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Miami UW Defunds Local Council

Miami-Dade United Way withdraws funds from Boy Scouts

Miami Herald
May. 13, 2003  

BY KARL ROSS

The United Way of Miami-Dade on Tuesday discontinued its funding for scouting programs, saying the local Boy Scouts of America affiliate failed to abide by an agreement requiring it to teach scout masters how to help gay youths.

In a private meeting, the United Way's board of directors voted unanimously to withhold its annual funding grant of $480,000 for ''traditional scouting programs,'' according to the agency's spokeswoman, Tamara Klingler.

The grant serves primarily to pay the salaries of scout leaders in low-income areas including Little Havana, Liberty City, Homestead and Hialeah. About 4,200 youths between the ages of 11 and 17 would be affected by the funding cut, Klingler said.

Under the terms of a July 2001 agreement between the United Way and the South Florida Council of the Boy Scouts of America that would have preserved funding, local scout leaders would have been required to undergo ``diversity training.''

Klingler said the purpose of such training was teaching scout leaders to help ``the young boy who might be questioning his sexual identity, who might think he's gay.''

The scout's South Florida Concil agreed to the training, but the Dallas, Texas-based national organization never supported the measure, she said.

''The signals constantly were that the national organization was not happy with this agreement,'' said Harve Mogul, United Way of Miami-Dade's president and CEO.

United Way executives say they will consider directing some of the funds to a character buiding program called Learning for Life, a subsidiary of the Boy Scouts of America. That program is endorsed by state education officials and administered through the public schools system.

''We still have to do our homework before we make that decision,'' Mogul said.

Miami Herald
Thursday May 15, 2003
Letters to the editor:

Scouts, United Way trade blame
BY ELAINE DE VALLE

Nearly two years ago, gay-rights activists, Boy Scouts leaders and United Way executives stood side by side in South Florida to announce an agreement that would later be called a national model for Scouting programs trying to treat gay youths with sensitivity.

This week, the Scouts and the other two groups couldn't be farther apart.

The area's Boy Scouts council asked the public Wednesday to fill a funding void of half a million dollars left this week when United Way of Miami-Dade pulled its support.

Flanked by uniformed Scouts leaders and some board members, Jeff Herrmann, Scouts executive at the South Florida Council of the Boy Scouts of America, said the group was ''shocked and disappointed'' by the "breach of the community's trust in the United Way."

But United Way says the Scouts have not lived up to the 2001 agreement.

"While we recognize and respect their right to their policy [of excluding gays] . . . we need to understand that we do have a greater duty to the community as a whole,"' said Tammy Klingler, a United Way spokeswoman. "We felt that they needed to be prepared that if there was a kid who couldn't be part of the program that they could appropriately respond to that kid."

Gay-rights advocates who have met with Scouts leaders and United Way officials at least a half-dozen times since July 2001 say it is the Boy Scouts that acted in bad faith and couldn't possibly be surprised.

"They've had some warning, because they've been a part of this dialogue for two years now,'' said Martha Fugate, director of Project YES, a Miami nonprofit group devoted to the needs of gay youth.

Said Jorge Mursuli, who helped negotiate the agreement when he was executive director of the gay-rights group SAVE Dade: "The sad part for me is we really thought we had done something, built some goodwill, or at least some mutual respect.

"And now," Mursuli shook his head. "God! What were those two years for? Just a waste of breath?"

FAILED DEAL

United Way officials said their decision Tuesday not to renew their $480,000 annual grant came because the South Florida council failed to live up to the 2001 agreement.

The 2001 discussions between United Way and the council followed a U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed the Boy Scouts to exclude gays.

Many United Way groups, including the Broward County organization, pulled their funding from the Boy Scouts at that time, but the Miami-Dade United Way, SAVE Dade and the South Florida council attempted to reach a compromise.

In July 2001, the three groups announced an accord. Under its terms, the Scouts agreed to seek $125,000 in private donations in lieu of county funding, but the group was allowed to continue using public schools for activities. One major provision: The council would work with Project YES to develop a training program for Scouts leaders to deal more sensitively with gay youths.

