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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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BSA takes big (apple) hit


by Inga Sorensen

The New York City Council will hold a hearing next month to examine the city's relationship with the Boy Scouts of America, said Councilmember Margarita Lopez, during a media briefing Monday on the steps of City Hall.

Word of the hearing came three days after Schools Chancellor Harold Levy announced that the nation's largest school system will greatly scale back its relationship with the Boy Scouts due to the Scouts' policy of barring openly Gay members.

"It's not a relationship of 'good morning and good night.' It's a relationship of money, of thousands of dollars that the taxpayers of the city of New York pay," Lopez said of the city's link to the Boy Scouts. The hearing, she vowed, would "uncover a lot of information" about the scope of a relationship that she and other critics charge violates the city's nondiscrimination laws and policies.

Since June, governmental, corporate, and community entities have come under increasing pressure to dissociate from the Boy Scouts of America. That's when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling allowing the Boy Scouts to discriminate against Gay people. The decision- which sprang from a lawsuit brought by expelled Gay scoutmaster James Dale - triggered a coast-to-coast movement demanding the Boy Scouts dismantle its anti-Gay policy or bear the brunt of dwindling support.

Following the high court's decision, Lopez, along with Councilmembers Phil Reed and Christine Quinn, introduced a resolution calling for hearings to determine "the nature and extent of resources that the Boy Scouts receives from the city of New York and/or its uniformed forces." They asked that the hearings "explore whether such resources would be better spent on organizations that do not discriminate based on sexual orientation."

As she stood on the steps waiting for Monday's press briefing to begin, Lopez received news from Speaker Peter Vallone's office that a hearing was being scheduled for sometime in January. "We will be there in force," promised Lopez.

Edgar Rodriguez, coordinator of the New York Coalition for Inclusive Scouting and former president of the Gay Officers Action League, applauded Chancellor Levy's action, which was made public last Friday night. But Rodriguez stressed that the New York Police Department and the city of New York must follow suit.

For the past three years, Rodriguez has lobbied the NYPD to end its relationship with the Boy Scouts, which works closely with the NYPD on the Law Enforcement Explorers Program. The NYPD's community affairs office describes the Explorers Program as "a program of the Boys Scouts of America that takes place in police facilities." It is designed to educate young men and women, ages 14 to 20, about law enforcement on a first-hand basis.

Rodriguez said he feels the NYPD's current relationship with the Boy Scouts sends a negative message to Gay youth and violates the spirit of the city's human rights law, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

"The BSA makes leaders in law enforcement 'Men of the Year' at their annual fundraisers," said Rodriguez. "Because of this and personal relationships between the BSA and high-ranking members of the NYPD, the Boy Scouts have had a profound impact on the integrity of these and other leaders. [Former NYPD Commissioner Howard] Safir's lack of compliance with the law and city anti-discrimination policies has caused us to bring this issue to the New York City Council."

In a media release announcing the Dec. 4 press conference, the New York Coalition for Inclusive Scouting said, "Last October, the NYC Council announced that it was going to schedule hearings to investigate contracts the BSA has with the city and unauthorized special perks given to the BSA by NYC uniformed agencies and other agencies collaborating with the BSA. To date no hearings have been announced and leaders want to know why. NYC leaders now also want to know when the new NYPD police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, and the leadership of the City Council will follow the NYC Board of [Education's] recent move to sever its ties with the Boy Scouts."

On Monday, the coalition got some satisfaction after learning that a City Council hearing is, in fact, on the legislative radar screen. As for Kerik, Rodriguez told the Blade he hoped to bring the issue up during a Thursday night meeting with the new commissioner.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the 24-hour television news channel New York 1 reported that Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said the NYPD must first find out if the Explorers follow the same policy as the Boy Scouts.

"I don't like the idea of kicking people out, but the Explorers I think are separate from the Boy Scouts and they have separate rules," Giuliani told New York 1. "So I think the police commissioner has to look at the rules that the Explorers have and see if they actually discriminate against people. If they do, they should be kicked out. Or, are they just tangentially a member of an organization that in other place has rules that we don't agree with?"

But, said Clarence Patton of the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, "It is essential that Commissioner Kerik follow the lead of Chancellor Levy and cut the department's ties with the Boy Scouts. The continued relationship sends a message that, while the rest of New York City attempts to operate in a mode of tolerance, the NYPD somehow has the special
ability to discriminate when it sees fit; this is unacceptable. What are the messages we send to young people by doing this?"

Dan Dromm is surprised, to say the least.

"I really never thought I'd see this day. I thought this would never happen," said Dromm, who for the past 17 years has taught a fourth-grade class at Public School 199 in Sunnyside, Queens.

In July Dromm, who is openly Gay and co-chairs the Queens Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee, sent a letter to Levy charging the New York City Board of Education with violating its own nondiscrimination policy and urging the board to immediately end its association with the Boy Scouts of America.

The Board of Education's policy states the board will not "discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, national original, age, handicapping condition, marital status, sexual orientation, or sex in its educational programs, activities, and employment policies."

