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Legal victory fails to save scouts over anti-gay stand

Philadelphia Daily News

The U.S. Supreme Court says the Boys Scouts of America have the right to bar homosexuals and atheists, but that legal victory kept haunting the organization this week in Philadelphia.

Demonstrators staked out the Philadelphia Downtown Marriott, at 12th and Market streets, where 2,300 Scout delegates and staff held a national convention that wraps up today.

Reporters descended. A candlelight vigil closed in.

Even the convention's host Cradle of Liberty Scout Council has changed its policy, and sought to recruit allies from other Boy Scout councils that oppose discrimination against gays.

But the topic never came up at the convention's meetings, workshops or banquets, said national spokesman Gregg Shields.

Membership restrictions were reaffirmed by the board in early 2002, he said.

"We don't unlawfully discriminate," Shields said, citing the 2000 decision. "We have the Supreme Court behind us."

The topic certainly came up on Market Street, where Scott Cozza, head of an advocacy group called Scouting for All, wore his old Scout leader's shirt, troop insignia and kerchief - knotted with a rainbow clasp.

"The Boys Scouts of America should be ashamed of themselves for being part of the homophobia," said Cozza, from Petaluma, Calif., whose Eagle Scout son left Scouting in protest.

Scouting for All, the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force and others planned a candlelight vigil outside the Marriott last night after two days of picketing.

The candles, Cozza said, represented all the youth who committed suicide because they were rejected and taunted about being gay or just appearing gay.

Cozza said the Boy Scouts encourage that kind of rejection.

Margaret Downey of Freethought said the local council only went halfway, since "they left out atheists" while opposing bias against gays.

Inside the hotel, delegates wrapping up business and awards sessions - Yogi Berra and Ross Perot received honors - were reluctant to talk about the gay controversy.

"I respect their rights and I hope they respect mine," said Graham Stephens of Troutville, Va., when asked about the demonstrators outside.

"My personal opinions don't count, really."

Those who were asked about homosexuality issues in their own councils politely brushed aside the questions.

But David Lipson Jr., head of the host Cradle of Liberty Council, said delegates' ranks include quiet allies for ending discrimination against homosexuality.

The council, serving 87,000 youths in Philadelphia, Delaware and Montgomery counties, recently included "sexual orientation" in its nondiscrimination policy.

Lipson said he had met with officials from major Boy Scout councils in the Northeast and plans more meetings, but didn't want to discuss details.

"We've been working on this for two years. Councils all over the country have been working on it," he said. "It's very quiet. Things are happening, but it's quiet."

He called scouting "a class act" and was unhappy the local policy had leaked out and put his council at odds with national officials.

"We're bring about change that works for everyone," Lipson said. "It's very difficult and complicated, but we are trying to develop language."

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