United Way changes policy: Nondiscrimination agreement enacted in response to Boy Scouts' stance on gays
Lorrine Thompson, The Olympian
The Olympian, August 10, 2001
THURSTON COUNTY -- In a surprise move, United Way of Thurston County board members voted during a special Thursday meeting to require member agencies to sign
nondiscrimination agreements to qualify for funding.
The policy takes effect immediately for the agency's fall campaign, which begins Sept. 14.
The change may make the Boy Scouts of America Pacific Harbors Council ineligible for funding -- except for directed donations -- after the national Boy Scouts organization fought for its right to exclude gay boys and men from being Scouts and scout leaders.
Supreme Court justices, in a 5-4 vote in June 2000, found that the Boy Scouts is a private organization with a First Amendment right to associate with members of its choosing.
The Boy Scouts' stance plunged the local United Way into controversy in April when board members voted to continue funding the group, saying that member agencies should have autonomy and that youth services are important.
Olympia City Council members were set
to vote Tuesday on a resolution withdrawing the city from the United Way campaign out of concern that city resources would be used to support an organization that discriminates in its services.
More than a dozen calls to local and regional Boy Scout officials were not returned Thursday.
"This has been an evolving and divisive issue," United Way Executive Director Pam Toal said. "We were in this controversy that we
didn't want to be in, and it was hurting our mission."
The board vote Thursday was 10-5 in favor of the new policy, with one board member abstaining, Toal said.
"We had heard enough from the community," United Way board President Allen Miller said. "People had misperceived our original decision. It seemed that people thought the United Way was supporting discrimination."
heard concern from other agencies, school districts and many individuals, Miller said. "We made it clear from Day 1 that we would listen to the community," he said. "We felt the focus should be on the Boy Scouts, not on the United Way."
The agency was concerned about the Olympia City Council vote and United Way's upcoming projects such as the Sept. 14 Day of Caring, Toal said.
"Participation so far is
way down. It's a huge concern," she said. The Day of Caring sends teams of volunteers into the community to perform deeds such as cleaning, painting and yard work for people with low incomes or disabilities, or for small charitable agencies.
"We have 35 projects, but only five teams right now," Toal said.
The agency's unexpected vote set phones ringing around Olympia on Thursday
"I've been hearing about it all afternoon," Olympia Mayor Stan Biles said. "It seems like a positive step in the right direction. It will help reduce discrimination in our community," Biles said.
He said he couldn't comment on the city's next move.
"The council will need to see (the new policy), read it. Staff will need to analyze it," he said. "I'm
sure we'll want to discuss this at the earliest possible moment."
Olympia City Councilman Curt Pavola agreed that the move appears to be "a fantastic step in the right direction. I had not heard that they were going to reconsider their position."
Pavola also wanted to see the language of the new policy before commenting on what the city should do next.
As for altering the city's
scheduled vote to withdraw from the fall United Way campaign, "it seems like we might be able to do that," he said.
The new policy says that "for agencies to receive future funding they must sign a non-discrimination agreement stating they will provide targeted services open to all without regard to age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, national origin, religious affiliation or presence of a disability," according to a statement released
Thursday by the United Way.
However, agencies have until June 2002 to sign the agreements, because disbursements from the 2002 campaign begin in July.
The new policy focuses on people or members for whom services are provided, not on employees of agencies receiving funding, Toal said.
"It's not about the whole agency," she said. "We fund programs and we want those programs
Essentially, Boy Scouts could continue to exclude gay adults from employment or leadership positions, but could not have a policy excluding gay boys from being scouts, in order to qualify for general United Way funding.
"We didn't get into employment. We focused on services," Toal said.
However, people donating through United Way can designate that their donations go to a
nonmember agency, such as Boy Scouts or Safeplace, at any time.
So without signing the nondiscrimination agreement, the Boy Scouts could receive money through United Way donations directed to them, but would receive no general money -- last year it was about $33,000 -- from the agency.
"We certainly support the services the Boy Scouts provide, but if they're not able to do that in a nondiscriminatory fashion, they won't
qualify for funding," Miller said.
The change in policy will likely help with the Olympia School District's fall United Way campaign, district spokeswoman Shelly Carr said. "We were going to be in quite a quandary," Carr said. "We heard from some employees that they felt strongly they couldn't support the United Way as things were," she said. "We definitely feel that without this change, giving would have been
The Thursday vote "took me by surprise," said K.D. Seeley, a spokeswoman for the Olympia Police Department who brought the issue to the United Way board last year, and then to the Olympia City Council in the spring.
"I respected their right to have whatever policy they have," Seeley said of United Way.
"But as a city of Olympia employee, I've always been proud of where
I work," she said. The city has always taken strong stances against discrimination of any kind, she said. Using city resources to raise money that could go to the Boy Scouts, "I didn't feel it reflected our values as set forward," she said. "I felt this was in conflict."
Seeley asked council members to uphold city nondiscrimination policies in deciding whether or not to pursue a United Way campaign. "I would have continued to give
to the United Way. I always planned on that," she said.
The new policy "is wonderful," Seeley said. It makes her particularly happy because "I didn't want to see United Way hurt in any way, shape or form."