Companies consider pulling Scouts' funding over anti-gay stance

DALLAS - Companies that donate to the Boy Scouts of America are in a quandary: Their employment policies contradict the Boy Scouts' court-upheld right to ban gay troop members.

The stance already has cost the Scouts financial support from companies such as Levi Strauss & Co. and Wells Fargo. Others, concerned about hurting the beneficiaries of such funding - the boys themselves - are weighing their options.

A June 28 Supreme Court ruling allowed the Scouts to retain membership and leadership criteria that exclude avowed homosexuals. Afterward, the Scouts reaffirmed the right ''to ask all our of members to do their best to live the Scout Oath and Law,'' which include pledges to revere God and be ''morally straight.''

Providence, R.I.-based manufacturing giant Textron has decided not to give to an annual dinner for the Scouts, although it gave $3,000 last year, spokeswoman Sue Bishop said.

''We made the decision in April - before the Supreme Court decision,'' she said Thursday, because the Boy Scouts' policy did not mesh with the company's employment policy.

Chase Manhattan Corp. is considering revoking its contributions.

''On the face of it, some issues appear to be in conflict with our commitment to diversity,'' spokesman Jim Finn said. ''We will make a final determination on this soon. It's not something we are going to let rest for a long time.''

In 1999, the National Council of Boy Scouts, the organization that administers separately incorporated troops, received about $11 million in charitable contributions.

Gregg Shields, a spokesman for the Irving-based national council, said he could not predict the impact of corporate withdrawals, but funding has remained stable.

''What really makes scouting work is the scout leader and the volunteer - but that's not to diminish the financial contributions that companies make,'' Shields said.

The 90-year-old organization tries to provide educational programs for boys and young adults to build character, to train in the responsibilities of participating citizenship and to develop personal fitness. The organization intends on meeting those goals, Shields said.

''We'll find someone to pay the registration, we'll find someone to donate that uniform that's sitting in the closet,'' he said. ''We won't let that get in the way of a young man's scouting experience.''

Merrill Lynch & Co. in New York, which gives between $100,000 and $150,000 a year, is ''actively reviewing'' its relationship with the Scouts, said spokesman Joe Cohen.

Media company Knight Ridder has asked that funds it gives to the United Way not be directed to the Boy Scouts because it conflicts ''with the company's philosophy on people and diversity, and the company could not support such a discriminatory stance,'' said Polk Laffoon, vice president of corporate relations.

Not all companies have withdrawn funding.

Jeff Demarais, a spokesman for General Electric Co., said the company will not change its policy of giving to United Way, which in turn gives to the Boy Scouts. He refused to further discuss the company's arrangements with charitable organizations.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for United Way of America, Philip Jones, said the nonprofit agency gave $8.3 million to the Boy Scouts in 1996, the latest year for which data was available. He said he did not know how the controversy would affect future funding.

''The ruling only happened this summer and most funding decisions were made prior to that,'' Jones said. ''Decisions would be made by each organization and those discussions are probably happening or have yet to happen.''


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