The Boy Scouts may have inadvertently exposed some serious knots in Amazon’s new charitable-giving initiative.
Scouts for Equality, a group that wants to see an end to anti-LGBT policies within the Boy Scouts of America, is calling on Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) to withdraw its support of the storied youth organization until it reverses its ban on openly gay scout leaders. The BSA is one of hundreds of thousands of U.S.-based charitable organizations that have registered on AmazonSmile, a program through which Amazon shoppers can support their favorite nonprofits by -- you guessed it -- spending money on Amazon.com.
The six-month-old program is run by the AmazonSmile Foundation, which donates 0.5 percent of shoppers’ purchases to a charity chosen by the shopper. Amazon customers who wish to participate can link a charity to their Amazon accounts by visiting the AmazonSmile website and choosing from a list of eligible organizations. The problem, Scouts for Equality says, is that the Boy Scouts of America is not an eligible organization, at least not according to Amazon’s own “Participation Agreement,” which explicitly prohibits organizations that discriminate based on sexual orientation from participating in the program.
Last week, Scouts for Equality’s Pascal Tessier, an openly gay Eagle Scout, launched a Change.org petition calling on Amazon to suspend its support of the BSA until the organization ends its ban on LGBT adults. (It lifted the ban on gay scouts under 18 last year.) Zach Wahls, Scouts for Equality’s executive director, told International Business Times that the petition came about after Geoff McGrath, a gay scoutmaster for Troop 98 in Seattle, was fired from the BSA. The dismissal took place on April 1 after BSA officials learned of McGrath’s sexual orientation, which the BSA called “a distraction to scouting.”
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In a phone interview Friday, Wahls said the firing is just another example of the discrimination that continues within the Boy Scouts. “It was a clear demonstration of intolerant behavior,” Wahls said. “Amazon’s terms explicitly say organizations that promote intolerance are ineligible.”
Reached for comment, an AmazonSmile spokesman said the program contains nearly a million 501(c)(3) organizations, and that Amazon looks to outside authorities when determining a group’s eligibility. “We rely on the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the U.S. Office of Foreign Asset Compliance to determine if certain organizations are ineligible to participate,” the spokesman said.
But Wahls said that stance is inconsistent. He noted that, in fact, the SPLC has been vocally critical of the BSA’s anti-gay policy. In 2012, SPLC’s co-founder, Joseph J. Levin Jr., wrote in a blog post that the Boy Scouts’ policy encourages bigotry “in schools across the country.
“It’s easy to understand why a child might engage in such behavior when he sees adults treat LGBT people as undeserving of basic rights,” Levin wrote. “As adults, we must never forget that children learn by our example.”
So if the SPLC is against the Boy Scouts’ policy, and if the policy ostensibly violates Amazon’s own terms, why is the BSA still eligible to participate in AmazonSmile? The spokesman did not respond to additional questions regarding the BSA. And as it turn out, the BSA isn’t the only questionable organization on AmazonSmile’s list. A quick search reveals other groups deemed “anti-gay” by the SPLC, including Concerned Women for America, Coral Ridge Ministries and the National Organization for Marriage Education Fund. If that last group sounds familiar, it’s because its affiliate, National Organization for Marriage, is currently spearheading an effort to boycott Mozilla’s Firefox browser. Why? Because Mozilla’s chief executive, Brendan Eich, was recently pressured to step down over a contribution to California’s Proposition 8, which sought to ban same-sex marriages.
Scouts for Equality’s petition, which by Monday afternoon had attracted almost 40,000 signatures, is the first high-profile criticism of AmazonSmile, a program that generated a sizable surplus of consumer goodwill when it debuted last year at the start of the holiday shopping season. However, the petition’s rapid growth also calls into question the extent to which AmazonSmile scrutinizes the groups that benefit from it. Wahls said supporters of the petition have been quick to point out what they see as a glaring contrast between the BSA’s anti-gay policy and Amazon’s own forward-thinking philosophy. “People know that Amazon is a progressive company,” Wahls said. “Jeff Bezos is obviously a strong supporter of the LGBT community. He donated $2.5 million to the fight to protect marriage equality in Washington State. This to us seems like an open and shut case.”
Wahls, an Eagle Scout himself who was raised by two lesbian mothers, said his group is driven by a love of the Boy Scouts as an organization, and he rejects criticism from detractors who say his efforts are causing harm to the organization’s image. The reality, he said, is that the BSA has done a fine job of that on its own. “So many people today believe that being a scout is being a bigot, when that couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said. “From our perspective, the sooner the BSA changes its policy, the better it is for scouting. This a very small price to pay in the interim.”