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Activist Groups Urge Obama to Reject Boy Scout Honor

From Fox News:

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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The Narragansett Council of Boy Scouts had asked its parent organization to review the policy - National BSA Stands by Gay Ban


Journal Staff Writer

Rhode Island Scout leaders, who for months deflected complaints about their organization's anti-gay policies with promises that they were making a groundbreaking push to the national Boy Scouts for a review, yesterday learned their efforts won't change the 90-year-old rule one bit.

With the final word from the Boy Scouts of America that the policy banning gays will remain, state executives who've been holding themselves up as diligent behind-the-scenes forces for more inclusive views, yesterday came out with their strongest public support yet for a rule rooted in a 1910 oath.

Now, Rhode Island equal-rights activists may recommend that the state's public entities go the way of numerous cities and school districts across the nation. They are taking a hard look at whether a group that openly discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation should be allowed to meet and recruit in public buildings often run by governments that have strict anti-discrimination policies.

"We had been waiting, and we thought things were moving forward, but now . . . we need to, in my opinion, decide whether public funding needs to be pulled, whether the use of public buildings needs to be pulled," said Fitzgerald Himmelsbach, the liaison to the gay community for the City of Providence, which allows Scouts to meet, recruit, and hold events in 32 public buildings.

The state's Narragansett Council, whose decision-making executive board reads like a Who's Who of the corporate community, has held off community concern about the policy banning gays for months, appeasing civic supporters and corporate donors with statements that the council was a "national leader in the question" over whether gays should be allowed in scouting. The council has reminded people that it is one of only two organizations in the nation to ask its parent organization to review the policy.

When the United Way of Southeastern New England voted in July to cut funding, by January, to any groups that discriminate for any reason, the director of the Narragansett Council wrote, in an editorial in The Journal, that "first and foremost, we share the local United Way's concerns about inclusion."

Yesterday, nearly a year after the state council sent the resolution, came the Boy Scouts of America's results of the review -- a resounding "no" probably buoyed by the Supreme Court decision last summer upholding the organization's policy.

The brief letter, from J. Carey Keane, the national director of marketing and relationships said the review of the policy died in the subcommittee phase. The state Scouts, in seconding a resolution by the Minnesota Scouts Council, had called for a year-long study of homosexuality.

"The [resolution] subcommittee recommended to the relationshps committee that, after careful study of this resolution, that the Boy Scouts of America not change the membership standards," the letter states.

While in the past, the Narragansett Council has tread lightly, never saying outright whether it thought gays should be allowed into scouting, the tone changed yesterday. In a statement last night, Robert H. Pease Jr., the president of the Board of Directors for the Narragansett Council, said the results reflect his belief that most Americans -- "and certainly an overwhelming majority of those involved in the Boy Scouts across the country" -- are comfortable with the current standards.

Pease said that while conversations on the issue continue, the council will stay focused on providing programs that build character. He said that scouting programs are nonsexual and nonpolitical and do not require volunteers to disclose their sexual orientation, and that therefore, "it is inappropriate for messages about sexuality or politics to be imposed on our programs from the outside."

"Sadly, the agents of so-called 'tolerance' have been most stridently intolerant of our constitutional right to freedom of association, as guaranteed by the First Amendment, and recently affirmed by the Supreme Court," he said.

"In an era when our youngsters are constantly bombarded with messages about sexuality or used for vehicles for political agendas, I am struck by how often parents tell me how grateful they are that scouting does neither," he said.

RHODE ISLAND ENTERED the national debate in August 1999. A director at Camp Yawgoog, a scouting camp in Hopkinton, told a 17-year-old Eagle Scout that he could not return to a full-time job at the camp on the same day the director asked the young man if he was gay. The teen had answered yes.

After the teen filed a complaint with the state Human Rights Commission, and staff members staged a sit-in in support, the state Scouts offered him his job back while at the same time they restated the national policy to exclude gays. But they faced a barrage of criticism from the United Way, religious organizations, and corporate donors, some who wanted the state Scouts to stand up to its parent organization and refuse to follow the policy.

Last night, the Rev. James C. Miller, executive director of the Rhode Island Council of Churches, which sponsors dozens of scouting troops, said he and other community leaders had been urging the Scouts to embrace a policy similar to that of the Girl Scouts, who believe the issue of sexual orientation isn't relevant to scouting.

"I am personally disappointed," Miller said. "I had hoped that the national organization would have listened to the rather formative body of the Narragansett Council -- formative in terms of history and in size."

"Nobody should shut this issue off prematurely," he said. "I was hoping for a larger base of discussion before we concluded one way or another."

But hopes of tolerance and community dialogues have collapsed in some parts of the country as the national Scouts can now cite the Supreme Court decision. That decision essentially overturned a ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court in the landmark James Dale case, which said the Scouts are a "public accommodation" and therefore, cannot discriminate. The Scouts appealed, and won.

School districts across the country are discussing cutting ties, and an American Civil Liberties Union affiliate in San Diego is suing the city over a $1-a-year lease to the Scouts. Framingham, Mass., will no longer allow recruiting in public schools.

Earlier this month, a New York City school board voted to bar its 42 schools from sponsoring troops.

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, a gay-rights advocacy group, announced recently that it will lobby school districts across the country to stop sponsoring Boy Scout troops and to instead shift the focus to other youth groups.

In Rhode Island, there is so far no such push, and ties between public entities and scouting remain solid. The Scituate Police Department, for instance, is one of many state law-enforcement agencies that conduct youth cadet programs with Boy Scouts.

The Portsmouth Town Council included $500 for the Boy Scouts in its annual budget, and in Cumberland, the town leases a house-turned-meeting-hall to Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts for $1 a year.

The Scouts helped the town clean up the property in return for a five-year-lease. It's hard, said Himmelsbach, of Providence City Hall, to "beat up" on an organization that does such good. He will talk to Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr. today, he said.

The mayor directed him to look into the level of support the city gives to the Scouts after the recent controversies. With the Narragansett Council "moving forward" on its push for a review of the policy, examinining the appropriateness of public-Scout ties wasn't on the top of anyone's agenda, he said.

"Now it is," he said.



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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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