Sunday, March 18, 2018
News Roundup

Boy Scouts' gay membership policy brings financial fallout

Earlier this year, when the Boy Scouts of America changed its policy to allow openly gay members, a local council braced for repercussions.

"We knew back in May that it might be a challenge, but we didn't know how great a challenge," said Bill Davis, executive with the Scouts' West Central Florida Council, serving Pinellas and West Pasco counties.

"So far, the biggest fallout is the financial loss. We need about $75,000 to balance our budget this year."

Also feeling the wrath of those who disapprove of the Boy Scouts' decision is the Gulf Ridge Council, which serves eight counties, including Hillsborough, East Pasco, Citrus, Hernando and Polk.

"When you look at straight contributions through our Friends of Scouting Campaign, we are behind 15 percent," said George McGovern, executive director of the Gulf Ridge Council. "That's about $150,000."

Both Davis and McGovern said the financial shortfall will mean further paring of tight budgets.

The West Central Florida Council, with a staff of 12 full-time employees, operates on a budget of $1.4 million, Davis said.

"We have an audit done every year and 92.5 percent of every dollar we raise goes to program services," he said. "The belt is already on its last notch."

The new membership policy goes into effect on Jan. 1. The change, which does not apply to Scout leaders, is opposed by some religious institutions that sponsor Scouting and has led to the formation of a new national organization called Trail Life USA. The new group's website says it is a "Christian adventure, character and leadership program for young men."

In Tampa Bay, Scouting continues as usual in the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg.

"We still take all kids," diocese spokesman Frank Murphy said. "Bishop's position is like all of our ministries, we are open to all people."

Ryan Phelan, head of youth and young adult ministry, said the diocese, which encompasses Pinellas, Hillsborough, Hernando, Citrus and Pasco counties, has more than 2,000 boys in Scouting.

"We would never deny a young person the opportunity to grow in their faith and their understanding of what they are being called to in life," he said.

The Rev. Louis Murphy, pastor of Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church, one of the largest African-American churches in St. Petersburg, disagrees with those who have decided to withdraw their support from Scouting.

"To discriminate against a person and to tell a person that they can't participate in an organization because of their sexual orientation, I don't think that's right," said Murphy, a former West Central Florida Council executive whose son, pro football player Louis Murphy Jr., earned the highest rank of Eagle Scout.

"I just think we need to come out of this box that we're in and look at ways we can be fair and just," he said.

In a statement, Boy Scouts of America spokesman Deron Smith said the movement is thankful that "the overwhelming majority" of its approximately 116,000 units remain committed to Scouting.

"Nationally, only a handful of chartered organizations have decided not to renew their sponsorship of troops," he said. "In the very rare instance that a chartered organization has chosen not to continue … other organizations have stepped up to charter those units and provide uninterrupted service to the youth in their communities."

Calvary Chapel, whose sprawling Pinellas Park campus once was a Walmart, will drop its Scouting program at the end of the year. Pastor Jim O'Connor, head of the children's ministry, said some boys will continue with Scouting at another location. Others will join Trail Life, the newly founded alternative.

"Trail Life is a better fit for our objectives and our beliefs," said O'Connor, adding that Calvary Chapel will hold its kickoff meeting on Thursday.

Defection has been negligible in the Gulf Ridge Council, McGovern said. To date, out of the more than 350 churches, civic clubs and businesses that allow Scouts to meet on their premises, only 11 have pulled their support, he said. Other organizations quickly offered to take in the ousted Scouts, McGovern said.

"Our Cub Scout recruitment is up 20 percent," he said. "We're still serving young people and people are still choosing Boy Scouts. Our focus is to get off the politics and get on serving young people."

The organization's financial deficit will have to be made up by businesses and families "who continue to believe in the mission of the Boy Scouts of America and see the direct benefits" of the Gulf Ridge Council, he said.

Davis said the West Central Florida Council gets most of its funding from the United Way, corporations and individuals. Private donors — many passionate alumni of Scouting — happen to be the largest source of such funds, he said, and those opposed to the new policy were vocal about their feelings.

"They called, they emailed, they sent letters," Davis said.

And withdrew their financial support.

The national organization, though, isn't acknowledging a correlation between the new policy and Scouting finances.

"It is impossible to accurately specify how much support the BSA receives or doesn't receive as a result of any single issue," its spokesman said.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.

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