Protesters picket Boy Scouts of America meeting
Scouting for All asks BSA to include gay, atheist scouts
By Zack Hudson
Jun 1, 2007
Despite nine years of protesting, an organization made up of ex-Boy Scouts and activists continues its struggle to open the Scouts’ ranks to openly gay and atheist scouts and scout leaders.
Scouting for All, a national group of gay and atheist scouts, led a daylong protest outside of the Boy Scouts of America annual meeting May 30 in Atlanta. At press time Wednesday, the group also planned a candlelight vigil on Wednesday evening and another picket on Thursday morning.
"According to the Boy Scouts of America, I am not clean because I am a homosexual," said M.J. Christensen, 30, state director of the Colorado chapters of Scouting for All, and an Eagle Scout.
Christensen spent about eight years as a scout, during which time the hobby introduced to him by his grandfather became his "whole life," he said.
Unlike most other social groups for children, the BSA enforces strict polici es that prohibit openly gay and atheist scouts from participating in scout activities. Both the Girl Scouts of America and the International Boy Scouts allow openly gay scouts, and allow atheist and agnostic scouts to alter their scouting oaths by removing the word "God" from the pledges.
While coming out in his late teens, Christensen dropped out of the organization rather than face expulsion.
Eagle Scout Steve Cozza and his father formed Scouting for in 1998 to protest the BSA exclusion of gays, atheists and girls. During its nine-year history, members have conducted demonstrations at every BSA annual meeting. BSA leadership has largely ignored the demonstrations and the organization. Scouting for All currently has about 30 part time volunteers and boasts over 100,000 supporters from throughout the U.S., according to Christensen.
A cadre of seven Scouting for All members were joined by local clergy and PFLAG members for the demonstration outside the doors of the Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown Atlanta, which hosted the BSA national meeting as well as the gay Atlanta HRC dinner last month.
The BSA annual meeting is a business and legislative convocation of the organization, which is attended by BSA employees and volunteers, but not the scouts themselves.
In a 5-4 decision in 2000, the United States Supreme Court upheld the Boy Scouts’ right to ban gay Scout leaders, ending the 10-year legal fight of James Dale, an assistant scoutmaster ousted for being gay. Dale, a Scout since age 8 and an Eagle Scout, was kicked out at 19 after he was pictured in a newspaper story on gay youth.
The Supreme Court decided that admitting a gay leader would force the Scouts to send a message that conflicts with “the group’s public and private viewpoints,” thereby violating the BSA’s First Amendment right to "expressive association."
"We believe an avowed homosexual is not a role model for the values espoused in the Scout Oath and Law," the Boy Scouts of America’s national office said in a statement released after the ruling.
The BSA had argued that openly gay leaders or members violate Scout tenets about being "morally straight" and "clean," although they also claimed to "make no effort to discover the sexual orientation of any person."
In a list of "frequently asked questions" posted on the Boy Scouts of America’s legal issues website, the group bristles at a question about whether it "discriminates" against gays and atheists.
"No court case has ever held that Boy Scouts discriminates unlawfully, and it is unfortunate here that anyone would characterize Boy Scouts’ constitutionally protected right to hold traditional values as ‘discriminatory.’ That is just name-calling," the group said.