Alamedans hopeful Boy Scout troops will soon welcome gays

Alamedans hopeful Boy Scout troops will soon welcome gays

Michele Ellson

Ed Kofman was once a Boy Scout, he said, an experience he got a lot out of. But as a member of the Alameda Community Fund’s board of directors, he helped usher in a non-discrimination policy last year that effectively prohibits the fund from giving grant money to local troops due to their national organization’s ban on openly gay scouts and scout leaders.

“We appreciated the good work the scouts were doing. But we’re troubled by the stance that the national organization took,” said Kofman, who said the policy was prompted by a grant request submitted by local scouts.

Kofman and others said they are hopeful, however, that the national organization will approve a proposed policy released by the Boy Scouts of America this week that would lift the mandatory ban and put the decision to accept gay scouts and scout leaders into local council and troop hands.

“I was actually quite pleased to hear the national organization was at least discussing the issue,” Kofman said this week.

The proposal earned praise from many Alamedans and has sparked hope among those who have advocated for the scouts’ current policy to be changed. The Rev. Laura Rose, who has been a vocal advocate for gay rights, said she has put her plans to start an inclusive troop through the Baden-Powell Service Organization on hold in order to see whether the national scouting organization changes its policy – and whether local troops decide to welcome gays.

“We’re going to wait and see if any of the troops will publicly acknowledge that there’s a difference,” the Rev. Rose said.

Alameda Council Scout Executive Charles Howard-Gibbon said it’s too early to know how any policy change will impact the Island’s 31 Cub Scout, Boy Scout and Venturing troops, which combined include about 1,000 scouts; none of the leaders of the five troops contacted by The Alamedan responded to questions about it. But Howard-Gibbon said he doesn’t think much will change here if it goes into effect.

“Most of our scout groups have been very welcoming and accepting to people over the years, and I don’t know that there will be a huge change. If adopted, it will reflect what has kind of been going on generally anyway,” he said.

Howard-Gibbon said the council has never asked anyone to leave scouting due to their sexual orientation – but it’s not clear that local troops have ever had scouts or leaders who were openly gay. He said Alameda has “probably” had gay scouts and scoutmasters.

“We don’t label people by their sexual orientation and never have,” he said.

Rev. Rose and others said the local scout council’s policy is effectively “don’t ask, don’t tell,” referencing the military’s longstanding but since relinquished policy of allowing gay soldiers, provided they weren’t open about their sexuality. When asked whether this was the case, Howard-Gibbon conceded “there was some similarity.”

“They say they’re open to all, but in reality, a youth or adult leader has to be kind of under the radar, which is very different from saying they can be completely open with who they are,” said the Rev. Rose, who said she has heard from “lots of parents” who don’t want their children to be involved with the Boy Scouts due to the policy. “That’s putting this kind of cloud over a young boy as they’re growing, that it’s something they have to cover up to be accepted. Or to not lose their badge.”

The national organization’s proposal comes at a time when Americans’ support for gay rights is growing. Poll results released by USA Today and Gallup in December showed that a majority of Americans – particularly young Americans – support gay marriage and that there is broad acceptance of economic rights for gay couples.

Support also seems to be growing here in Alameda, where the City Council voted down a Gay Pride Month proclamation in 1996 but whose school board, in 2009, okayed an anti-bullying curriculum intended to offer a more positive reflection of gays. While a reader who responded to The Alamedan’s requests for comments on the scouts’ proposed policy shift questioned why it is even an issue, most said it’s time for a change – and for the scouting organization to admit they were wrong.

“A big step in the right direction. Teaching that discrimination is okay to kids isn't a way to earn a merit badge,” Craig Blythe wrote on The Alamedan’s Facebook page.

The national policy stance, meanwhile, is growing increasingly costly to local Boy Scout troops as national attention to it has grown. The Alameda Community Fund had given grants to the scouts for several years before implementing its non-discrimination policy last May.

“I don’t know why it wasn’t an issue back then,” Kofman said. “It probably wasn’t quite as in the news and in the public view.”

Alameda’s Kiwanis club also adopted a non-discrimination policy, a few months after the fund’s directors did, which President Bob Larsen said is being adopted by other Kiwanis clubs.

Larsen said the policy, which prohibits the club from sponsoring and funding groups that don’t comply, was deeply considered and that it was not meant to target any one group. But he said that the Boy Scouts are the only group that has run afoul of it so far.

After enacting the policy, the Kiwanis club dropped its sponsorship of a local Boy Scout troop and it no longer formally participates in local troops’ Scouting for Food drive – which it once sponsored – though Larsen said members could participate individually.

He said club members are watching to see what happens next – and hoping that changes are made.

“We’re hoping a policy will be made that our group here in Alameda can adopt or use that will allow them to be compliant with our non-discrimination policy,” Larsen said.

Comments

Submitted by Jon Spangler on Thu, Jan 31, 2013

The Boy Scouts of America is accepting public feedback about ending its ban on gay Scouts and leaders. Its Board will vote by Feb. 6.

If you call 972-580-2330, a rep asks: "Are you FOR or against the change in policy?" Just say FOR and you're done! Can't get thru? Email nationalsupportcenter@scouting.org
Stand up for inclusion, decency, and fairness!

You can also leave a comment on the BSA Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Boy-Scouts-of-America/113441755297?fref=ts

Submitted by Jon Spangler on Thu, Jan 31, 2013

I strenuously oppose Scouting's current exclusionary and un-Christian anti-gay policies.

I grew up involved in both the Episcopal Church and with Scouting and have been active in my church for over 50 years. Both were very good for me.