He wrote, in part, "We believe that by not forbidding the Boy Scouts from using NYC public schools for meeting space free of charge, that by allowing the Boy Scouts to recruit members in the public schools, and that by sending students from a dozen or so public schools to Boy Scout camps, you are in violation of the board's own nondiscrimination policy regarding sexual
orientation. ... Anything less than removing [the Boy Scouts] from the NYC public schools would be tantamount to saying that you agree with their discriminatory actions against troop leaders on the basis of their sexual orientation. That's a lesson no child should ever learn."

For months, Levy was publicly silent on the issue. In fact, just last week. after the third of the city's 32 local school boards passed a resolution against the Boy Scouts in the schools, Dromm told the Blade he had yet to receive a response from Levy.

"I have not heard a word - nothing. It is so typical," he said.

A week later, the landscape has clearly shifted.

"Monumental," Dromm called Levy's announcement. "It's monumental."

New York City schools have more than 1 million students, making it the country's largest school system. In the early evening of Dec. 1, Levy released a letter informing the Boy Scouts that it will no longer be eligible to bid on contracts and that all sponsorships of Boy Scout troops and all special privileges will be terminated.

Levy, who noted that scouting was "an important part" of his childhood, said in a missive to Boy Scout officials: "I note that the Boy Scouts of America has declared that 'an avowed homosexual is not a role model for the values espoused in the Scout Oath and Law.' Accordingly, I do not believe that is in keeping with the spirit of the policy of the Board of Education."

The board currently has an $800,000 contract with the Boy Scouts that expires in April 30, 2002. (The contract is for camping-related services.)

Levy said that if the Boy Scouts' anti-Gay policy remains intact, the group will not be eligible to bid.

"If the policy of the Boy Scouts changes prior to that date, I would be willing to reconsider this position," he said.

Levy added that he intended to advise the community school districts that the purchase of services from the Boy Scouts is inconsistent with board policy.

"Similarly, I intend to advise all superintendents that they should not sponsor any Scout troops or provide any special privileges such as special access to recruit in the schools. On the other hand, I intend to advise them that they need not interrupt donated ... services that are used in more than 200 schools to enrich curriculum." Those donated services include the Boy Scouts' "Learning for Life" program, which is aimed at "at-risk" youths.

Levy said the Boy Scouts will also continue to have access to school buildings after school on the same basis as other organizations. Board President William Thompson Jr. issued his own statement, saying, "Both the chancellor and I have given this issue thorough consideration. We must send an important message to our school community. Discrimination will not
be tolerated. This is the right thing to do. Until the Scouts change their position, they will not be eligible for future contracts, sponsorships, or special privileges."

In a Dec. 1 letter to Levy from Daniel R. Gasparo, chief executive of the Boy Scouts of America Greater New York Councils, Gasparo said the Scouts' New York City outfit does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. (In an earlier interview, Rick Martin, a New York Boy Scouts spokesperson, told the Blade the local council adheres to the national office's dictate to ban "avowed homosexuals.")

Said Gasparo: "We currently provide services for more than 100,000 public school students in after-school programs as well as programs during the school day. Surely, we should be given an opportunity to express ourselves face-to-face before a decision is reached that could erase 20 years of hard work in reaching out to disadvantaged and disabled boys and girls over an issue that does not exist. ... My concern is that a citywide policy would not serve the interests of many of your children and their families."

He added, "In the five months since the Supreme Court ruling, we have made some progress with our national office in broadening their views. This is a continually evolving issue, both in the Boy Scouts and in society."

Gasparo provided no specifics about the purported success in broadening the national office's views.

In response to Levy's action, Frank Borzellieri, a member of the Community School Board 24 in Queens, said he has crafted a resolution calling the Scouts "a bedrock of moral values." In Wednesday's New York Times, Borzellieri is quoted as calling Levy "an absolute disgrace for his position against Boy Scouts. The idea that this appointed hack in Manhattan elected by no one is going to stick his dirty fingers into Queens and overrule our school board in something affecting our district, let him do it."

In August, Borzellieri blasted the New York City Board of Education's decision to recruit for staff and teachers at a Gay business expo. "It's typical of the immoral agenda of the left-wing powers that control the Board of Education [in New York] under the misleadership of schools Chancellor Harold Levy that they would celebrate perversion and seek to recruit sodomites to teach our children," he told the New York Post. "Who will they recruit next? Necrophiliacs and those into bestiality?"

On the flip side, Lopez said the Board of Education should have gone even further.

"I believe that the Board of Education could have and should have taken a stronger position. Currently, the Boy Scouts have organizational affiliates that receive donated services, and those services will not be terminated. If the Boy Scouts choose to continue its discriminatory practice, then the organization and its organizational affiliates should not benefit from New York City and those resources should be terminated immediately." She added, "The national 4-H Council, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and Camp Fire Boys and Girls are organizations that do not discriminate. Currently, these organizations do not receive any support and assistance from the Board of Education. I urge the board to reach out to these organizations."

Nonetheless, she and numerous other Gay civil rights backers and youth advocates hailed Levy's action.

"The fact that the nation's largest school system has done this is extremely significant," said M.K. Cullen, director of public policy for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. "It's huge."



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