Alamedans hopeful Boy Scout troops will soon welcome gays
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.