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The Daily Tar Heel

County United Way Loses Leader

Staff Writer

The Triangle United Way's policy of allowing Boy Scout organizations to exclude gays from leadership positions has prompted an Orange County United Way chairman to resign and has raised concerns among its board members.

Robert Seymour, chairman of the United Way's Orange County senior issues committee, left his position in protest of a policy he feels is discriminatory toward gays.

As a member of the Orange County Human Rights Commission and former pastor of Binkley Memorial Baptist Church, which welcomes gays and lesbians, Seymour said not taking action would compromise his beliefs.

"I've been an advocate for gays and lesbians and fully support the position of church," he said. "I'm part of a welcoming and affirming church, which includes gays and lesbians in every level of the church's life, including ordaining them to serve as clergy."

Triangle United Way, which provides funding for local Boy Scout troops, was pressured to discontinue its support after the Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts of America could prohibit gays from holding leadership positions.

But Triangle United Way refused, arguing that such action would hurt local troops and sparking a reaction in local communities.

"I feel that (Triangle) United Way may have missed an opportunity to join with other United Ways across the country to say to Boy Scouts we feel we can't continue funding until the policy is changed," Seymour said.

Triangle United Way instead offered a two-tiered nondiscrimination policy for its member organizations to follow.

The two-tiered policy forbids staff members and volunteers of Triangle United Way from discriminating based on certain factors, including sexual orientation. Triangle United Way officials also have encouraged its member institutions to follow this "best practices" standard, said Kay Johnson, chairwoman of the Orange County United Way board of trustees.

But Johnson said Triangle United Way does not force member organizations to uphold these standards. These organizations must only comply with a "minimum standards" policy, which does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, she said.

The "minimum standards" policy is the basis for Seymour's resignation and also has raised concern from members of the Orange County United Way board of trustees.

"I think that Triangle United Way needs to have a single standard, rather than a dual standard, that should apply to all agencies," said board of trustees member Cal Horton, also the Chapel Hill town manager. "Right now the problem with it is that it allows the possibility of an organization to discriminate against gays and lesbians, and that's not fair, in my opinion."

The Orange County United Way board of trustees has not yet held a meeting to discuss its position and any action trustees may take, Horton said.

But Johnson said Triangle United Way has the final decision on whether to change the policy. "What the Orange County board (of trustees) can do is say this is how we think and why," she said.

The trustees will meet later this month to consider what course of action they should take.

Seymour said he received a very positive reaction from the community for his position."Many people have said (they) are grateful for (my) taking a stand on the issue," he said.

"If the policy is changed, I will be active in United Way again."

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