By Kent Larsen
Boy Scouts Under Pressure Year After Court Ruling
FORT A.P. HILL, VIRGINIA -- It has been one year since the United States
Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts of America is a private association
which can exclude gays. This week, Newsweek's August 6th issue offers a
portrait of Scouting in the United States and describes the reactions across
the country and within the organization to the Court ruling and how
pressures during the past 12 months are impacting the Boy Scouts.
The article states that the "Mormon and Roman Catholic churches--which
together sponsor 750,000 Scouts" have strongly supported the Boy Scouts in
their stand against homosexuality, and compares that support to the actions
of some Baptist and Episcopal churches who have asked the Boy Scouts to
change their stand. The Union of American Hebrew Congregations issued a
declaration against the position of the Boy Scouts and encouraged synagogues
to no longer sponsor Scout troops.
Support of the Boy Scouts of America comes from sponsoring organizations as
well as from community charitable funding and free or reduced-fee use of
public facilities. The Boy Scouts receive significant revenue from United
Way. Newsweek refers to "about 44 of the most affluent chapters" of United
Way which "have blocked additional support or changed allocations" with the
stated goal of complying with the anti-discrimination policies of the
With regard to the use of public facilities, communities with ordinances
prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation have ended
free use of schools, municipal buildings and parks. Such cities include San
Francisco, Chicago, Tucson, San Diego, and San Jose. Some states and
counties have ended the ability of the Scouts to recruit in schools and to
sponsor troops. Mentioned are the states of Illinois, Massachusetts, and
Minnesota as well as Dade County Florida.
Such changes in support are bound to have an impact on Scouting. Newsweek
interviewed individual Scouts and leaders to determine feeling within the
organization regarding the exclusion of gays. From the article, it is clear
that the membership is torn. Newsweek suggests that a number of Scouts have
resigned in protest in the past year, though there are no specific numbers
on how many Scouts and Scouters have done so. The spokesman for BSA, Gregg
Shields, says, "This has not been a serious problem." However membership in
Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts dropped 4.5 percent nationally over the past year,
at a time when, says Newsweek, the rolls of Girl Scouts, Boys Club, Girls
Club are growing.
Currently, there are 2.2 million registered Scouts in the United States.
400,000 are members of troops sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints. Newsweek cites an unnamed Scout leader who is convinced
that this sizable group of Scouts from one religious group has clout enough
to prevent any change in the moral stance of the Boy Scouts against
homosexual members. The leader declares that, "The Mormons have all the
cards." While spokesman Shields of the BSA refutes that claim, the anonymous
Scout leader is quoted as saying, "There is unadulterated fear that they're
going to bail out, that they're going to start their own program."
Individual troops and councils have made attempts to soften their own
stances, with consequences from the national organization. Individual Scouts
and their parents have also undertaken efforts to call upon the national BSA
leadership to change the position of Scouting. The situation of Judd Hardy,
an LDS former Scout in Salt Lake City who is gay.
Three years ago, at age 16 and a Boy Scout in Troop 73, Judd attempted
suicide. Speaking of his feelings of attraction for others of his sex, he
says, "I remember thinking I have this thing inside of me that I can't get
rid of. I wanted to get rid of it so much that my mind turned very
practical: obviously, it's not worth living."
Judd resigned from Scouts. He is now a 19-year old counselor at a camp in
New York state that does not exclude gays. He has personally moved on from
Scouting. His three younger brothers have all decided that they cannot
remain in Scouts and their parents have helped to establish the Salt Lake
Chapter of Scouting for All which is comprised of people, usually with
current or recent affiliation with Scouts, across the country who are active
in efforts to encourage the Boy Scouts to change their stand on
homosexuality and admit gays as Scouts and Scouters.
The recent backdrop to all of these issues has been Scouting's National
Jamboree, held every four years at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia near
Fredericksburg. Newsweek's report from the Jamboree found little evidence of
the Supreme Court ruling reflected in the activities and logistics of the
2001 Jamboree. The current Jamboree appeared very much the same as those of
past quadrennial events.
The magazine queried a number of Scouts and Scouters regarding their
opinions on the position of the Boy Scouts regarding homosexuals and found
support of varying levels. A number of attendees wore rainbow-colored
ribbons on their uniforms as a sign of support for gays.
Reporters for the magazine noted that significant financial and
instructional support for the event comes from US Government agencies such
as the Department of the Interior. The article drew attention to statements
by government spokespeople that the government support was being provided
for an event that is open to all, and in fact guests are welcome to tour the
Jamboree. However, certain activities were open just for Scout participants,
such as a trout pond provided at government expense for fly fishing and
other merit badges.
This disparity between Interior's official stand regarding accessibility
without discrimination and the actualities of the Jamboree was presented in
the article to suggest that the Boy Scouts were insincere in their position
before the Supreme Court that the Scouts are not a public convenience
subject to non-discrimination law.
Newsweek 6Aug01 N1
By David France, with Franco Ordonez, Gretel C. Kovach and Saba Bireda
Since a Supreme Court ruling against gays in the Boy Scouts, Americans are
increasingly torn over a beloved institution