But as a former Star Scout, Explorer, OA member, and Assistant Scoutmaster, I firmly believe that the BSA is wrong to exclude scouts or parents due to sexual orientation or gender issues. It is long past time for the Scouts to engage with all young people and all parents, regardless of their gender, or marital status.

49 minutes ago · Like

Submitted by Really-question-mark on Thu, Jan 31, 2013

Please, they're not changing policy because they've realized their bigoted ways, they're doing it because their major corp sponsors are demanding it and threatening to leave them hanging out for the world to see. That group of "good ol boys" hates gays and anyone else like them.

The change they are proposing is worse than the current situation. By allowing states and troops to decide, they are taking us back to pre-civil rights era where Blacks didn't know where they could get a coffee in which town, and worse. This is going to require a federal consent decree to eventually make this equitable. I can see a time where a gay scout in Alameda moves to Mississippi and they're badges and membership don't count since they're gay, or even worse question a belief in their chosen Gd.

They must remove the religious requirements as well. We live in a secular, non-religious country and they shouldn't be allowed to admit only christians. I'm Jewish and I never felt comfortable with Scouts, other boys shouldn't have to go through that.

Boy Scouts shoud model themselves on Girl Scouts...That's a group I'm very proud to be associated. My daughter has been in GS since 5 and she had built great bonds with the other grils that will hopefully be lifetime friendships. They aren't asked if they're gay or non-christian.

At the end of the day, of they refuse these changes, then they should be left along the road like the KKK and other hateful groups. In the mean time, they should lose all community perks and benefits and pay for all facilities, etc. Yes, it sucks for the kids, but they need to understand what's at play here. They'll eventually get it.

Regards...Michael

Submitted by twinckler on Thu, Jan 31, 2013

This move, if it comes, will allow many troops -- including some if not all in Alameda -- to come out and openly, honestly invite gays into their ranks. As Charlie said, it has been done under the radar for years here. This potential move by BSA is part one of the cure, and is welcome. But, it still leaves the national organization holding on to a policy of accepting discrimination. It might be helpful for national BSA leaders to view the movie "Lincoln" en masse and be reminded that we fought a civil war over the same principle--an organization half-divided.

Submitted by cfritzsche on Thu, Jan 31, 2013

I was a Cub Scout, a member of WEBELOS and a Boy Scout. While in the military, I was a scout leader in a local scout troup in central Georgia. I knew I was gay since before I was a Cub Scout.

I learned a lot from, and contributed much to, the Boy Scouts of America, as a closeted (which means handicapped, shame-filled) scout and scout leader. Just imagine how much more I could have contributed if so much of my energy was not devoted to hiding, pretending to enjoy the "innocent jokes" about gays and witnessing the institutionalized bullying of gays that is at least permitted (and, at worst promoted) by having a formal policy of discrimination.

Building strong character in boys requires an environment where they, straight or gay, can be honest with their friends and leaders about who they are and are supported by their scouting community. I look forward to the Boy Scouts of America (and Alameda Scout Troups) lifting their ban on gays and the loss of all of the negativity that is associated with that discriminatory policy.

Sincerely,

Carl Fritzsche
210 Harbor Road
Alameda, CA 94502

Submitted by Karry Kelley on Thu, Jan 31, 2013

The more I read this article this morning the angrier it made me feel.

This proposed policy change has nothing to do with "doing the right thing" it is all about money. The BSA can not survive without the corporate support it received in the past. Families are fleeing the organization, not staying “to change from within”. There is no sudden enlightenment here, just a dwindling balance sheet.

It appears that Mr Howard-Gibbons has no idea how harmful his don’t ask don’t tell policy is for LGBT scouts and their families. He thinks that flying under the radar is an acceptable behavior. His statements here and in the past show the Alameda Council’s ignorance and insensitivity of the discrimination leveled against members of our community. IHe ought to be ashamed of his lack of intelligence and leadership around this issue.

The Alameda Council should “do the right thing” and publicly apologize for participating in discrimination in the past, acknowledge the harm that it has done to members of our community and implement a policy of full inclusion. Then they should openly welcome LGBT scouts and their families into the organization. This should be done regardless of what decision the national organization makes regarding their policy.

Submitted by frank on Thu, Jan 31, 2013

Really All the National Council is doing is washing its hands of the situation. They are leaving the policy enforcement up to individual Scout Leaders.

Look at the situation in Moraga.. The National Council had 'no objection' for Ryan Andersen to receive his Eagle Award but the Local Scoutmaster still refused.

Submitted by Marty E. on Thu, Jan 31, 2013

Clearly there are still many more steps to take before the BSA will have a truly inclusive culture and policy as it relates to LGBT scouts, but I think that every step forward takes things in the right direction. Once this policy change goes into effect and more and more gay scouts and scout leaders can participate openly, the less of an issue it will become.

You only have to look at the way attitudes are changing in regards to gay marriage in America to see how each small victory pushes the needle in a positive direction.

Submitted by Fr.Tom on Tue, Feb 5, 2013

As an Eagle Scout, former Scoutmaster, and Episcopal priest here in Alameda, I hope the Boy Scouts will take this long overdue step of allowing gay boys to be scouts and gay men to serve as adult leaders. By opening the door to “local choice,” the BSA is allowing the inevitable to happen as more and more Americans see homosexuality as a normal part of life. This change will be difficult for some – as it has been difficult for some Episcopalians – but this is a step in the right direction. I serve in the Oasis California – our diocesan LGBT ministry here in the Bay Area – and am looking forward to the day when a church can sponsor a troop without excluding gay scouts and adults.

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