''Our common ground was that both sides cared about all kids,'' Mursuli said Wednesday.

He said the training was to be ''adult-oriented'' for staff and leaders ``on how to deal with a gay kid when and if the situation arose.''

When the Boy Scouts balked at working with Project YES, Mursuli said, the United Way committee said they could work with any other group or institution.

''Everything they came up with and we came up with as a dialogue team was not able to be fulfilled because of the [Boy Scouts] national office,'' said Fugate of Project Yes.

NO AGREEMENT

Herrmann insisted Wednesday that there never was an agreement. He said the Boy Scouts ``were asked by the United Way to participate in a dialogue, which we did.''

But in an October 2001 fax sent by Herrmann to Klingler of United Way, Herrmann acknowledges that an accord was reached.

He sent the fax to explain a letter he had written to conservative Christian groups that had raised concerns about the council's discussions with SAVE Dade.

'I have shied away from the word `agreement' because the Christian community wants to see 'a signed contract or treaty.' I always use 'ongoing dialogue,' '' he wrote on the fax transmittal cover sheet.

Herrmann said Wednesday that he never realized United Way funding was contingent on setting up a training program, and believed as recently as last week that there was ``nothing to worry about.''

While Herrmann said in 2001 that the Scouts ''have an obligation to help kids deal with this issue,'' he told The Herald that he has changed his mind.

''We have an obligation to serve children in our program. We do not have an obligation to follow the dictates of SAVE Dade or the United Way. They've asked us to do things that are not comfortable for us,'' he said. ``Our movement has always believed that sexual issues are best addressed by parents, with the help of their religious leaders.''

Responded Mursuli, ``We never said that the parents were to be excluded. Never, ever, ever.''

In fact, he said, gay-rights advocates want parents to be part of the equation. What they didn't want, Mursuli said, was Scouts leaders ''outting'' gay Scouts.

Herrmann said loss of the grant may force the council to cut some of the programs in city neighborhoods. The United Way funds were allocated to Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and Venturing programs in Liberty City, Little Haiti, Little Havana, Overtown, Homestead, Hialeah and other low-income areas.

People can still give to the Scouts programs through the United Way if they mark on their contribution forms that they specifically want the funds to go there. But Herrmann said the organization would also seek funds directly from community groups and donors.

Herrmann said he is confident that the community will come up with the needed dollars, much as it did after Broward United Way cut its $140,000 grant two years ago. That first year, donors contributed nearly $160,000, Herrmann said.

''But I can also tell you that it was rather short-lived. Here we are three years later and we're not up to where we were that first year,'' he said.

NO SEX ISSUES

Helena Segarra, mother of 16-year-old Eagle Scout Edward Segarra, is one parent who agrees with the Boy Scouts' position.

''I've been involved in Scouting for nine years now and it's like you send your kid to soccer lessons or ballet. Why would you want an adult in that capacity dealing with sexual orientation with your child?'' asked Segarra, a unit leader who lives in Kendall.

"There's no place for that in Scouting."

There should be, said Trae Williamson, 30, a former Scout in Pinecrest who is gay.

''I wasn't out at the time. It was something I was struggling with internally,'' said Williamson, who was a Boy Scout for five years and was voted assistant junior Scoutmaster by his peers.

''The only time it came up was that there actually was a Scout leader who made off-color comments to me regarding sexuality. He felt that I was gay and he made some gay jokes toward me,'' Williamson said. ``I felt at the time that I wasn't able to mention it to anyone, because there was a lot of shame in bringing these things up.''

Williamson, Fugate and Mursuli point to the high rates at which gay youths commit suicide, run away from home, become drug abusers or are diagnosed with depression. ''Mostly because they can't go anywhere with their problem,'' Williamson said.

Sensitivity training could help, he said.

''That's the whole point about diversity training. It tries to coach the leaders and the Scouts themselves how to create a safe environment where there can be dialogue without fear,'' Williamson said.

 

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