The Not So United Way

The U.S. Supreme Court may think it's okay for the Boy Scouts to bar gay men and boys from participating in the venerable youth service club, but some Tempe city leaders say the organization should be prepared to lose the city's financial support.

On Thursday, city administrators plan to tell the Tempe City Council that the city will sever its relationship with Valley of the Sun United Way if it continues to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to the local Boy Scouts organization.

Tempe Mayor Neil Giuliano, who is openly gay, says the city has a clear and specific policy of non-discrimination and that it's wrong for the city to ignore that policy when it comes to charitable contributions.

"If the United Way isn't living up to that [same policy], then we can't do business with them," Giuliano says.

Valley of the Sun United Way officials say Tempe would be the first local employer to break from the charity over the Boy Scouts controversy. Last year, the United Way chapter gave $491,000 to the local Boy Scouts. That's a big chunk of the chapter's intake; this year, United Way officials hope to glean $45 million in contributions, according to Neal Haddad, senior vice president of Valley of the Sun United Way.

Tempe's campaign raises roughly $80,000 a year, Giuliano says. The city campaign encourages employees to contribute a portion of their pay to the United Way.

Nationally, about a dozen of the country's 1,400 United Way chapters have decided to stop giving money to the Boy Scouts, according to a recent story in The Christian Science Monitor. But it's not known how many employers are splitting from their local United Way chapters.

In a 5-4 June decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Boy Scouts executive board rule that prohibits openly gay men and boys from membership. The board believes gay men in particular are not appropriate role models for boys, a position that many see as the kind of blatant discrimination that governments, political factions and other organizations have been moving away from in recent years.

Giuliano says Tempe is one of those entities that has taken a strong position against discrimination -- and needs to continue to hold the line.

"The Supreme Court has said the Boy Scouts can discriminate, and they have a right to do that," he says. "But then we have a right to say we think that's wrong."

The United Way campaign is already in progress in the Valley, so it's too late to stop the fund drive this year, Giuliano says.

Instead, Tempe is passing out pledge forms designed specially for the city by United Way. The cards carry a disclaimer of sorts, noting that Tempe city workers' contributions will go only to organizations that are all-inclusive in their policies.

Haddad says general categories for "Valleywide" and "investing in youth" also have been removed from the cards.

Giuliano says city managers will ask the council to sever its ties with Valley of the Sun United Way next year if the charity continues to give money to the Boy Scouts. Haddad says the United Way has no plans to stop donating to the scouts.

In that case, Giuliano says Tempe likely will form its own charitable campaign organization, much like Mesa did three years ago, with a board of directors that has policies consistent with Tempe's.

Mesa's Community Spirit program operates much like a United Way effort, with employees designating what charities they'd like to give to, says Ellen Pence, assistant to the Mesa city manager.

In fact, United Way is one of the charities that employees can choose. But Mesa, not the United Way, divvies up the dollars, she says. "Our employees have a little more control over who they want to support," she says.

Meanwhile, Tempe's rumblings about the United Way have spilled out of City Hall and onto the nearby Arizona State University campus, where some faculty and staff members are planning to boycott the Valley of the Sun United Way drive this year.

Jeff Budge of Ubiquity, ASU's organization for gay and lesbian faculty and staff, says most of his group's 50 or so members have agreed to find other ways to distribute their dollars to charity.

Budge, a former Boy Scout himself, says many on campus are torn because they want to support other charities that get money through United Way. And while they can designate which charities to give to, some of the money also goes to pay United Way's overhead and expenses.

Budge notes that ASU also has a clear anti-discrimination policy but has continued to participate in the United Way fund drive.

Nancy Neff, an ASU spokeswoman, says it's too early to tell if campus debate over the Boy Scouts controversy has taken a toll on the college's fund drive. The university hopes to raise more than $400,000 in this year's campaign from about 7,000 faculty and staff members, she says.

Giuliano, who is employed by ASU as director of federal and community relations, says he's written to the university to say he won't be participating in the fund drive this year. He ran ASU's United Way campaign for five years.

Haddad says the local United Way chapter has received calls and e-mails from others who don't like the Boy Scouts' anti-gay policy as well as some from people who do. But Tempe is the only government entity he knows of that may pull out of the United Way campaign.

"We understand that it concerns some people, and we want to honor the individual's right to choose where they give," Haddad says, noting the chapter was willing to work with Tempe to tailor an acceptable campaign drive.

Giuliano thinks people shouldn't be swayed by arguments that withholding contributions from the Boy Scouts is hurting kids that the organization could be helping.

"For the people who say this is about the kids, the boys -- nonsense," Giuliano says. "This is about adults, who should be teaching kids not to discriminate."