Boy Scouts Down But Not Out

UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA — Despite the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to exclude homosexual members and volunteers, Chapel Hill’s troops have not had trouble raising funds and recruiting new members.

But the scouts have lost school sponsorship at two area schools, McDougle Elementary School and Frank Porter Graham Elementary School. They could also lose the financial support they receive from the Triangle United Way.

On June 14, the U.S. Senate approved a proposal by Sen. Jesse Helms directing the U.S. Department of Education to withhold federal money from districts that refuse the Scouts “equal access or a fair opportunity to meet” on school grounds. This follows an October 1999 Supreme Court decision holding that homosexuals could not be members or volunteers of the Boy Scouts.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education voted in Jan. 2001 to withdraw support of the Boy Scouts. “Although the Scouts can no longer meet rent-free on school grounds, we have offered them the option to rent,” said Superintendent Neil Pedersen. “We decided the Boy Scouts would not receive preferential treatment.”

Pedersen said the Scouts, like any other organization, still have the option to meet on school property, regardless of their policies or views. “We do not and we cannot pick and choose who uses them based on philosophical views when renting,” Pedersen said. “When we rent to an organization, we are not accepting responsibility for views.”

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools have, however, dropped their sponsorship of the Boy Scouts, which means they can no longer meet on school property rent-free. “Sponsorship suggests endorsement of the purpose and policy of the group,” Pedersen said. “The Scouts’ policy of discrimination against homosexuals is contrary to our policy of not discriminating based on sexual orientation.”

The school system is not alone in its reaction toward the Scouts’ policy.

Mary Williams-Stover, vice president of marketing and communications for the Triangle United Way, which helps fund the Scouts, said a new United Way policy could change their funding. The Board of Directors recently reviewed non-discrimination standards that agencies that get funding have to meet. The policy will go into effect in May 2002.

“Funding would terminate in 2003,” Williams-Stover said. “The goal is making sure services for people are maintained regardless of sexual orientation.”

Despite local reactions, Director of Field Service Jeff Rock said the Orange County Boy Scouts has had one of their best years ever in raising new funds and recruiting new members.

“For the most part, the response has been very positive for the Boy Scouts,” Rock said. “I don’t think anyone has been anti-scouting. Only one particular church in Chapel Hill felt our policy didn’t fit their discrimination policy.”

The schools allowed them to continue meeting until they could find new sponsors. The two cub scout packs now meet at area churches, Rock said.

“Although people don’t always agree with our position, they see the benefits in scouting and want to be a part of it.”

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