Matt Comer

U.S. Reps: BSA must end anti-gay policy

Filed By Matt Comer | February 06, 2010 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: bisexual, Boy Scouts of America, Congress, letter, LGBT atheists, scouts, Tammy Baldwin

This month, the Boy Scouts of America will celebrate their 100th anniversary. There's no doubt: The Scouts have done an amazing, almost immeasurable, amount of good work in our nation since their founding in 1910. Through both World Wars and difficult times, Scouts have stepped up to the plate. Through their pledge to "do a good turn daily," the volunteerism of Scouting has truly been a contribution to American history and society.

Yet, the Scouts have also left another legacy throughout their century of service. Gay and bisexual boys and young men, along with those who do not espouse a belief in a god or higher power, have been excluded from the Scouting program. The Scouts' policy of barring gays from leadership positions and youth membership was upheld in 2000.

The Boy Scouts of America's policy on "avowed homosexuals" runs deeper and causes more harm than one might initially think. The policy creates division and tears Boy Scout troops in two. It prohibits the participation of LGBT parents in the Scouting lives of their sons. It ostracizes the siblings of gay youth who might find themselves the victim of an unjust and cruel policy.

On Feb. 1, 26 members of Congress signed an open letter to Robert Mazzuca, the Chief Scout Executive of the Boy Scouts of America. In the letter, the Congressional representatives call on the Scouts to abandon their discriminatory policy. (The letter is reprinted at the bottom of this post.)

Openly lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin and Rep. Gary Ackermann (also signed by openly gay Reps. Barney Frank and Jared Polis) led on the letter. From a press release:

The correspondence, initiated by U.S. Representatives Gary Ackerman (D-NY) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), was sent in response to the Boy Scouts' rejection of Cate and Elizabeth Wirth, a couple in Vermont who were told they could not volunteer for their 10 year old son's Cub Scout pack after it was revealed that the women are lesbians. In explaining the Boy Scouts' national policy of excluding gays and lesbians as volunteers, their district director suggested that the Wirths would "push their lifestyle on the boys."

"Regrettably, the current, discriminatory policy of the Boy Scouts of America has denied opportunities for young scouts, community-oriented citizens, and loving parents," the lawmakers wrote in the letter to Robert Mazzuca, the Chief Scout Executive of the Boy Scouts of America. "As you celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America, it is long past time that the Boy Scouts finally provide the opportunity for all Scouts, Leaders, and volunteers, to share in the joys of Scouting, regardless of sexual orientation."

Ackerman, a proud Eagle Scout, continues to salute the tireless contributions of Scouts from throughout the nation but contends that the discriminatory policy of the organization must change.

"I'll always be a proud Eagle Scout, but this discriminatory policy must end" said Ackerman. "Rejecting a Cub Scout's mothers from volunteering just because of their sexual orientation doesn't comply with the Scout law I recited at Scout meetings."

"Scouting is a proud and honorable tradition in this country, but discrimination is not," said Congresswoman Baldwin, Co-Chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus. "Children with same sex parents deserve the same opportunities to have their parents involved in their scouting experience as their classmates do and I urge the Boy Scouts of America to end this discriminatory policy," Baldwin said.

In 2000, I was a 14-year-old middle school student who'd just come out of the closet. As I entered my freshman year of high school and took my first steps into LGBT activism, my time with Scouts would come to an end. After I started a gay-straight alliance, I was told to leave.

"If you choose to live that lifestyle, then you are choosing not to be a Boy Scout," my scoutmaster told me.

The debate over the Scouts' anti-gay policy will, hopefully, get some much-needed attention this month. Since 2000, this conversation has slowly started to disappear from any high-profile debate as people move on with their lives and as history becomes history. Although the Supreme Court's ruling siding with the Scouts is a decade old, as are my personal experiences with the Scouts, this policy and this issue continues to affect youth and families today.

The Scouts have earned a place in American history, and I hope they'll use their 100th anniversary as an excuse to take a deep and hard look inward and strive to earn a truly unblemished and untarnished place in America's next century of history and accomplishment.

The 26 Congressional members' letter to Robert Mazzuca:

February 1, 2010

Mr. Robert Mazzuca
Chief Scout Executive
Boy Scouts of America
National Office
1329 West Walnut Hill Lane
Irving, TX 75038

Dear Mr. Mazzuca:

We write in response to the Boy Scouts of America's (BSA) recent rejection of Cate and Elizabeth Wirth, two mothers of a Scout, who applied to serve as parent volunteers. We call on the Boy Scouts to end its policy of discrimination and exclusion based solely on sexual orientation.

Regrettably, the current, discriminatory policy of the Boy Scouts of America has denied opportunities for young scouts, dedicated community-oriented citizens, and loving parents. Most recently, as reported on December 30, 2009, Cate and Elizabeth Wirth, both legal mothers of their 10 year old son, Dylan, were turned down as volunteer Cub Scout leaders after the local Boy Scouts District Director cited the national policy of the BSA regarding lesbian and gay volunteers, and suggested that the Wirths would "push their lifestyle on the boys." We would think the Boy Scouts would encourage all parents to take an active involvement in their children's Scouting life. Cate and Elizabeth had volunteered before without problem, such that the Boy Scouts happily accepted their service again until learning of their sexual orientation.

For a century, the Boy Scouts have united communities, instilled the value of public service, and encouraged civic participation among America's youth. Congress has repeatedly recognized the importance of the Boy Scouts in our communities with numerous honors, including a Congressional charter and, most recently, a resolution expressing support for February 8, 2010 as "Boy Scouts of America Day". As you celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America, it is long past time that the Boy Scouts finally provide the opportunity for all Scouts, Leaders, and volunteers, to share in the joys of Scouting, regardless of sexual orientation.

