Cover Story

Big Problem

The wholesome image of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is now under siege-and some local affiliates are fighting back. Their executive directors note that BBBSA forbids matching girls with men because of the potential that sexual attraction will lead to molestation-so why should homosexual men be matched with boys?

Issue: "Brothers up in arms," Oct. 26, 2002

WHEN BIG BROTHERS BIG Sisters of America (BBBSA) in July announced its new policy of requiring local affiliates to allow homosexuals to mentor children of the same gender, a brief media storm ensued. Reporters quoted lots of liberal-minded agency heads who spoke glowingly of lesbian and gay mentors under their charge. Homosexual activists castigated conservatives for objecting to the new policy. And that was about it. Media silence followed the outburst, and it seemed that all involved with BBBSA were living happily ever after.

Not so. Under media radar, civil war has broken out in some of the BBBSA's 490 local affiliates, with at least a dozen executive directors of those groups defying the directive from the organization's national office. It's possible for them to do that because local affiliates are independently funded and managed, paying about $5,500 in annual dues for the privilege of using the Big Brothers Big Sisters name, fundraising machinery, and administrative support.

Dissenting executive directors asked WORLD not to reveal their names because members of their local boards of directors-who hold sway over the directors' jobs-are not all opposed to the new directive. In addition, these directors fear that stirring bad blood between them and the national organization would hurt any chance for compromise-and therefore, hurt the children and parents they serve.

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Those directors say they are putting the interests of their clients ahead of the goals of the gay lobby. One Midwestern agency sent letters to the parents of 65 children on its waiting list. Only "four or five" said they wouldn't mind gay or lesbian mentors for their children, said the agency's executive director. Another local director told WORLD that "nearly 100 percent of the people who called us about this policy said, 'We don't want this.'"

The executive directors, one said, are also "very concerned about putting children at risk" of molestation by homosexual mentors. After all, BBBSA forbids the matching of girls with men precisely because of the potential for sexual attraction leading to molestation. How, then, is it sensible to match homosexual men with boys?

Finally, the directors are trying to be responsive to their donors. One BBBSA executive director noted that donations are down 10 percent since the national office announced its directive, "Standard 22." She said concern about the new policy has "zapped our energy and our focus. It's taken countless man-hours and time and energy away from what we all want to be doing and that's serving kids." The affiliate has already lost one staff person and one volunteer. Other volunteers have told the director they will not renew their commitments once their current match has ended.

Given such concern, one local affiliate, BBBSA of Owensboro, Ky., has already resigned its affiliation with the national office and changed its name to "Quest for Kids." With its new moniker came a new mission: matching kids with Christian adults who could not only model biblical gender roles, but also, with parental permission, teach kids about Christ. According to Quest for Kids board chairman Brad Rhoads, the group is now receiving donations from new sources-churches, for example-and has not lost any BBBSA donors that he is aware of. Also, a new wave of volunteers has rolled in, increasing the group's total number of mentors and therefore, Mr. Rhoads expects, the total number of adult-child matches that Quest for Kids can make.

Many other affiliates, though, are not specifically Christian in orientation, and are still hoping to work out a compromise with the national office. Several directors were scheduled to meet last week with national office representatives. "We're trying to see if anything can be done, if certain communities can be exempt," one local agency head told WORLD. "I have to represent my community, which is a rural, conservative community. At some point you have to say, 'That's enough.'"

Headquartered in Philadelphia, BBBSA has for 98 years provided adult mentors for kids. (Mentors are called "Bigs" and the children are called "Littles.") Each of BBBSA's 490 affiliates operates with near-total autonomy, adhering only to a set of general "standards of practice," which are meant to help children grow within mentoring relationships, while protecting them from physical or emotional harm. Local agencies appoint their own boards of directors, hire their own executive directors and staff, raise their own money, recruit their own mentors, and tailor their own local screening procedures to ensure mentor fitness. That's why Standard of Practice 22 hit like a bomb.

The Philadelphia office initially launched the bomb as a piece of routine paperwork. On Feb. 26, BBBSA national vice president and chief operating officer Clay Brewer issued a memorandum announcing the new policy. Local directors opposed to it soon made contact with each other and with public policy organizations they think can help. Executive directors and board members from Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, Indiana, and Michigan contacted Focus on the Family, according to Focus psychologist Bill Maier.

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