By: Steve Friess
Scouts’ Anti-Gay Position Prompts ‘Symbolic’ Move
by Steve Friess
In a quiet move last week, Knight Ridder’s corporate office asked the
local United Way affiliate in San Jose, Calif., to no longer funnel
any Knight Ridder donations to the Boy Scouts of America.
The decision, made sometime in August but first publicized last
Thursday in The Wall Street Journal, came weeks after the U.S.
Supreme Court upheld the Boy Scouts’ right to expel a 30-year-old
former Eagle Scout in New Jersey who was kicked out for being gay.
The court ruled 5-4 in June that the Scouts, as a private organization,
has the right to decide its own membership.
The Supreme Court decision has prompted some companies, including Chase
Manhattan Corp., and local governments with anti-discrimination policies
to withdraw funding for the Scouts.
At Knight Ridder, an employee asked a publisher if the donation conflicted
with Knight Ridder’s own anti-discrimination policy. The publisher passed
it along to the corporation’s human-resources department, Knight Ridder
spokesman Polk Laffoon said. He said the Boy Scouts’ policy does conflict
with the corporation’s policy of not discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, so the company wrote United Way Silicon Valley asking that it
not spend any of Knight Ridder’s $250,000 gift on the local Boy Scouts
troops this year.
Other Knight Ridder entities were instructed that they can follow suit if
they wish, although it is unclear whether any have done so, Laffoon said.
‘It is really symbolic more than anything else,’ he added. ‘The United Way
can perfectly well put our money into other programs and then take money
out of another fund for the Boy Scouts. I don’t know that this will hurt
the Boy Scouts at all.’
In Silicon Valley, the decision is a moot point anyway because the local
United Way group recently decided to no longer fund the Boy Scouts, said
United Way Silicon Valley President Greg Larson. The local troops, which
received $160,000 last year from United Way, could not sign the United
Way’s nondiscrimination policy this year, so their funding has been
That change occurred before the Supreme Court decision, Larson said. ‘We
are glad that Knight Ridder and United Way Silicon Valley are in alignment
in saying we cannot fund agencies that cannot adopt a policy of nondiscrimination,’ said Larson, who added that each local United Way
chapter sets its own policies and decides who gets money. United Way
chapters in Santa Cruz, Calif., San Francisco, and Boston also have stopped funding the Boy Scouts, he said.
Boy Scouts national spokesman Gregg Shields said it’s too early to tell
whether backlash from the Supreme Court decision will cause a significant
problem for the group’s financial picture. Large companies such as Merrill
Lynch are reviewing their support of the organization.
Still, Shields noted that the Boy Scouts’ practice of excluding gays has
been well-known for decades and that many other companies and individuals
have dropped support over the years. ‘By and large we’ve seen an increased
support for the Boy Scouts [anyway],’ Shields said. ‘We’ve had the best
recruiting years we’ve had since the baby boomers.’ The organization’s
annual budget is over $100 million.
Shields said he’s unsure whether this decision by a media corporation might
open the company up to charges of bias in the editorial content of its
newspapers. Laffoon dismissed such an idea, noting that this was merely a
matter of ‘staying consistent with our philosophy on diversity and proper treatment of all people.’
The decision by Knight Ridder was applauded by gay employees, including
Miami Herald columnist Steve Rothaus, who writes on gay issues. Newsroom
staffers weren’t directly informed of the move, but Rothaus said he’s
‘not surprised only because the company has treated gay and lesbian
employees really well.’
Rothaus, too, is unconcerned about the possible accusations of bias.
‘It’s not a political decision as much as a corporate decision,’ Rothaus
said. ‘The company’s got the right to contribute to whichever organizations
the company sees fit. It’s the company’s money and thus, it’s our money.’
Steve Friess is a reporter for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.
(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher