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Philadelphia News


Posted on Mon, Jun. 30, 2003

Scouts' gay stance clouds use of land

Some Philadelphia officials and activists say a city-owned site should not be used for free by an organization that excludes.

By Linda K. Harris and Miriam Hill
Inquirer Staff Writers

For more than three-quarters of a century, a local Boy Scout council has enjoyed the free use of city land for its headquarters at 22d and Winter Streets in Philadelphia.

Now city politicians and gay civil rights activists - in light of the Scouts' rigid anti-gay stance - are raising questions about that

"We should be prepared to do something," said Councilman Frank DiCicco, whose district includes areas of Center City. "We should begin taxing them on that land or giving them notice that they should move on."

Councilman Darrell L. Clarke also expressed concern.

"If there's discriminatory practices in the facility, it shouldn't matter if it's free or if there's rent," Clarke said. "There could be
some possibility of rethinking our lease-term arrangements if they're not in compliance with our policy" of nondiscrimination.

In 1928, the Philadelphia City Council voted in favor of letting the Philadelphia Boy Scouts use rent-free nearly half an acre of land "in perpetuity."

The Boy Scouts intended to build a new headquarters and a year later, it was complete.

The Boy Scout Resource Center, as the building is called, is an imposing building of light-colored stone. In front of it stands a
life-size statue of a Boy Scout, and above the large wooden door, the Boy Scout oath is inscribed: "On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the scout law."

The questions arise because of the city's prohibition against discrimination based on sexual orientation. The prohibition is part of
the city's Fair Practices Ordinance, which was passed in 1982 by City Council. In 2002, in a bill introduced by DiCicco, council added sexual identity, which affects transsexuals, to the list.

A spokeswoman for the mayor said Friday that the administration was studying the issue of what to do with the property.

"The mayor has asked us to look at the 1928 agreement and see how it squares up with or is in opposition to the Fair Practices Ordinance," said Barbara Grant, the mayor's spokeswoman. "We're not sure how the law applies here, and we want to take a look at that before we take a position here."

William T. Dwyer III, scout executive for the Cradle of Liberty Council, the local governing body for scouts in Philadelphia,
Delaware County, and Montgomery County, declined comment on the issue.

"I'm fairly new here and don't know much about the arrangement," he said.

Malcolm Lazin, executive director of Equality Forum, an international gay civil rights group based in Philadelphia, was firm in his belief that the city should take some action.

"Here public land, and extremely valuable public land, is being provided without charge," said Malcolm Lazin, executive director of Equality Forum, an international gay civil rights group based in Philadelphia. "If the city is making that kind of donation, the Cradle of Liberty Council should be operating within the guidelines of the human relations code."

Stacey L. Sobel, executive director of Philadelphia's Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, said the center is in the process of reviewing the city's Fair Practices Ordinance, which, as she pointed out, forbids a group from invoking "its private character for the purpose of excluding or discriminating."

"At this time, we're not sure of the full ramifications of this language upon the Boy Scouts," Sobel said.

In May, the Cradle of Liberty Council, in defiance of the Boy Scouts of America's national policy, voted to end discrimination against gays.

The move was, in part, an attempt to save the yearly grants of more than $400,000 from the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania. Many United Way donors were concerned that United Way funds were going to an organization that openly discriminated against gays.

The Cradle of Liberty Council already had lost major grants from other local foundations, including the Pew Charitable Trusts, the William Penn Foundation and the Philadelphia Foundation because of the policy of discriminating against gays.

But soon after the decision to end discrimination became public, the national organization threatened to revoke the local council's charter and replace the board.

The council rescinded its new antidiscrimination policy shortly thereafter.

Boy Scouts of America have been able to legally defend their position of discriminating against gays. In June 2000, a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in the case of a New Jersey assistant scoutmaster who was expelled for being gay, that the Boy Scouts had the right to bar homosexuals as troop leaders.

Contact staff writer Linda K. Harris at 215-854-4417 or .

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