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Posted 27 Aug 2001   For week ended August 10, 2001
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Sent on Mormon-News: 06Aug01

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 fund-raising organization.

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.


Scouts Divided
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


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