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Winona United Way restores funding to Boy Scouts
By Erin Galbally
Minnesota Public Radio
November 29, 2001

Winona's United Way says it might give money to the Boy Scouts again, and that's making some people very unhappy. Last winter, two area Boy Scout councils lost United Way funding after they refused to sign an anti-discrimination contract. That contract conflicted with Boy Scout national policy banning gays from membership. Now, the United Way of the Greater Winona Area has struck a compromise with local Scouts.

United Way of the Greater Winona Area
Peter Walsh, president of the board of the United Way of the Greater Winona Area, and Executive Director Beth Forkner Moe, have agreed to restore funding for local Boy Scout councils, after earlier pulling that funding because the Boy Scouts refused to sign an anti-discrimination contract.
(MPR Photo/Erin Galbally)

Jacquelyn, who asked that her last name not be used, lives in Winona and is the mother of three young children. She admits the Boy Scouts do a lot of good work around the community. But as a lesbian, she says she cringes at the Scout's position on gay rights. When one of her school age sons thought about joining the local Scouts, Jacquelyn says she called a troop leader.

"I called and...defined our family as two moms, and wanted reassurance that our son would be protected if there was any kind of harassment," Jacquelyn says. "The answer I got was kind of a lukewarm one if that - 'I'd defend it to the best of my ability,' was how it was left. That wasn't what I was looking for."

That was before the United Way of the Greater Winona Area included an anti-discrimination clause in all of its funding agreements. That decision followed a year of debate and public input. No one was surprised when the Boy Scout organizations in the Winona area refused to sign the agreement. As a result, local troops lost their biggest source of revenue. That was months ago.

Now, Jacquelyn is dismayed a new agreement is expected to restore funding to the Scouts.

"I felt it was a reversal of the decision. Like the military, with the 'don't ask don't tell' - that the United Way has different standards for different organizations," Jacquelyn says.

The Scouts' new contract differs from the nearly 30 other agencies funded by the United Way. Other groups, such as the Girl Scouts or Big Brothers and Big Sisters, must still sign the inclusive anti-discrimination contract. But the Boy Scouts' agreement has a series of special addendums. Perhaps most significantly, it includes a statement that local scouts are unaware of any discrimination in the organization locally.

Father Michael Hoeppner
Father Michael Hoeppner of the Catholic Diocese of Winona. Hoeppner negotiated the deal between the United Way and the local Boy Scout councils.
(MPR Photo/Erin Galbally)

"The Boy Scouts of America is a pretty strong-handed organization that has some pretty strong ideas, and local councils really don't have a lot of sway on that," says Beth Forkner Moe, executive director of the United Way of the Greater Winona Area. "We understand, and we know that councils are caught in the middle. But they've said this hasn't been an issue in Winona County." The United Way decision to allow special treatment for the Scouts was announced in the middle of its lagging fall fund-raising drive. United Way says the timing is coincidence. Critics are not so sure.

There was no public discussion or input in the decision-making process. The local Catholic diocese brokered the deal, and most meetings were limited to a representative from the United Way and the Boy Scouts and a Catholic priest. Finally, the compromise means that the Boy Scout position on gay rights remains unchanged.

Steve Kranz, chairman of the Winona Human Rights Commission, says he's been supportive of the United Way in the past. Now he's disappointed.

"I felt that the action take by our local United Way was a very courageous example of an organization standing up for what it believes in, and I would have liked them to stick by it 100 percent," says Kranz.

Kranz plans on discussing the issue at the next commission meeting. He would like to see the United Way present the changes to a public forum. As of yet the United Way of the Greater Winona Area has not given the Boy Scouts any money. Specific funding for the Scouts will be determined later this winter.

Elsewhere in Minnesota, the United Way of Greater Duluth also suspended funds for the Boy Scouts last year. At the present time no formal negotiations are underway to restore those funds.

More Information
  • Boy Scouts of America
  • United Way