This policy of discrimination and exclusion is contrary to the Boy Scouts own stated values. According to Scout law, "A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent." We fail to see how it is friendly, courteous, or kind to bar loving parents from volunteering for their child's Cub Scout pack just because of who they love. Furthermore, it is difficult to imagine how singling out the parents of one Scout for exclusion is an example of Scout loyalty.

As deeply troubling as the exclusionary policy is, the message that the policy sends is perhaps most damaging. The Boy Scouts are teaching America's youth at impressionable ages that lesbians and gays are to be excluded because they are different, and not "morally straight" as per the Boy Scouts' official stated position.

Furthermore, it is particularly disappointing that an organization that prides itself on inclusion and diversity remains committed to a policy that is anything but. Again, according to the Scout handbook, a Scout should "look beyond the differences that might separate you from others and accept them for who they are."

We urge you to honor the Boy Scouts' own stated values and reverse this exclusionary and discriminatory policy by providing the opportunity for Cate and Elizabeth Wirth and all other interested Scouts, Leaders, and volunteers to participate, regardless of sexual orientation.

Sincerely,

GARY L. ACKERMAN
TAMMY BALDWIN
Raúl M. Grijalva
James P. McGovern
Fortney Pete Stark
Henry C. Johnson, Jr.
Lynn C. Woolsey
Peter Welch
Dennis J. Kucinich
Luis V. Gutierrez
Linda T. SÁnchez
Barbara Lee
James P. Moran
Chellie Pingree
Jared Polis
Barney Frank
Yvette D. Clarke
Bill Delahunt
Keith Ellison
Jerrold Nadler
Earl Blumenauer
Brad Sherman
Bob Filner
Janice Schakowsky
Howard L. Berman
Jackie Speier


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The company I work for sponsors a merit bage class on site and a Cub Scout Pin day on site also. The company also has an explicit EEO statement about discrimination a few months ago, the Pride employee resource group asked if it could help out at the merit badge clinic, and was asked by management to not participate even though the request for volunteers was advertised to be open to everyone. This company still has some work to do to be more inclusive.

Judas Peckerwood | February 6, 2010 9:32 PM

As a former Boy Scout, I have to take issue with your assertion that the Scouts are a positive influence on the kids involved and our country as a whole.

While scouting involves many positive activities -- skills acquisition, camping, etc. –– the BSA also pushes a destructive right-wing social agenda that goes beyond homophobia and enforced theism. Because of this ideological indoctrination, the scouts do more harm than good in my opinion.

I think that's really dependent on local scoutmasters and troop leaders. Scouting has been a great experience for me, and I think it has given me a lot of the values that make me more liberal -- helping those in need, community involvement, humility. I do not recall anyone lecturing me about politics or controversial topics. Even in scout camps, religion was limited to a nonspecific spiritual service that was available for interested scouts (which I only attended once out of curiosity).

I really applaud the Congresspersons who signed this letter, and we appreciate their support and courage --- courage which is all the more notable when we consider that there are 509 members of Congress who apparently didn't choose to sign this letter. I don't mean to take the wind out of anyone's sails, but even if we are only working toward a simple Congressional majority, we have 242 signatures to still acquire.

I do like the Scouts but since their coming out with such discrimination I stay clear and protest the organization.
The organization hasn't said anything about transgender people but feel we are right there with same sex couples. I was a cub scout and learned a lot. I never had a dad so it sort of replaced a lot of missing spaces. I also had friends who were in the scouts. I never felt any religious affiliation while in the scouts. My son was also a cub scout and became a boy scout for a while. I was a male den mother and liked having the kids over and doing crafts and trying to get all of the badges for all. It was fun and again felt no religious obligation. I know that it was in the handbook but in all of the packs meetings there was no religious prayer or anything like that.
I do wish they would change their views, it is great for boys whose family can't do things or don't like to camp. Until they change their views I will not give the BSA a single dime or let them use the schools for their drives.

twinkie 1 cat | February 7, 2010 11:46 PM

For just the reason of excluding minorites, specifically gays and atheists, the Boy Scouts lost their funding from United Way a few years back. Seems to me I remember them then forming a "parallel" group that was inclusive in order to get funding.

A man showed up at my church a few years ago, rather destitute, having looked up another man whom he had been the Scoutmaster for many years ago and had helped him earn his Eagle status. The second man became quite successful thanks, in part to his scouting background. The younger man took the older in, helped him straighten out his life and get a job and an apartment. Both the scoutmaster and the scout were gay men. Those are the real values of scouting, that you live by values of helping those in need and are loyal to other scouts.

It is time and past time for the Boy Scouts to grow up. They are an extremely valuable group and all boys should be able to benefit from their positive self esteem building programs without prejudice.

The Boy Scouts policy on gays is a total joke. When I was a kid, BSA National Headquarters was in my hometown, just a short bike ride away (they've since moved to Houston). As a teen, I was a member of the only Boy Scout troop that held its meetings in the national HQ.

In my troop, I knew of at least two scouts who were gay and many of us believed that our scoutmaster was gay as well, though he was far too professional and circumspect for us to ever know for certain.

The point is that everyone knew and no one cared. It just didn't come up, and in the seventies it wasn't a topic that anyone was going to volunteer to bring up publicly without a very good reason.

The sad reality is that if they'd just left it alone and under the radar, gays could and would have continued to be involved with scouting. Now, because they're forced to publicly defend the policy, they also have to enforce strictly across the board to avoid charges of selective enforcement.

The religious obligation is equally disturbing. What's the point in forcing children to believe in a higher power if that's not the culture they come from?

So what ever happened with this?