The Walt Disney Company has publicly threatened to cut funding to the Boy Scouts of America beginning in 2015 due to the BSA’s ban on gay adult leaders in the organization. While Disney doesn’t provide direct funding to the Boy Scouts of America, the entertainment giant does donate money to Boy Scout troops as part of a Disney employee participation program “Ears to You.” While Disney’s withdrawal might shake the organization, it’s hard to imagine even a Boy Scout being prepared if local United Ways cut their funding. Several already have. In October 2013, United Way of the Bluegrass suspended its $96,000 annual funding to the local BSA due to the ban. (That’s 5 percent of their $2m annual budget.) The United Way of the Bluegrass has said it would resume the funding if the Boy Scouts change the policy. But the local Boy Scout group has no control over the national policy for the organization. And not all politics is local, despite the pithy phrase.
Who does have influence over the national policy? Former defense secretary Robert Gates, who oversaw the change in the military’s misbegotten “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, will take over at the Boy Scouts of America this May. Secretary Gates is set to lead the BSA national executive board for two years. Gates effectively dealt with feet-dragging brass over the issue of gays serving openly in the military, and he’s also done battle with an austerity-minded Congress for funding the US Defense Department. His experience would seem to put him in perfect postion to effect a change in the current BSA policy. And at the same time win back donations not only from the United Way but also from corporations like defense contractor Lockheed Martin, which has also withdrawn support. Gates, however, will now face a truculent obstacle he didn’t have while in the corridors of power: fearful, bigoted parents.
Secretary Gates with Boy Scouts of America delegates, 2011. Photo: ScoutingMagazine.org, a blog for BSA’s Adult Leaders