The Boy Scouts of America have blocked a Seattle church from sponsoring a scouting troop after it refused to fire the openly gay Scout leader, proving once again that its discriminatory policies are more important to the organization than the actual people it serves.
Last May, the Boy Scouts of America rescinded its ages-old policy barring openly gay scouts from the organization, but firmly upheld its ban on gay adult volunteers. While that decision made a world of difference for LGBT youth, it’s a bittersweet underachievement for the adults who first launched the campaign to remove the policy.
According to GLAAD:
GLAAD first started calls for the Boy Scouts of America to end its ban on gay Scouts and Scout leaders in April 2012 after Jennifer Tyrrell, a mom and den leader from Ohio, was removed from her 7-year-old’s Cub Scout pack for being gay. Tyrrell’s Change.org petition has attracted more than 350,000 signatures in support of ending the Boy Scouts’ ban on gay Scouts and adult leaders.
So while gay scouts have been coming out to their troops proudly and without fear of repercussions, LGBT scout leaders must still abide by a Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell-like culture of secrecy in order to participate. And for gay scouts nearing adulthood and hoping to continue their involvement with the organization, it means a very real chance of being booted out as soon as they turn 18.
That’s a fast-forwarded version of what happened recently to Geoff McGrath, an openly gay 49-year-old Eagle Scout who started a Boy Scout troop a few months after the BSA’s half-a-landmark decision. He sought the charter at the LGBT-inclusive Rainier Beach United Methodist Church near Seattle, and knowing of his LGBT activism, the church encouraged him to volunteer as the troop leader.
When media got wind of his story, the BSA moved to reject McGrath from his position. Backed by his troop, he refused to step down. Now, apparently out of options, the BSA has revoked the church’s charter for the Boy Scout troop and its affiliated Cub Scout pack.
GLAAD has acquired a copy of the BSA’s letter to the church. It reads:
In the application to charter a Boy Scout unit, Rainier Beach United Methodist Church agreed to conduct the Scouting program in accordance with the policies, guidelines, rules and regulations of the Boy Scouts of America. As a result of that agreement, Rainier Beach United Methodist Church received charters for Pack and Troop 98 from the Boy Scouts of America through the Chief Seattle Council, Boy Scouts of America.
As you are aware, the policy of the Boy Scouts of America does not allow open or avowed homosexuals to serve as volunteer adult leaders.…
The Rainier Beach United Methodist Church has stated that it not [sic] remove him as a leader and will continue to allow him to serve as an adult leader in violation of the charter agreement and the policies of the Boy Scouts of America.
As a result of this refusal to comply with the policies, guidelines, rules and regulations of the Boy Scouts of America, Rainier Beach United Methodist Church is hereby advised that it is no longer an authorized chartered organization and may no longer use the Scouting program or any of its registered marks or brands.
This isn’t the first time McGrath has faced backlash from the BSA for being gay, so he’s not exactly new on their radar. In the NBC News article that sparked much of the media attention around McGrath, Miranda Leitsinger reported:
McGrath, a married Eagle Scout who has been with his husband for 20 years, said he worried his sexual orientation would sink the effort since openly gay Scoutmasters in previous years — before the vote to admit gay youth — have been booted from Scouting.
And McGrath knows this from his own experience, too. At age 22, after revealing to the leaders of his Seattle-area troop that he was gay, McGrath said they rescinded an Asst. Scoutmaster post they’d offered him and told him he was done with Scouting. It was the most painful part of his decision to come out as gay, he said, and led to his excommunication the next year from the Mormon church that had sponsored his Boy Scout unit.
The church has announced it is “considering legal options” in light of the BSA’s decision, but under unfavorable circumstances; as Think Progress points out, the Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that as a private organization, the BSA may discriminate as it pleases.
“As a Reconciling Congregation, it’s important to us that we are open to all people,” said Rainier Beach United Methodist Church Pastor Monica Corsaro. “It’s a part of our values that the spirit of inclusion is also reflected in the Boy Scout Troop we charter. The congregation stands with Geoff, because his work with this Troop reflects the spirit and the values of Rainier Beach United Methodist Church. In light of the BSA’s decision to infringe on our religious liberties, sending us such troubling communication on Good Friday, we have acquired legal council to assess our options.”
I think it’s worth noting how quickly McGrath’s troop rose to defend him, even in what would become a legal and media firestorm. As soon as the BSA announced its revised policy last May — a decision that was clearly not the milestone we wanted it to be — the organization’s leaders proved how disconnected they are from the young men who participate and the adults who guide them.
While I personally can’t understand how so many Scouts young and old remain loyal to an organization that continuously belittles them, it’s a testament to the important role the Boy Scouts played in the lives of so many people. While current and former Scouts have proven their respect, commitment, and honor to the organization — traits they may even have developed from the scouting experience itself — it’s shameful that the BSA can’t be bothered to show them the same regard.
(Image via Shutterstock)