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Activist Groups Urge Obama to Reject Boy Scout Honor

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Activist groups, including Scouting for All, urge President Obama not to accept the honorary Presidency of the Boy Scouts of America until they stop discriminating.

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Oak Park Scouts Kicked Out by the BSA Join Camp Fire Boys and Girls

Salt Lake Tribune, February 25, 2001
Salt Lake City, UT, 84110

Boy Scout Policy Ignites Fervent Debate on Gays


At the start of the school year in September, Stefan Scherer-Emunds donned his Cub Scout uniform, peered at his reflection in the hall mirror and announced to his parents that he wanted one day to earn the Eagle Scout badge, one of Scouting's highest honors.

Now, Stefan and dozens of other Cub Scouts in this Chicago suburb are preparing to hang up their uniforms for good after being expelled because their families defied the national organization's policy excluding homosexuals.

"Four years ago, I thought of the Scouts as America and apple pie and Norman Rockwell paintings, and camping and marching in the Memorial Day parade," said Stefan's mom, Mary Scherer-Emunds. "That image for me now is tainted. It's almost like they are defining what a good American is, and if you disagree with it, they cut you loose."

The Oak Park packs are the first to be tossed out of the organization since a June ruling by the Supreme Court in Washington upheld the Boy Scouts of America's right to bar assistant scoutmaster James Dale, a New Jersey man the group dismissed after learning he was gay.

The ruling has thrust the Boy Scouts into the middle of an impassioned and divisive debate over gay rights as schools, religious organizations and philanthropic groups across the nation re-evaluate their relationship with one of the most enduring symbols of American boyhood.

In Minneapolis, the school board has ended sponsorship of troops and has prohibited Scouts from recruiting in the public schools.

The Los Angeles City Council has severed ties between the Boy Scouts and its police department Explorer program.

And last month, Reform Jewish leaders urged their synagogues to terminate their relationships with Scouts and called upon parents to remove their children from Scout troops.

"What's going on around the country is that non-gay people who have been supporters of the Boy Scouts don't want to be accomplices to discrimination," said Evan Wolfson, a senior staff attorney with the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund who argued Dale's case before the Supreme Court. "We may have lost, by a 5-4 vote, the case, but we are winning the cause," Wolfson said. "People are seeing anti-gay discrimination because Scouting is so close to their homes and their hearts." Boy Scouts supporters are rallying behind the group with vigor.

Lawmakers in Georgia, for instance, have introduced a bill that would bar government agencies from ending their ties with the group. And in Florida, Scouts are suing the Broward County School Board for barring the organization from school property because of the gay policy.

But the battle is particularly emotional in the village of Oak Park, a racially diverse community of 54,000, perhaps best known as Ernest Hemingway's birthplace and for the two dozen striking Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes that dot its tree-lined streets.

The community also is a liberal enclave: Signs posted along thoroughfares declare the village of Oak Park a nuclear weapon-free zone. The village and school district have adopted policies that bar discrimination against gays and lesbians.

In 1997, the village council went further, enacting a domestic-partnership law for same-sex couples. For decades, the Scouts' position on gays largely went unnoticed in Oak Park.

That all changed last summer when the nation's high court ruled the Scouts have a constitutional right to exclude gays because opposition to homosexuality long has been part of the group's message.

Alarmed by the decision, the parent-teacher organizations that sponsor the Cub Scout programs in Oak Park schools took action. In their annual applications to renew the charters of their Cub Scout packs, the parent-teacher groups enclosed copies of Oak Park's anti-discrimination policies and said they would abide by the community's policy "in cases in which there is a conflict between those statements and any policies or guidelines of the Boy Scouts of America." Last month, the Scouts declined to renew the charters.

"We don't force our values on anyone," said Gregg Shields, national spokesman for the Boys Scouts of America, based in Irving, Texas.

"We respect their decision. But we have a common set of values. If someone doesn't agree to those values, we can't extend the charters."

Scout officials say the group is guided by the views of the majority of its members, the religious organizations that make up about 65 percent of the groups that charter Boy Scout troops and Cub packs. Schools and parent groups sponsor about 530,000 -- only about 16 percent -- of the 3.3 million kids involved in Scouting. And Shields said the Boy Scouts have not suffered a
measurable decline in membership in the wake of the court ruling.

In Oak Park, the parent-teacher groups are ending their 60-year relationship with the Scouts. Parents have until Wednesday to decide whether to leave Scouting, find new sponsors or band together to self-charter with the Scouts.

Jerry Ostergaard, a public relations manager for a telephone company, is den leader for a group of nine second-grade Cub Scouts, including his 7-year-old son, Spencer.

An Eagle Scout himself and the son of a Boy Scout, Ostergaard is sticking with Scouting. "I cannot sit down with my 7-year-old son and explain gay rights," Ostergaard said. "We haven't had the sex talk yet. How are we going to have the homosexual talk?"

Although Ostergaard is uncomfortable with the Scouts' policy on gays, he said the program has shaped who he is and offers valuable lessons to boys: love of the outdoors, practical survival skills, a sense of community.

"Not every kid is the star athlete or great artist, but every kid can be a Scout and be a part of something and belong," he said. "Do you just walk away from the Scouts on principle? OK, if you did that, you'd have your principles, but then the kids won't have Scouts." Other parents in the same Cub Scout pack have come to a different decision.

Kathy and Patrick Egan, and their 10-year-old son, Kevin, are leaving. "This has been a very painful issue for people," said Kathy Egan, 44, sitting in her living room on a recent afternoon with Kevin alongside her on the couch.

"Even though the Scouts are a private organization, they were working here in the public arena, in our schools," she said.

"We do have gay people in the parent-teacher organization. We live with gay people in our community. How can we be affiliated with an organization that discriminates against people in this community?"

Kevin, a fifth-grader, pointed out that a gay couple lives on their block. "It's just one tiny characteristic," Kevin said of homosexuality, "so why kick them out?"

In the fall, Kevin will join a Camp Fire group that has formed at his school as an alternative to the Scouts.

With just 650,000 members nationwide, Camp Fire Boys and Girls is far smaller than the Boy Scouts, but the Egans said they like the program because it specifically cites sexual orientation in its policy of inclusion.

Like the Egans, Mary Scherer-Emunds and her husband, Meinrad, plan to enroll Stefan and his younger brother Daniel, 9, in the Camp Fire program.

Scherer-Emunds, 42, a den leader and co-chairwoman of the parent-teacher group at the kids' school, said she is saddened her son won't attain Eagle Scout status, but that Stefan understands why the family was withdrawing from Scouting. For his part, Stefan said he would miss the den meetings and camping trips.

"But I think this new program, Camp Fire, sounds similar to the Scouts," he said, "and they don't discriminate." "I know gay people who work with children, and they're fine people," Scherer-Emunds said. "We need to stand with them and say, 'If they can't be included, then we don't want to be a part of it anymore.'"




Scouting For All is not an alternative scouting program.
We are an education and advocacy organization reaching out to gay and nontheist youth and adults in our effort to get the Boy Scouts of America to rescind its exlusionary policy.

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