Guest Column: Our university and the United Way

Our university, for a number of years, has dedicated enormous amounts of time, energy and resources annually to successfully promote and collect monetary donations for the United Way, a global organization, according to its vision and goals, “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 United Way 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 United Way 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 United Way, other equally deserving organizations are ultimately restricted in the donations they receive. And secondly, United Way distributes some of its donations to the Boy Scouts of America, an organization that has this year reaffirmed its longstanding policy of rejecting 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: “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 2010, the chief scout executive and national president, Bob Mazzuca, convened a special 11-member committee to evaluate the “anti-homosexual” policy for the purpose of determining whether it was in the best interests of the organization. It concluded the policy reflects the beliefs of BSA membership. Mazzuca announced in a written statement on July 17: “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.”

No one disputes 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, and I question whether BSA leadership actually undertook a scientifically valid and reliable poll of its full membership. Instead, 11 members of this “special committee” met secretly behind closed doors. The Girl Scouts of America and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America organizations, on the other hand, proudly welcome and appreciate members and leaders of all sexual and gender identities.

So, what are the available options? I have come up with some, and I’m sure there are many more. First, our university can continue to officially fundraise for United Way as it has in the past with no changes. Second, individuals who donate to United Way can designate that their contribution cannot be given in full or in part to BSA. Third, while continuing to sponsor its official campaign, university officials as well as individuals can contact United Way in writing stating clearly that they oppose BSA’s policies and suggest that United Way 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.