Connecticut Boy Scouts Are Changing Their Policy on Gay Members, and It's Paying Off
An all-inclusive policy has led to additional funding for some CT scout troops
The National Boy Scouts of America has a policy against allowing "open or avowed homosexuals," but some CT troops are disregarding that rule in favor of inclusiveness. (Janine Lamontagne photo / August 21, 2012)
The liberal approach being taken by the Connecticut Rivers Council contrasts dramatically with what’s happening in some parts of Connecticut.
The Milford-based scouting organization, Connecticut Yankee Council, has for years refused to make a similar anti-discrimination declaration, according to a top United Way official. And the local United Way has for years refused to grant them any money.
“The Boy Scouts never signed that [diversity policy statement] and haven’t applied for funding,” says Jack Healy, president of the United Way of Greater New Haven.
Knapp says that it was his explusion – on orders from the national board of the Boy Scouts after a disgruntled relative notified the board he was gay – that triggered the local United Way decision not to fund any scouting groups that refused to sign a non-discrimination statement.
Knapp, now 85, had been an Eagle Scout and served for a decade as a highly respected Boy Scout official in New York and New Jersey. After his retirement from business, Knapp says local scout officials asked him to volunteer to recruit new leaders.
“I was deeply hurt,” Knapp says of his sudden expulsion. “I loved scouting and I still do – we need it more now than ever.”
Knapp became a national activist in the effort to get the BSA to change its anti-gay stance. This past May, an anti-discrimination resolution that Knapp managed to propose through his local church and the Connecticut Yankee Council was read before the BSA’s national convention. But he says the resolution has been shunted off to a “dead end” review by national scouting’s top leaders.
In 2009 and 2010, Knapp received invitations from the council to attend an Eagle Scout banquet but was “disinvited” both times. Boy Scout spokesmen said those invitations were the result of an “administrative error” or a “database mistake.”
Knapp says he still has admiration for the Connecticut Yankee Council because it agreed to submit that resolution to alter the BSA’s anti-gay policies. “That took a lot of guts,” Knapp says.
Dustin Shaver, the new scouting executive and CEO of the Connecticut Yankee Council, says he’s not familiar with the group’s history on admitting homosexuals or the issue with United Way funding.
“My understanding is that we haven’t declined to sign anything,” Shaver says. “We simply haven’t applied [for any United Way money].”
Shaver, who has been in Connecticut less than two months, says he’s not familiar with Knapp’s case. Shaver also dodges questions about what he would do if he found out one of his Boy Scout leaders was openly gay.
“I hesitate to deal in hypotheticals,” Shaver says. “Is a person interfering with our ability to deliver our message? Is that individual’s behavior interfering with our parents’ rights to deal with these issues on their own terms?”
Shaver also slides around questions about whether he supports the national BSA policy to deny membership to any “open or avowed homosexuals.”
He says he supports those scouting parents who believes this “is a sensitive issue that they want to deal with personally with their kids… Scouting is not the right forum to discuss these sensitive issues.”
United Way officials say the declaration of non-discrimination they require from groups that receive United Way funding only applies to some of the money the charity handles.
Individuals and groups can make “donor designated” donations to the United Way and have that money sent to any non-profit organization (including the Boy Scouts). Dunn says that in those cases it’s up to the person or organization donating the money to decide if the recipient is handling the issue of discrimination appropriately.
More than a decade ago, the state of Connecticut removed the Boy Scouts from its list of charities that state workers could donate to through the state’s payroll deduction plan.
Nancy Wyman, who was then state comptroller and is now lieutenant governor, says Connecticut’s anti-discrimination law required her to take that action.
She says that, at the time, scouting officials “wouldn’t sign the paper that every other state vendor has to sign saying they wouldn’t discriminate… And I support that law.”
Connecticut Boy Scout leaders are all extremely wary of questions about gays in scouting and insist their organization is about other things than sex. But they also know this isn’t going away and that no solution will satisfy everyone.
As Bob Porell, public relations director for the Connecticut Rivers Council explains, “It’s a very tricky issue.”