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.
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.
These executives and board members were particularly concerned about the safety of the children under their care. BBBSA national, supported by gay activists and liberal media commentators, has argued that children are at no greater risk of being molested by a homosexual than by a heterosexual. But statistics logged in a stack of peer-reviewed journals undermine that claim. For example, the Journal of Sex Research found that homosexual pedophiles commit about one-third of the total number of child sex offenses in the United States, even though homosexuals make up no more than 5 percent of the U.S. population. While it may be true that most adult male homosexuals are attracted to other grown males, it is also true that pedophile themes abound in gay literature.
BBBSA has witnessed the problem directly in some affiliates. For example, in 1999 Tim Brown, a 34-year-old BBBSA mentor, sexually molested his 10-year-old Little Brother. America's Most Wanted featured his story in April 2001, and police apprehended Mr. Brown four days later. Also, the Keene, N.H., police department conducted a three-year homosexual Internet child pornography sting operation (1997-2000), which netted two Big Brothers, a 30-year-old advertising representative, and a 49-year-old college professor.
Just last month authorities charged Scott A. Wagner, 34, of Newark, Ohio, with raping a 12-year-old boy. The boy had been visiting Mr. Wagner's home as a client of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Licking County. On Sept. 27, a grand jury indicted Mr. Wagner on 73 child-sex-related charges involving young boys. Also in September, the Columbus Dispatch reported two molestation cases from 2001 that involved assaults on young boys by Big Brothers in Toronto and Newton, Mass.
Many more cases may be out there, but conventional media outlets are loath to report them. The lack of news coverage of those cases reflects conventional media support for the gay agenda. The day after the Dispatch reported on Big Brothers molesting Little Brothers, the Family Research Council sent to 130 national, family, and political editors in Washington, D.C., a press release recapping the story and questioning BBBSA's new policy on gay mentors. Not one publication picked up the story. Not one asked the obvious question: In light of these cases, is matching young boys with homosexual mentors really a sensible policy?
How the new policy came to be is still somewhat of a mystery. BBBSA's national office says that policy-change resolutions are discussed and formulated by local affiliates in the group's 12 national regions: "The top five resolutions, as determined by members of the National Forum, are forwarded to the National Board. In 2001 one of the top five resolutions dealt with nondiscrimination" against homosexual mentors. The process sounds very democratic. But no one at BBBSA will say who the "members of the National Forum" are, and how they determined that the resolution to accept sexual diversity among child mentors was among the top five.
The head of one local affiliate told WORLD, "So many directors I talk to say, 'How did that happen? I don't remember that being brought up.' Many issues go through that we are fully aware of all along the way, but this one was done and over before we even became aware of it." A BBBSA board member from an East Coast affiliate said, "I've been on the board of my agency for a couple of years. The first I heard [about the new policy] was when my wife heard about it on American Family Radio."
BBBSA's national office has refused to answer tough questions. Noreen Shanfelter, director of media relations for the organization, did not return three calls from WORLD. She stopped corresponding with Family News in Focus reporter Steve Jordahl when he asked how matching homosexual men with boys made sense. Nor has she returned calls from Focus on the Family's Mr. Maier.
The national office claims that it has had a nondiscrimination policy concerning homosexuals for the past 25 years, but only now has made it a requirement for local affiliates. Some local directors question that, especially since the national office has not produced documentation to support its claim. The dissenting directors speculate that the 25-year assertion may be a way of quelling protest, as in, "We've been doing this all along, so what's the big deal?"
Nor is the new policy a big deal according to conventional reporters, who have been ready to give BBBSA's new direction a positive spin. On Sept. 26, BBBSA of Sedgwick County (Kansas), an affiliate complying with Standard 22, held a mentor sign-up event called "Big for a Day." When a "married" lesbian couple showed up to volunteer, KWCH Channel 12 made it their top news story. "This year," said KWCH's Sky Arnold in his on-scene report, "Big Brothers Big Sisters has decided couples like Beth and Cathy Gillespie can't be turned away simply because they're lesbians." The camera then focused on two women. "Because she is my wife," said Beth of Cathy, "doesn't mean that I'm going to molest a child." Then the pair signed up to get a Little Sister.
But there are still ways to battle back. Terry Fox, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Wichita, led a public protest against the Sedgwick County affiliate's new policy. His ground war generated protest e-mail from 42 states, and also resulted in the local United Way's allowing donors to opt out of giving to the Sedgwick agency. BBBSA directors not moved by arguments about child safety and parental assurance may pay attention to financial bottom lines.
"Our national office is trying to be really quiet about it," said one Midwestern BBBSA executive director who firmly opposes the new policy. "They're hoping that this will just go away.... We're trying not to let that happen."