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Posted on Wed, Sep. 17, 2003

City says scouts' use of land is in jeopardy

The group's exclusion of gays and atheists is at issue. It has its local headquarters on city property.
By Linda K. Harris
Inquirer Staff Writer

The local Boy Scout council, which has enjoyed the free use of city property for its offices since 1929, may lose that benefit
because of its policy of banning gays from scouting, city officials confirmed yesterday.

"We hope that this will not be the outcome," said Pat Coviello, executive vice president of the Cradle of Liberty Council.

The mayor's chief of staff, Joyce Wilkerson, said she contacted local council executives last week to advise them of an opinion
handed down by City Solicitor Nelson A. Diaz.

Diaz had informed the Mayor's Office that the city's fair practices ordinance was in direct conflict with the policy of allowing the Boy Scouts to use the property at 22d and Winter Streets rent-free for offices. The reason for the conflict is the Boy Scouts' policy of excluding against gays and atheists, dictated by the national organization, said Barbara Grant, the mayor's spokeswoman.

A meeting between city officials and Boy Scout executives is scheduled for next week to discuss the matter. Cradle of Liberty
is the nation's third-largest council and serves 87,000 youths in Philadelphia, Delaware and Montgomery Counties.

"We value the services they provide," Wilkerson said. "They do good work for the kids in a lot of neighborhoods in the city. We wanted to talk through the issues with them."

David H. Lipson Jr., board chairman of the local council, said, "My hope is they want to work with us. Our council has said we
want to end discrimination of all types. It's been a difficult road. But we're committed to change. To punish us makes absolutely no sense," he said.

But gay civil rights leaders said the Cradle of Liberty Council still discriminated and so the city had no choice but to ask it to leave.

"I think the city is now obliged to terminate the lease," said Malcolm Lazin, executive director of Equality Forum, an
international gay civil rights group based in Philadelphia. "This is an organization that discriminates and should not be given
what is, in essence, a sweetheart deal."

Stacey L. Sobel, executive director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, said that she was sympathetic to the local Boy Scouts' good intentions, but that the council had fallen short.

"The bottom line is they're still discriminating," Sobel said. "This is another message to the local and the national Boy Scouts
that they cannot continue to do business as usual."

In 1928, City Council passed a resolution allowing the Boy Scouts free use of land at 22d and Winter Streets near the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The Boy Scouts was allowed to build a headquarters there at its own expense, with the proviso that the building would immediately become the property of the city and must be turned over to the city with a year's notice, should the city want it.

The next year, the Boy Scouts built a grand Beaux Arts stone building for its headquarters, designed by noted architect
Charles Z. Klauder. In 1971 the building was added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.

"It's one of the real gems, small gems of the Parkway, and tends to be forgotten a lot," said Bruce Laverty, curator of
architecture for Atheneum of Philadelphia, a special collections library with a specialty in architecture.

In 1993, the building's exterior and interior were renovated.

The building is now known as the Bruce S. Marks Scout Resource Center. Cradle of Liberty has another center, the Roger S.
Firestone Scout Resource Center in Wayne.

The city's decades-long deal with the Boy Scouts became an issue in May when the Cradle of Liberty Council tried to liberalize an intractable national policy regarding the acceptance of gays. The local council, in defiance of the Boy Scouts of America's policy of not allowing gays to join, voted that it would not discriminate based on sexual orientation and religion, among many
other things.

The council had been under pressure from the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania, which had been making annual grants to the Boy Scouts of more than $400,000.

However, when the national organization, based in Irving, Texas, heard of the local council's move, it threatened to revoke the
local charter and replace its board.

In early June, the local council folded under the pressure and quickly expelled a South Philadelphia Life Scout, Gregory
Lattera, who openly acknowledged that he was gay.

After that, the Pew Charitable Trusts withdrew a $100,000 grant in June. In late July, the United Way board voted to retract the second half of its $400,000 grant for this year.

In June 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts could bar gays from serving as troop leaders. That decision was hailed as a major victory by the national council.

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

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