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Disney drops funding for Boy Scouts over LGBT leadership ban

In an article posted on March 2, 2014, the Orlando Sentinel reported that The Disney Company has ceased to provide funding to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) through its VoluntEARS program. This program had Disney crediting volunteer work towards monetary contributions to various charities, with the amount topping $900,000 in 2013. This new policy was first disclosed in an e-mail circulated to BSA troop leaders in Florida.

The Magic Kingdom does not discriminate
Photo by Handout/Getty Images

The explanation provided by the Sentinel article explains how the funding was generated.

“The entertainment company also revamped its VoluntEARS program — the name of its employee volunteer effort — at the start of the year. The program allows staffers who pitch in at local nonprofit and community organizations for at least 10 hours to receive up to $2,000 each to give to their chosen cause. The grants doubled over last year's contribution, but with the greater rewards came a closer look at where the money was going.”

The essence of Disney's issue with the BSA is that it violates Disney’s internal policy manual.

“We are committed to a work environment where everyone is afforded the dignity and respect that they deserve. We don’t allow any form of harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identification, national origin, age, marital status, covered veteran status, disability, pregnancy or any other basis prohibited by applicable law.”

The national council of the Boy Scouts voted in 2013 to allow openly gay boys to become members of scout troops. The national organization specifically banned gay or lesbian scout leaders. When Boy Scouts reach the age of 18 their relationship with BSA is severed. This also applies to Eagle scouts that often continue their affiliation by becoming scout leaders.

The BSA organizational guidelines have been tightened for the scouts with regard to shower and restroom procedures, camping arrangements, and other scout functions. The scout leaders are getting increased scrutiny in their interaction with the scout troops.

The admission of gay members has caused major schisms with some sponsors of Boy Scout troops, with many churches and civic organizations electing to withdraw support from their former BSA troop. An alternate “bible-based” organization called Trail Life USA began formal operation on Jan. 1, 2014. Trail Life USA is reported to have 500 troops, and is expected to get support from many churches that withdrew support for their former BSA troops.

The membership standards of Trail Life USA exclude gay boys or adults from being members or leaders in a Trail Life USA troop, with specific references to passages from the Bible. Any sexual activity outside of marriage by those affiliated with Trail Life is prohibited under Trail Life USA’s standards.

Disney has joined other major employers in Florida to push for legislation to ban sexual discrimination in employment. This legislation has not moved forward for an extended period. Disney is recognized as being an equal opportunity employer for many years, as stated in their formal employment policy guidelines.

This decision to stop BSA contributions by Disney may have other financial supporters of the BSA organization reconsidering their continued contributions. If substantial loss of funding occurs because of this issue, the BSA organization will reconsider their ban on LGBT people from formally becoming scout masters. Given the existing and new controls put on all scout leaders, having LGBT scout leaders does not put the troop members at additional risk. It is time to change the policy that excludes LGBT people from the BSA leadership roles.

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