organization on which it will focus its campaign. In this way, members of the university community can gain the satisfaction that they are supporting a diverse number of worthwhile and reputable organizations.

Regarding BSA, I would welcome a national response opposing its current policy in the form of a letter writing campaign, boycott of funds, and for those so inclined, abandonment of the organization as scouts and as leaders until BSA joins with other youth organizations to honor and welcome diversity of the human experience and of the human spirit.

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